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Birthday Surprise(s) Part 8

Yes, the new puppy, barely two weeks in our care, was in EFFing heat.

I’d been suspicious that this might be the case, not only due to her 10 months of age, but also the fact that Moose pretty much had his nose buried in her dog-cooter for 9 out of any given 10 minute period during the day.  When the dog began to actually spot blood on our floors, though, I knew she was definitely in heat and we were definitely in trouble.

“It’s not as bad as a cat being in heat,” the wife assured me.  “Dogs don’t yowl all night long like Avie did,’ she said, referring to our long lost cat from our Princeton days.  However, while dogs might not yowl in heat, they certainly seemed to make up for it by bleeding all over the place.

The wife made her a diaper out of a towel, but it was held on with tape and only lasted for about 10 minutes before she had to go potty and tested its named function for us.  That diaper didn’t stop nothin’.

This knowledge in mind, it was going to be incredibly important that we get our invisible fence training done soon, because we couldn’t leave her bleeding and peeing in the house or garage and certainly couldn’t risk her heading down the hill to visit with the neighbors’ annoying, barky, car-chasing dogs.  This last point was driven home particularly well when, after removing Maya’s diaper to go potty, I popped back in the house to drop it in the laundry only to return to find her missing from the yard.  I ran to the edge of the blacktop and had a gander down the hill.  Sure enough, she was down the hill in our next door neighbor’s back yard, but was clearly headed in the direction of the neighbor dogs across the street.  I called after her and clapped for her to return.  She looked up at me with an expression I read as saying “Did you truly think that was going to work?”  Then she shrugged and kept going.

I started to scream and rant from atop my perch on Mt. Tested Authoritarian Dog Owner, but instead decided it would be fruitless other than to convince any neighbors who might be in earshot that I was well and truly fruit loop.  Instead, I grabbed a leash, hopped in the car and headed down the hill.

My relationship with the neighbor dogs is not without its problems.  They’re not bad dogs, per se, but they do quite a bit of barking at me and my dogs whenever we walk past their house, which is the only paved route between us and the rest of the neighborhood.  One looks like some sort of shepherd mix, another a beagle mix and the youngest a boxer mix.  Whenever we walk or drive past, they come out to bark and snarl and give chase, though they can only get so far before their own wireless fence system kicks in.  Still, they’re more than willing to test its boundaries in order to try and menace Sadie.  (Sadie, for her part, is menaced not in the slightest and could take all three of those dogs if she wanted to, but she’s terrified of the constant beeping of their collars as they crash against the boundary and are shocked back into their yard, so she spends all of her time straining at the end of the leash to escape, making them think they’re scaring her and egging their behavior on.)

When I got out of the car, Maya was already in their yard and seemed to be making friends with the shepherd mix.  When they saw me coming down the driveway the dogs came running to snarl.  That is, until I stepped into their yard at which point they looked very confused and got quiet, cause I was violating the rules they thought governed their universe.  It was our unspoken deal, I imagined they thought, that I was to stay in the street and they were to bark at me from the yard.  Furthermore, I was pissed off at Maya.  They did not know how to handle this angry incursion, so they ran away and barked at me from a very safe distance.

I hauled Maya back up the hill in the car and informed the wife it was time to train the dog with her “purty” collar.   Implied by my statement was that she, the wife, would need to do the training.  She inferred this successfully.

A few days before this, I had spent half an hour preparing for this moment by walking the invisible fence perimeter with one of the “purty” collars and planting flags whenever it beeped.  I had decided then that if anyone was going to train Maya, it should be the wife since she wasn’t getting nearly the same level of poop and pee (and now blood) duty that I was.  So the wife took the dog and a collar and went out to go train her.

She came back after 10 minutes complaining that the collar would not consistently beep at the boundary flags, so there was no point in training Maya until it did.

I was further annoyed.

One of the only troubles we’ve had with the wireless fence system is that it’s great when you’re talking about level ground with not a lot of brick or metal or dirt or pavement to block or bounce a signal.  However, this is West Virginia, we’re all about a hill here and our house is on top of one of those hills, with sides that slope down at the edges of our property.  If a dog is able to duck under the signal before reaching the actual boundary of that signal, the signal just keeps sailing along at the level of the flat portion of the yard and the dog can potentially get pretty far before the collar says beep one, if it says beep at all.  (At least, this is my understanding of how it works based on trial and error–mostly error.)  When we first moved to Lewisburg, we had to buy the second transmitter not only to cover more ground but also to try to better coverage in several deadspots that developed close to the house, we think due to signals bouncing off the brick of our home’s exterior.  So we now have one transmitter in the house and another in the woodshop.

I went out with a collar and tried my luck, thinking that the wife was crazy because the thing had beeped for me properly when I’d put the flags out a few days earlier.  It didn’t.  Oh, it would eventually beep, but never in the same place twice, and I was often able to get pretty far past the flags before the system took any notice.  Grrrr.

So I marched back and forth to the transmitter in the woodshop and the one in the house adjusting the range dials to try and dial things back just enough to still give the dogs plenty of space, but also consistently beep in all the right places. Eventually, I found settings and even repositioned one of the transmitters until I was satisfied.  Then I sent another 20 minutes repositioning all the flags.

When it came time for training, I brought Maya out myself, convinced that if I sent the wife again the transmitters wouldn’t cooperate and I’d have to eat crow and go redo everything again.  At least if I was the only one there I’d be the only one to witness it.

My method of training with the invisible fence is not to try and trick Maya into crossing the boundary, for that wouldn’t be fair or nice.  Instead, I walked along the boundary’s edge with her, telling her not to cross beyond the flags and calling her back whenever she came close.  We did this at the top of the driveway, where the wife had tried earlier.  Maya mostly obeyed, but eventually strayed across the boundary and I heard the collar start to beep.  Much like the wife’s old dog Honeybee, she kind of looked around to see what was stinging her, but didn’t seem all that put out by it.  This wasn’t good.

I removed the collar and tested it on myself by holding the shock prods on the back of the collar to my hand and then walking across the boundary.  It shocked me and was certainly not pleasant, nor something I would want on my neck, but I could tell from the intensity that the collar was only set on #2.  The range of the Purty Collar is between setting 1 to setting 4, with #1 being just beeps and no shock and #4 being Shock-the-Ever-Loving-Shit-Out-of-You, with #2 and #3 being lower levels of #4.  I set it to #4.

Maya continued to be good as we walked the border.  That is, until we reached the side of the yard nearest the neighbor dogs’ house.  Then she peered down the hill toward them, looked back at me once, and trotted on through the flags like she was headed down the hill to see her new boyfriends.  I tried to call her back and told her “No.”  I said it emphatically enough that she even stopped for a second.  Then she gave me another “Did you truly think AGAIN that was going to work?” expression, but only got as far as “again” before the collar started beeping.  It gives the dog a couple of seconds to change its mind and return within the confines of the fence field before it shocks.  I began calling her, telling her to come back, knowing she was about to get hit if she didn’t.  She didn’t.  It shocked her and Tiny Dancer, with a loud yipe, began to dance.

“Come on, Maya!  Come on, Maya!” I called, clapping my thighs with my hands.  She ran away from where she’d been so viciously attacked, but the look she gave me was one of understanding.  It said: You did this.  She ran past me, clambered up the steps of the deck and went to the back door.  She was done.


The Talkin’, Chokin’ Prison Sangin’, My Christmas Miracle Blues

This past Sunday was the day of my church’s cantata.  Our choir director, Jeff, had chosen a high-energy cantata called God Coming Down, which was co-written by Travis Cottrell.  It was gorgeous music, sometimes bordering on rock and dangerously danceable in places–at least for a Baptist church.  I was asked to lend my tones as the narrator for the whole shebang and as the soloist on one of the quieter pieces called O Bless the Lord.  We had been rehearsing this cantata since early October and despite getting snowed out for one rehearsal, we were ready to go on Sunday.  I was also honored that Jeff had asked me to sing O Bless the Lord during the Sunday morning service as a preview to the evening’s performance.   It went pretty good, too, if I do say so myself.  I’d spent the whole morning avoiding things that would gum up one’s voice, such as not eating any cheese and not drinking any caffeine that might dry me out.  I wanted my vocal cords properly moistened and warmed up for both morning and evening performances, cause the message of the song deserved it and I wanted to sound good in delivering it.

Let me back up a second.

The very first solo I ever sang at this church was in a Christmas cantata, round about the year 2002 or so–which was, basically, when I joined the church choir.  Our choir director at the time assigned me two fairly short lines in one song and I managed to choke on the second of those lines in both performances we gave.  The first, and most memorable of the performance chokings, was at the Alderson Federal Women’s Prison, 20 miles away in Alderson, WV.   Now, there’s a chance you’ve heard of this place because of its most famous inmate of recent years, one Martha Stewart; however, Martha was still a few years away from her stay there.  Our church choir of 2002 was invited to come and sing our cantata for the ladies of the prison and they, in turn, would sing some Christmas music for us.   I was a bit nervous, having not sung a solo publicly since participating in one of those wretched high school show choir medley shows, featuring snippets of over-baked songs from the `50s, a show I was forcibly drafted into participating in because my third-string drama class didn’t have a play to do instead and they needed to give me a grade for doing something.  (This was in the dark days before the TV show Glee, when such show choirs were not cool at all.)

When it came time for me to sing my first line at the prison, I sang it clearly and, I thought, pretty well.  What I wasn’t prepared for was the response this well-sung line–well sung by a male, no less–would get from the ladies of the prison, for they gave off whoops and hollers and began applauding like I was Usher.  When it came time to sing my next line, though, I was seized by nerves and my voice warbled like a pubescent Peter Brady.  It killed all cred I had just built with the ladies in the audience.  There was almost an audible sound of disappointment.  Two days later, with that memory still fixed in my head, I did the exact same thing in front of our congregation at church, only without the whoops and hollers in between.  It’s that memory that I’ve tried to live down in all future church performances.

These days, I’m old hat at singing in church and have even turned my singing talents back to the stage, with several professional productions at the Greenbrier Valley Theatre, some of which have been musicals, one of which was an opera.  I tend not to choke when it comes to singing.

This past Sunday night, at 7 p.m., the cantata service began.  Instead of being in the choir loft with the rest of the choir, Jeff had asked me to start my narration from the back of the sanctuary, where I could walk down the aisle in darkness, creating an effect.  I’d even memorized that particular narration, since I wouldn’t have any light to see my words by (though the words were, thankfully, printed on the overhead projected image of the cantata DVD just for backup).  The cantata started, I said my words flawlessly and headed up into the loft to join the choir for the first song.  I didn’t think I felt nervous, but I must have been for my mouth had gone very dry.  I had some water there in the choir-loft, though, so it would just be a matter of finding time to sneak some.  Didn’t find any after the first song, because I had to step down to narrate again and then step right back up to start singing with the choir almost immediately.  The second number was a gospel-themed title song, God Coming Down.  It’s probably the most challenging song of the whole cantata because it’s very fast and with a lot of ad-libbing on the part of the soloist, but with lots of business for the choir as well.  Think big black gospel choir (only one of which was actually black, and that wasn’t the soloist) and you have a decent picture.  The song builds to a huge ending that is designed to leave the audience cheering.  And we followed that design, because they were indeed cheering.  The song doesn’t actually end there, though.  After the audience has clapped a bit, the music is supposed to start back with a reprise of the chorus–only even faster than before and with the lyrics starting almost immediately.

This is where I made my mistake.

I tried to sneak some water during the applause, knowing I had another narration to do shortly.  So I brought my water bottle up, thinking the sound guys were going to let the applause go for a bit before starting the reprise.  I was wrong.  They let the DVD run on for its 4 second pause, enough time for me to get water into my mouth, then the drum beats kicked in and the choir started singing.  In my haste to swallow and start singing again, I inhaled a little bit of water.  And suddenly, my vocal cords seized up I couldn’t sing anymore.

I tried to put a game face on and continued mouthing the words to the song, but every time I tried to sing any of them the sounds came out sounding more like Gollum, from Lord of the Rings, than me.  My high range was shot, my low range was shot and the middle range area was really really clunky.  I tried to cough the water out, but this seemed to make things sound worse somehow.  Then the song was over and it was time to go narrate again.  It sounded awful, though I managed to get all the words out more-or-less.  Great, now I couldn’t sing or speak and my solo was a mere four songs away.

Throughout the next three pieces, I continued to try and clear my throat, occasionally sipping more water to try and remove whatever crud was on the vocal cords, or just sooth them from the punishment they had endured.  Didn’t seem to be helping.  I then tried to relax and just mouth the words, saving what little voice I had.  When I gave it a few test notes, though, it still sounded terrible.  I couldn’t even sing falsetto to hit the higher notes, cause that sounded worse than full voice.

My speaking voice cleared up a little bit, but it was certainly not what I’d call good and my ability to match the energy of Travis Cottrell’s intent was waning.

How was I going to get through my solo?  It was going to be a train wreck and there was not much I could do about it.  Was it possible to somehow communicate with Jeff using sign language that I wasn’t going to be able to sing?  Or was it wise to just go up to him before my song and tell him that?  Could he pinch hit for me?

I did the narration for the song right before mine, a duet, half of which was sung by my friend Brian and the other by a lady named Jane.  I knew they would knock it out of the park and it was one of my favorite moments of the whole cantata.   I couldn’t even enjoy it, though, because every note brought me closer to the disaster that would be my song.  Half the crowd had heard me sing it that morning.  They knew what it was supposed to sound like and I was not about to deliver that.

I began praying–which I should have been doing all along–and just asking God to clear my voice.  I figured there was no easy way out of this mess, so I was going to have to try my best and croak it on out, hoping that at least the message of the lyrics would be heard even if they weren’t pretty.  And the notes remained very ugly indeed during the choir parts of Brian and Jane’s song.  My favorite tenor note in the entire cantata was in there, too, and I couldn’t hit it at all.

When the song ended, I walked down the steps of the choir loft and toward the stage.  My  mind was spinning.  Should I say something beforehand?  Should I explain that I’d choked on water during what was practically a spit-take in Johnny’s song?  Should I warn the audience that they were about to hear something that was going to sound like Clarence “Frogman” Carter’s younger less-talented brother “Tadpole” Clem, after being punched in the throat?  Should I apologize?  Or, should I see how it turned out, and apologize only if it was the horror show I suspected it was going to be?   Or, and here’s a thought, should I just have faith?

As I stepped onto the stage, Brian was there holding the microphone for me.  As he passed it to me, I whispered, “Pray for me,” and gave him as serious an expression as I could.  He nodded and said “Will do.”

I read the long narration before my song.  My speaking voice sounded about 70 percent of good to my ears.  I was, oddly, not nervous at all about singing in front of so many people.  I was nervous that the mechanics of it would work at all and that was more then enough nervousness to deal with.

The music began to play and the moment arrived…  “O Bethlehem,” I began.  And it worked!  The voice was working!  “So small and weak,” I continued in, essentially, the same note range.  The voice worked.  “Open your arms.  Receive your king.  Redemption cries.  Salvation breathes.  O, bless the Lord.”  My voice was working for all of it.  I would certainly not call it 100 percent, but it was passable–it was passable!  In my head, I thanked God and continued on through my first verse.  The voice worked.

Once the chorus began, though, the notes became higher and I could feel my control breaking down again.  Fortunately, the choir also sang on the chorus, so I just lowered the microphone and let them do the heavy-lifting as I tried to sing along.  I could feel and hear, though, that what I was doing wasn’t working.  The higher range was still very very sketchy, but at least I wasn’t on mic singing those sketchy notes.  I just mouthed the words until the next verse began, which dropped me back into the passable range.  From what I could tell in the moment, and what I was able to confirm once I returned to the choir loft, any notes above or below the range of those sung in the verses of my song did not work well coming out of my mouth.  All the notes of my verses–the ones the audience could hear me singing solo–worked.  It was like my voice was temporarily damaged in such a way that I was still able to sing my song.  And if this is any sort of evidence of a miracle–which I contend it is, cause that’s what it felt like–it means that I was assigned a song that fit the exact range I would need to have in the moments of the verses, while everything else was problematic at best. Whatever the case, I praised god in mind and song.

The second chorus I did again off mic, resting my voice because I knew the third verse was supposed to be as piano as it gets, leading to the forte final chorus.  The voice worked in the much quieter tones, too.  It sounded a little smokey, but was respectable.  In the final chorus, I was so grateful to have gotten through it all that I just dropped the mic to my side and gave it my all to sing the chorus.  It was not great, but it was also not amplified.

On my way back to my seat, Brian gave me a thumbs up and I mouthed “thank you,” back.  After the cantata had ended, I told Brian about my choking spit-take and the damage it had wrought.  He explained that he’d heard me sound a bit off in my narration and realized something bad was happening with my voice.  When he’d returned to the choir loft after my request for prayer, he’d rallied the other tenors near him to join, so I had at least three people praying for me.

“I’m calling it a Christmas miracle,” I said.


Copyright © 1997-2013 Eric Fritzius

Birthday Surprise(s) Part 7

The following day, having cleaned the garage three times in as many hours due to Maya’s refusal to stop trodding through her own piss and smearing it absolutely everywhere, I decided to find our corkscrew tie-out and stake that puppy to the yard.   It made me sad to do so, since tied down to a stake made her look like she did in the photo of her back in Kentucky.  But then I’d think of having to hose out the garage repeatedly, and of the many times I had to clean and disinfect the interior door and I just drove away with no more sad feelings.

A day or so later, the wife put up Sadie’s old rope run out, that we used to keep her on whenever we left our old home in Princeton.  The rope run had a chain on a pulley that allowed Maya a good deal more freedom.  It went up just in time, because she had pulled at her corkscrew tie so much that the only thing keeping it in the ground at all was faith.

Meanwhile the other dogs were allowed free run and didn’t even have to wear their shock collars (“purty collars” we call them) because they know where their radio signal boundaries are and they tend to stay away from those areas.  (We know that they know that their collars are what keeps them on their best behavior, and that they also know they can sneak away if they’re not wearing them–cause we’ve seen them do it–but since our nearest neighbors’ dogs also wear the same collar system and frequently try their boundaries when we walk past, they know that the terrifying beeping exists beyond their own collars, so they’ve started towing the line.)

I knew it would soon be time to train Maya with the wireless fence system.

We bought our system back in 2009, a year after we first brought Sadie home at our house in Princeton.  In that time, she’d logged a lot of hours as a free roaming dog, but had mostly stayed within the confines of our yard.  Our neighborhood there was out in the woods a bit, without a lot of traffic, so we didn’t much worry about her getting hit.  However, as she got older and more daring she would travel further, usually chasing after her arch-enemies, the local deer.  She also enjoyed running up and down the fence line of our next door neighbor, an attorney, chasing his dogs along it and generally refusing to come back to the house when called no matter how loud we screamed.

We didn’t really want a fence, but we needed a way to keep her in the yard without just tying her out.  We knew that the previous owners of our house there had had some sort of Petsafe invisible fence system, because we kept finding their old boundary flags in the woods.  We considered this, but weren’t sure it would even work with Sadie, because the wife had some experience with invisible fence systems from her former St. Bernard, Honeybee.  The wife had once spent a day wiring up the entire back pasture of her grandmother’s farm in order to let Honeybee run free.  Once the system was hooked up and the collar placed on the dog’s neck, Honeybee stepped across the wire boundary, twitched at the shock, looked annoyed and then bounded away.  It never worked and we were afraid of sinking dough into such a system only to have it fail for our St. Bernard mix.

Then, on one of our near daily visits to Lowes, I saw a product that I hadn’t before known to exist: a Petsafe wireless invisible fence. This product purported to be a radio transmitter that would establish a half an acre area in which a dog could run free, but which if the dog attempted to leave would cause the accompanying collar to give off a warning beep and then a shock. The kit cost three times as much as a wire-based invisible fence system, but the more we thought about it the more we were of the opinion that it would be worth paying that much more if we didn’t have to hassle with burying damned wires.  If it didn’t work, we could return it, no extra calories burned.  Furthermore, the system was portable, which would make keeping Sadie in line at the in-laws house a much easier prospect.

While we stood there considering the purchase, a guy who was standing nearby piped up, saying, “Hey, if you’re thinking about buying one of those, I just wanted to let you know something,” he began. We looked over and noticed that the man happened to be our trusted and much-liked veterinarian. He went on to tell us that the wireless fence was a very good product, but if we lived in an area prone to power outages we should be cautious because if the power went out it would shock the dog. He said his parents used the same system, but had also purchased battery backups so their dogs would not be harmed. We thanked him for his advice and bought the wireless fence immediately.

The instructions for the system suggested that it would take a good two weeks of thrice-daily training sessions in order to make an average dog understand where it could and couldn’t go in the yard. I’m proud to say that Sadie had it down within a period of 12 hours and 2.5 training sessions.  These amounted to her trying the boundary, which I’d marked with the little white flags the system comes with, getting shocked, and then never going past that flag again.  The next time she went beyond her boundary, the warning beep alone was enough to send her packing for the house, so we counted her trained.

When Moose came along, it also took him one training session, but when he got shocked he ran in a circle yiping and yiping and we had to call him back to us because he just kept spinning in the area that was continuing to shock him.  He too was counted as trained rather quickly.

I didn’t relish having to do this with Maya, but knew it would be necessary.  Especially after we discovered that she was in heat.



Birthday Surprise(s) Part 6

My first day as Maya’s sole guardian went about as you would expect–if what you expect is chaos punctuated by feces, urine and occasional naps.  It felt very much like the times my wife and I have babysat for the infants of friends, where everything is fine and good so long as the child is asleep, cause once they wake up there’s lots of screaming and poop.

Moose’s bonding moment.

I have to confess here, too, that I was kind of in shock throughout Day 1, because I was still wildly unsure that agreeing to take this dog was a good idea AT ALL.  Sure, she was a nice enough dog, and all, but she was definitely throwing a wrench into the relative calm and normalcy of my usual world.  Here I’d spent the better part of five years getting our first two dogs to a place where they didn’t crap in the house or attack people too often, and were pretty calm chill dogs most of the time, and now we had this bladder-spasm-afflicted lummox (albeit a sweet one) who was, when awake, constantly in need of attention and always ALWAYS in danger of excreting things I didn’t want to deal with.  In other words, I had yet to bond with Maya in any fundamental way and so everything she did seemed like a rude intrusion upon my life, rather than temporary inconveniences that would lessen as she acclimated and was properly trained.

I had a similar reaction to Moose’s arrival a few years ago and it took a couple of days for me to bond with him.  (I think the moment I did was when he fell asleep in my underwear, which happened to be around my ankles at the time due to my seated position on the toilet.)  It’s a good thing we did bond, because he was a toothy monster to potty train.  Took at least a month to get the heavy lifting done so that he would let us know when he needed to whiz.  Even after that, he wasn’t perfect and would have lapses about twice a year, though about age 4.  (Now he’s great.  In fact, he’s very polite about it.  These days he just comes over to me and quietly stares at my face, waiting for me to pay attention to him.  He might give off a low “brrrr,” if I’m taking too long, but usually just keeps mum.  Then, once I’ve noticed him staring, I’ll ask if he has to go potty at which time he’ll just light up with barking, the volume level depending on how urgent it is.)

I was hoping that Maya, being female and of similar breeding to Sadie, would be quicker to train.  Sadie picked up the whole potty training thing in a couple of weeks.   Maya’s willingness to let fly with whatever she had in the chamber, however, didn’t bode well.

Throughout Day 1, any time I saw the dog wake up I would immediately take her outside to potty, because if I didn’t she would start searching around for somewhere to have a squat.  Whenever she successfully pottied potty outside, I would praise her for doing so and give her lots of pets.  Through this method, I managed to make it most of the day before she had an accident in the house and it was completely my fault when she finally did.  (A wise man once said: when a puppy piddles on the carpet, whose fault is it, the puppy’s or its owner’s? Answer: the owner’s, because he’s the one not paying attention to his puppy.  That’s paraphrasing, but we read something very similar on a puppy potty-training website, back when we were first trying to train Sadie. It’s as irritating a statement as you’re likely to find, but it’s also true. Potty training a dog to “go” exclusively outside is a long and uric-acid soaked process that can drive you nigh onto insanity.)

Can’t say we had a bonding moment, but she seemed to like me pretty good.

It occurred to me that I really should start training her with our shock collar wireless fence system, since she would need to know about for the times we both could not be at the house.  However, doing so requires the inevitable moment when the dog fails to come back when you tell her to stay away from the border flags and I just didn’t want to see that moment yet.  Let her have a few days to settle in before the painful realities of the yard were introduced.  Instead, when I had to leave the house, or, as I had to on Day 1 Solo, step into the studio to do a Skype interview for the nonfiction book project I’ve been working on all year, and which is finally in sight of wrapping up, I left her in the garage with a small fluffy throw rug.  She didn’t like this and jumped and jumped on the inside garage door, but that was about it.  Or so I thought.

The first time I left her in the garage, I returned to find the fluffy throw rug soaked with urine.  Should have known that was going to happen.  When I left her in there the next time, sans fluffy throw rug, I returned to find a puddle of urine in its place by the interior door to the house, which she had then trod through and then spread all around the garage in pissy footprints.  She had also smeared similar pissy footprints ALL OVER THE INTERIOR DOOR!!!  These were NOT bonding moments!

What was something of a bonding moment–or at least was in sight of one–was Maya’s developing relationship with Moose.  As I said before, Moose doesn’t always get along with other dogs and tends to drool and snarl at them.  Maya, however, he warmed up to.  By mid-way through Day 1, they were actually running and playing together.  It made me cry, because while Moose used to play like that with Sadie all the time, we’ve not seen him play like that in months.  Moose occasionally suffers from a reoccurring condition in which he has sudden bouts of painful weakness in seemingly random legs.  It’s a condition he developed a few months after we moved back to Lewisburg from our 4-year extended stay in Princeton.  We initially thought it was Lyme disease, as the symptoms seemed right.  But no amount of super deep testing could prove that and the vet school in Blacksburg was unable to determine a conclusive cause for it, beyond build-up of lymphatic fluids in his joints.  He went through months of heavy steroid treatments with Prednisone, which requires a lengthy weaning period.  And he was fine for a couple of months after being off entirely before it reoccurred.  It has reoccurred three times in the months since, so when it does happen we just put him back on a much smaller dose of Prednisone and it goes away for a while.  That he was playing like his old self truly made me happy, to the point that I had to send the video to the wife so she could cry too.

Maya was something of a wonder of awkward puppyness.  Being mostly legs, she was of the habit of walking along  a perfectly level surface, only to trip over a line in the floor and go sprawling.  We gave her the nickname of Tiny Dancer and quickly made up a voice for her.  We have voices for all of our pets, which sound consistent no matter which of us is doing them and which pretty accurately depict their base-personalities.  Maya’s, at this point, is that of a proud, naive, country-girl who says things like “My paw calls me `Tiny Dancer,’ cause I’m so petite and graceful.”  Our pets also all have nicknames, sometimes multiple ones.  Sadie is “Pa’s girl,” “Mama’s girl,” “The Baby Dog,” “Say Say Dog,” and “Sadie Mac.”  Moose is called “Pa’s Buddy,” “Moosetastic,” “Moose E. Boy,” etc.  Actually, Moose’s real name is Seamus, so “Moose” is the biggest nickname of all.  I used to make fun of dog people who treat their mutts as kids and lavish attention and cheesy nicknames on them.  They say you mock what you fear and become what you mock, so I’m afraid we’ve become those people.  (If any of you ever catch me trying to bring one on a plane as an anxiety comfort dog, you have my permission to punch me in the dick.)

On the afternoon of Day 2, I took Sadie and Maya for a ride to the vet.  It was time for Sadie to get some shots (an appointment I’d missed two days earlier) and I figured Maya should get a checkup to make sure she had all her fingers and toes.  I brought her in first.  While we waited in the lobby, Maya charmed most people who saw her and was sweet, if restless.  Then she began barking.  At first I thought she was barking at the life-size cat cutout on top of a shelf of woefully expensive dog food.  Then we discovered that she was actually barking at the small flatscreen TV that was affixed to the wall next to the shelf.  It was showing vet-stuff on a loop and she would give off deep woofs at the motion she saw there.  I had to turn her around so it wasn’t line of sight, but she kept looking back to it.  That’s when I realized I had not watched TV since the night the wife had left to go pick the dog up, so she’d not yet experienced our big flatscreen at home.  Fun times were in the offing for sure.

The vet had a look at her and pronounced her healthy.  She wasn’t even all that alarmed at Maya’s thinness, saying that even though she was a little ribby she was still in great shape.  I explained that we didn’t have any vet records for Maya, so we didn’t know what shots she might need.  We were pretty sure she’d not been spayed yet, which was a priority in my book cause I did not want to spend any time dealing with a dog in heat and at 10 months of age, she was probably ready to go into heat fairly soon.  We opted to wait until we received her records, though, which Amber had said the former owners would soon be sending.

Sadie Mac Dog: the good dog

Sadie Mac Dog: the good dog

I took Maya back to the car and retrieved Sadie.  While she was terribly excited to be out of the car, Sadie and Maya were night and day in their behavior.  It wasn’t until I got her into the vet’s examination room that it became apparent, but I realized that Sadie–for all the hell she gave us as a puppy and young adult–has become a remarkably good dog.  It’s why people like my parents, who had run ins with her during the early years, are so pleased to see her now, because she’s really settled into a superb dog.  She’s still a nervous nelly and, as such, has occasional issues with strangers, but she pretty much does what she’s told.

“Wow,” I said aloud to the vet.  “The contrast between the two really makes me realize what a truly good dog Sadie is.”

“She’s a great dog,” the vet said.



Birthday Surprise(s) Part 5

blog-dsla2 A 10-month-old St. Bernard, while technically still a puppy, is not a small thing.  I could see this particular not-small-thing as it wandered around the back area of the wife’s element.  Even with the seats folded up, there didn’t seem to be a lot of space for it.  The Element shook with the weight of this thing bounding around inside of it, trying to find a way out.  The wife hooked a leash to her, then opened the door and let “Darla” out.

First sight.

During the first few minutes of her time with us both, I tried in vain to get a picture of this dog.  I wanted some sort of record of her arrival, but she simply would not sit still.  Making matters worse was that I insisted on trying to use my cell phone camera to do the job.  It’s great for outdoor shots with lots of light, but not so great when your subject is in constant motion.  If she was still, by the time the camera had summoned up the energy to snap the picture, she’d long since moved on.  So I just started randomly snapping in the hope that I might accidentally get a good shot.  “Darla”just kept moving as fast as she could go and as far as the leash would allow.  Meanwhile, our other two dogs, Sadie and Moose, barked ferociously from inside the glass of stairwell window as the new dog ran around sniffing and peeing and pooping willy nilly.  She was a giant wiggly, wobbly mess of a dog, and seemed to be composed of mostly legs and tail.  She was also terribly skinny, though not what I would call malnourished.  The wife said she was pretty aggressive in her eating habits, as though she might not be used to receiving more than one meal a day, but we could train her out of that pretty quick.  When we finally let the other dogs out, there was lots of growling and barking and sniffing to be done.  Couldn’t say anyone made any fast friends in the first few minutes, nor really for the rest of the night.  Moosie drooled a bit. “Darla” didn’t seem too concerned with the other dogs, though.

“Darla” the aggressively non-photogenic dog

After introductions has been made with everyone and the new arrival, the wife asked if she could see her present.  “Which one? I asked.  “You have one on the table, one on a leash and another in the shop.”

“The one in the shop.”

So I led her in to see the horse project, in all its weathered, spattered glory.   I led her in with her eyes closed until she was positioned in front of it.  I’d turned on all the shop lights to help catch the gold spatters.  She then opened her eyes and grinned.  She immediately recognized the inspiration and loved what I’d done.

“I don’t know how we’re going to hang it up, it weights 500 pounds,” I said.

We both agreed that my stain idea was probably a good one, which would help the horse shape stand out more and be more in tune with the original inspiration.  It would just be a matter of getting some and painting it on.

After admiring the painting a bit longer, we finally left it and headed to the house.  The wife’s sister, Amber, who had spoken with one of Maya’s former owners, had explained that the dog had at one point in her life been housebroken.  However, she had spent a considerable time outside of anyone’s home, so they weren’t too sure if she had regressed in this training.  We soon found out that she had indeed forgotten most of her excretory etiquette.  This led to such phrases being spoken as: “Your present just pooped in the kitchen.  Happy birthday.”

“We’ve got to do something about that name,” I said. The only Darla I’ve ever heard of was the girl in the Our Gang shorts, and she–at least in my memory–was kind of a manipulative bitch. And while you might think this would make her name fitting for a female dog, it just didn’t sit will in our minds. We were still hesitant to change it if the dog was used to “Darla,” cause why confuse matters unnecessarily? But then again, she was going to have to learn a whole new set of commands that would match up with the ones we’ve taught our dogs already, so maybe a new name would not be that much of a stretch (particularly if it was a better name).

“What’s your name?” we asked the dog. Not that we expected a response, but this is what we usually ask a new animal that comes to us without a name. (Or, as was the case with our cats, inappropriate names–theirs originally being Emma and Dejavu, for male cats. Emmett and D.J. are much happier with their current names, we’re sure.) Asking the pet their name sometimes causes them to give you an expression that might suggest something to you. Nothing great really came to mind. The wife suggested “Clara” as a name. And this might actually be a perfect name for a female St. Bernard if it didn’t come loaded down with the baggage of it also being the name of a character on Doctor Who. I’m such a reknowned Who fanatic that I would have to either own it, or spend all my time explaining that I had not named my dog after the Impossible Girl. (Though Clara: the Impossible Dog did have a nice ring to it.) We toyed with other possibilities and heard more suggestions on Facebook. My mother-in-law insisted that we should call her “Heidi.” While I think it’s a great name for a saint, I already have two friends named Heidi and wouldn’t want to answer the inevitable questions there.


Maya, captured in a rare moment when she wasn't actively pooping on our floor.

Maya, captured in a rare moment when she wasn’t actively pooping on our floor.

The one name we kept coming back to, though, was a suggestion from my sister: “Maya.” Other than being a bit of a hippie-sounding choice, it seemed to fit well enough. This would be a giant Earth Mother of a dog, and we thought the name would work in that regard as well.

As for how she was received by the other dogs, it was pretty mixed. Moose wasn’t actively unfriendly, but was still cautious about the new arrival. He didn’t drool as much as he did with Amber’s dog Thane, but then again he wasn’t being pursued as a target for rough-housing nearly as much. Plus, Maya was a girl, with all her female bits intact, which he seemed to think was pretty cool. Sadie, however, wanted nothing to do with Maya and would snarl at her whenever she came near. Maya began to bark in return, though usually only when Sadie snarled in proximity to us. We quickly figured out that Maya was trying to be protective of her new people and didn’t like other dogs snarling at us. After a bit, Sadie settled into a pattern of trying to herd Maya, which we figured would be just fine–it would give her something to be active with and might keep Maya in line.

The cats were also a mixed bag.  D.J. Kitty, our gray skinny cat, is a pretty decent soul who gets along with our other dogs.  Sure, they chase him, but he understands that it’s only because they want him to run, so he just stops whenever they try and ends their fun.  Emmett Kitty (a.k.a. “Fatty Lumpkin”), however, while willing to put up with our existing dogs, has let it be known that he will suffer no more and has chased dogs three times his size away and left many a nose scarred.  (He actually tried to kill my mother-in-law’s tiny dog, Rascal and we had to literally stitch the poor thing back together with superglue.)

At bedtime, we brought them all into our bedroom.  We already had three dog beds in our possession, one of which usually lived in the garage.  Dogs were settled on each of them. Moose still preferred to sneak into our bed after he thought we were asleep, but we let him since we figured he’d had a hard day of it, too. The following days would prove to be a real test, not only of Maya, but of me. After two days off and a trip to Kentucky, the wife had to go back to work for a four day stretch, leaving me to ride herd and bucket over the new addition.



Birthday Surprise(s) Part 4

I walked in to find the wife reading a text message from her sister Amber.  She then hurried to her laptop and brought up Facebook.  “Ohhhh,” she said a moment later, in a sad tone.

Future family member

Future family member

“What?  What is it?” I asked, moving over to look.  On the screen was a picture of a St. Bernard sitting on a patch of bare dirt, a chain attached to the collar at her neck.  She looked a little dirty and thin, but was beautiful all the same.  The Facebook page was a collection of classified ad listings for the Fort Knox-area.  The dog in question was a 10-month-old full-blooded St. Bernard called “Darla” who was owned by a family whose financial circumstances had recently changed to the point that they had to leave their home and could no longer care for such a growing large dog. The pooch, we were told by Amber, was living with some relatives of the owners.  Inwardly, I cursed when I heard this, because I could see in that moment a terrifying possible future outcome, one which I had been fighting against for the past two years and hoped to continue doing so for years to come.

Let me back up.

For the past, say, 26 months now, the wife has wanted a St. Bernard.  She used to have one named Honeybee when she lived in Alaska and loved her dearly.  Unfortunately, Honey Bee died about a year after we began dating in 1998.  Since then, she has wanted another Saint and our existing dogs were acquired while trying to acquire St. Bernards.

Our little pound puppy

Our little pound puppy

In fact, it was a very similar photo of a very similar sad orphaned puppy that I saw staring at me from a computer screen back in 2008 just days before she came into our life as our dog Sadie.  Sadie was supposed to be a St. Bernard, but turned out to be a more likely candidate for a Great Pyrenees/Border Collie mix.  Our more recent dog, Moose, was also supposed to be a mix of St. Bernard and Leonberger, which would have made for a ginormous dog had this actually been true.  No one thought to tell him he needed to keep growing beyond the 45 pounds he’s managed in his four years of life, though, so mainly he’s just a brown dog.  During the past couple of years, though, the wife has continued to lobby for trying again to find a full blooded saint and this is a lobbying effort I have fought strongly against.

Two dogs, in my oft-stated opinion, was great—especially our two dogs, who are just wonderful, eager-to-please little beasties who only occasionally roll in fecal matter (which one of them has done TODAY!!!!).  However, it’s taken a long time and a lot of work to mold them into their near-feacalless-semi-perfection.  They mostly get along, hardly chase the cats at all, and it was a delicate dynamic I wasn’t interested in upsetting by introducing another dog.  Three dogs, I said, would be terrible, especially when two of them would be very large dogs.  We’d have to walk them in shifts.  (Heh, “we.”)  And forget just popping them in the car and heading to the beach to stay with Ashley’s parents and grandmother.  Two they can handle, but with three it gets crowded, and fast.  Plus, I said, what about the camping trips we’ve recently begun to take–especially the kayaking camping trips?  We can barely kayak with two dogs, let alone a third really giant, heavy dog.  It would have to have its own kayak or learn to swim.  There was also the matter of caring for, training, and providing post-midnight potty sessions for a new dog, most of the responsibility for which would fall upon my shoulders.  The wife would get to come home and have all the good times with few of the bad times.

However, as many selfish reasons as I was able to come up with, the major reason I saw came down to our existing two dogs and their temperament around other dogs: it’s been dicey.  Sadie either tries to herd them or growls at them and Moose, when he’s been around puppies in the past, tends to start drooling and snapping at them.  Adding a third would potentially be catastrophic.

With all that in mind, I was fully prepared to go back into my list of reasons a third dog was a woefully bad idea.  I didn’t want to look at the dog’s picture, I didn’t want to hear its sob story.  I just wanted to maintain our comfortable status quo.  (And plot revenge against Amber for this attack up on our household.)  However, there were two factors getting in my way:

1) My own stupid mouth, which betrayed me a year or so back after I had spotted an ad on the bulletin board at our vet’s office offering a free adult St. Bernard which could not be kept by its owner because it didn’t have enough space to roam, and then my mouth told that fact to my wife later, like that was a good idea somehow.  Her response, of course, was “Let’s go.”  And then I had to list all my reasons why we shouldn’t do that.  Could have just kept my damn lips zipped, but had to go blabbing something I knew would hurt her soul.  I still felt guilty at my own dumbass nature.

The second factor was that even then I could see tears welling up in Ashley’s eyes.  She wasn’t pouring them on for my benefit, but was genuinely moved at the plight of this dog (a dog the listing assured was sweet and great with children).  I could feel my resolve beginning to crumble.  I still believed all of the reasons I had in hand to be true—however, what was also true was that I loved this woman enough to endure the potential tragedy and turmoil of a new dog.

The first draft

The first draft

She looked to me to make the final decision, knowing full well what I was likely to say.  And in that moment, I thought, “What the hell—it’s her birthday.  She said she wanted something big.”  I said, yes.

The wife immediately called her sister, and they made arrangements for Amber to drive to where the dog was living to pick it up.  Ashley, in turn, waited until our guests for movie night had been fed, then hit the road for Kentucky to pick up her new pooch.

The next day, I finished up my painting on the horse project—which was starting to seem a bit less worthy of a birthday surprise when compared to a new St. Bernard.  Soon it was time to remove the horse decal and see what I had on my hands.  I was very hesitant, because there would be no going back, especially if I tore the decal.  And when I did slowly peel the decal away, I did indeed tear the shit out of it.  Still, what lay beneath—or rather, what didn’t—looked pretty good.  It was the silhouette of a horse in bare, weathered wood.  It wasn’t exactly… striking–at least not in the same way as the original piece I was inspired by.  But it was kind of cool.  Seeing it made me wish I had done a bit more painting around the edges, to help give the bare shape contrast.  Maybe it would need staining.

Not long after I did the reveal to myself, I got a text from the wife saying she was in the area and would be home within 20 minutes.  Soon enough, her Element pulled up and I got my first glimpse of the gigantic thing that was to be our new pooch.



Birthday Surprise(s) Part 3

The Shop

The Shop

I could see the wife peering in the window of the door to my wood shop.  However, from her angle, and with the dimness of the shop’s interior, she could probably only see my basic shape and little detail of anything I was working on (wooden boards on a wooden floor).  Unfortunately, there was no way she hadn’t heard me drilling the screws into the supporting crossbeam of her birthday present as she made her way across the yard to the shop.

The wife knocked on the door.  I cursed, knowing I was busted, and went over to unlock the door and open it a few inches.

“Why did you lock the door?” she asked in a tone that suggested she was amazed not to find a meth-lab under construction within the shop’s interior.

“To keep you from coming in,” I said.

“What are you doing in there?” she said, trying to push the door open.  I held it firm.

“You don’t get to know that, yet,” I said.

She narrowed her eyes at me.  “I don’t?”


“Are you working on a surprise?”


“For my birthday?”

“Yep,” I said.  “Amber’s not the only one who gets to surprise you.”

The wife looked thoughtful, annoyed and pleased all at once.  She went back to the house without having a peek.  However, the fact that I was busted in mid-assembly on this birthday gift meant one major thing:  there was no backing out of this now; I was committed.  The wife now knew I was working on something—something that involved not only power tools but likely wood—and she would be expecting an end result as her surprise.  If I was truly going to see this thing through, I realized I had better make with buying a horse decal and quick.

That afternoon, I did a bit more searching online and finally found what appeared to be the perfect horse decal.  It was, again, a bit more expensive than you’d really care to pay for something you were just going to wind up peeling off and probably tearing to shreds in the process, but it matched my dimensions and the style I wanted.  And, if it worked, it would create an effect I would be hard-pressed to recreate by hand.  I ordered it.

The cat being out of the bag that I had a secret project in the shop, I didn’t even have to do any sneaking to work on it over the following days.  Not that there was much work to be done on it without the horse decal.  As for the wife, I didn’t think she would actually go out to the shop to have a look around, but I decided to make it annoying for her if she did.  In addition to keeping the shop locked at all times, I stationed tall items in all lines of sight from sweety-accessible windows.

While the wife was in the shower, a day or two later, her sister Amber told me that the wife had been grilling both her and Ma as to what I was making.

“Does she have any idea what it is?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

This kind of surprised me.  I had actually been shocked that the wife hadn’t immediately guessed what I was doing based on the sound of me drilling screws into wood to begin with.  Given the day she’d had to think on it, though, it struck me as amazing that she hadn’t put together the number of pretty obvious clues lying about, many of which I knew she had seen and/or heard.  Somehow she had not, though.

“She’ll figure it out,” I said.  “There’s no way she won’t.”

The sister and mom-in-law left on Sunday, October 27.

On Monday morning, before the wife left for work, she asked me if her surprise present would be ready by the time of her birthday, two days away.  I told her I hoped so, but that I was still waiting for part of it to arrive.  Her eyes gleamed evilly at this.

“What are you waiting on?”

“Something very important without which I can’t do the rest of it.”

“It’s something you’re building?”


“Will I like it?”

“I hope you love it,” I said.

I could see her studying my face for any clues.  Then I saw her expression shift in a very dangerous way.  “I know what it is,” she said.

“You do?” I asked.


Now I studied her face and saw there was a degree of certainty to be found there.

“I’m astounded it’s taken you this long,” I said.  Still, I wasn’t going to give anything away without proof.

The wife seemed to think for a few more seconds, then said, “Do some friends of ours have one like this?”

Er.  This seemed odd.  Cause even though we are friends with the owners of the gallery in which the original inspiration for this gift was for sale, her phrasing somehow made me believe she was thinking of something else.  I didn’t know what, exactly, but it didn’t seem like what I was creating.

“Nope.  You don’t know it,” I said.  She declined to speculate further.

Later that day, the horse decal was delivered.  It came in three sheets–head, rear and tail.  The head portion, however, fit perfectly with the image I had in my noggin.  I followed the instructions to carefully apply it to the boards.  After that it was just a matter of starting the painting process.

I was determined to use some of the extra house paint we had stored in the shop, but the splatter paint effect I was able to get by dipping a brush into them and flicking it at my wooden canvas was not exactly the effect I had hoped for.  It was too drippy, chaotic and difficult to control.  Granted, I wanted that look as well, but I decided instead to use some of the 20 cans of spray paint we had to achieve a more controlled effect.  For the benefit of those of you who are not taggers, if you depress a spray paint nozzle ever-so-slightly it will spit out a spatter of paint as opposed to the standard spray.  With some practice, you can control the thickness of the spatters to a degree.  When applied from a sufficient distance, this gives a nice speckled effect.  I started with beige, dark blue, red, black and gray (including the last of a small can of Testors gunmetal gray primer I’ve had since college).  It started to look pretty good.  I gave it a few hours to dry and came back to do some more.  I was careful to wash all the paint off of my hands, and had worn my painting clothes so as not to cause any questions any noticed spatters would bring.

On Tuesday, while the wife had the day off, I went back out to the shop to work some more.  This time I added some gold spatters, though only sparingly.  I wanted something that would catch the light.  I didn’t have a lot of time, though, because we were having some of the cast of Dracula: A Rock Opera over to eat stew and watch bad vampire movies.  I eventually left things to dry and returned to the house.  And this was when my life changed.



Birthday Surprise(s) Part 2

blog-dsla2First up, I needed wood, and old wood at that.  The original print looked as though it were painted on old fencing with lots of character and weathering to it.  Fortunately, our house, when we purchased it nigh on two years back, came with not only a wood shop but a wood shed as well.  The wood shop is an outbuilding that is kind of wasted on me, as I’m by no means a wood worker and own very few of the power tools necessary for the cause.  Our home’s previous owner, however, was a woodworker and built the shop to spec for all of his carpentry needs.  It’s basically a long one room structure, on a cement block foundation, lined with peg board and with a rough wooden floor.  In the summer, it can be cooled with a window air conditioner.  In the winter, it can

The Shop

The Shop

be heated via wood stove.  We mostly use it for the storage of tools, paint and gardening supplies, though I have a desk out there to occasionally go and write.  The wood shed is a different outbuilding that is, as its name suggests, a shed filled with split wood.  This is less useful because the only wood-burning heater on the property is the wood stove in the shop.  We have a fireplace in the house, but its currently set up for gas logs.  However, the wood shed does allow us room to store mowers and there was also a small supply of 2×4 lumber that had been weathering nicely for years.  Bingo.

I hauled the selection of lumber into the wood shop and laid it on the floor.  I tried to arrange it side by side in

The Woodshed

The woodshed (it’s hidden behind the trees)

as eye-pleasing a fashion.  After several rearrangings, I was satisfied that it looked good.  My next step was to flip it all over and try to secure it together with smaller, thinner lengths of wood, barn-door style.  I already had a supply of self-piloting wood screws.  What I didn’t have was a drill with batteries that were charged.  After several hours on the charger, neither battery for our Black & Decker Firestorm drill gave up much power.  Great.  They were dead.  Which meant more delay in the assembly of the present.  It was looking like my emergency backup jewelry would be needed.  Still, I ordered new batteries and hoped for the best, deciding that their not inconsiderable cost could be counted toward the total value of the present.

A few days later, Monday, October 21, my mother-in-law arrived for her visit.

On Tuesday, while the wife was out running errands, I shared with her my potential horse-painting on wood surprise project and gave her the backstory on its origin.  I still wasn’t sure how I was going to paint the horse part of it, but had a few ideas.  Ma said she thought it sounded nice.  She also let me in on a birthday secret, which was that my sister-in-law from Kentucky would be sneaking into town to surprise the wife on Wednesday.  This, I knew, would be a great surprise and was more incentive for me to pull the trigger on my surprise so that I was not left out of the surprise game.  This meant finalizing the plan for the horse.

The idea I had for doing it was to purchase a large horse silhouette wall decal which I would (hopefully) be able to affix to the boards I would (hopefully) soon be securing together.  I then planned to splatter paint the whole thing, allowing the splatters of paint to create a reverse silhouette so that the horse silhouette would appear as just bare, weathered wood against a Jackson Pollock backdrop.  I did a bit of research on such decals, but most of them were either not what I wanted or were a lot more expensive than I’d hoped.

On Wednesday my drill batteries arrived.  The wife did not seem suspicious.  Nor was she suspicious when someone knocked on the front door at 9:00 that night.  In fact, she thought it was me home early from my play’s dress rehearsal, `til she opened the door and saw some woman standing there in the darkness.  It took her a few seconds to see through the gloom that it was her sister, Amber.

On Thursday, October 25, while ostensibly outside hauling lawn furniture to the basement for the winter, I snuck out to the wood shed.   I figured the wife would be distracted by her mother and her sister and wouldn’t know I was gone until I’d had a chance to try out my new drill batteries, which had been charging all night.  Sure enough, the drill sunk a self-piloting screw through the thinner bit of wood on the back of my weathered boards and with great efficiency.  I tried another.  It also worked great.  Soon the whole upper cross beam was affixed to the boards.  I was so happy that I did the lower beam, too.  Then, as I was starting the first screw in the diagonal cross beam, I felt a disturbance in the force.  Somewhere nearby I was missed.  Every psychic fiber of my being cried out that I should put down the drill and return to the house, for a one woman search party would soon be sent out.  Alas, I ignored this in favor of finishing the cross beam.  A couple of minutes later, I was just about to drill the last screw when I heard the shop’s door knob rattle and looked up to see the wife trying to peer in through the window in the door.



Birthday Surprise(s) Part 1

blog-dsla2As I’ve chronicled in the past, across several blogging platforms, my wife loves nothing more than for me to try and surprise her for her birthday and for her to guess what it is I’m getting her.  Loooooves it.  Can’t get enough of it.  Lives for it, really.  It’s the only good reason to have birthdays.  Or Christmases.  Or anniversaries.

The way this almost always goes down is that she’ll pester me for hints for days on end until I finally give her the most perfectly hand-crafted hint, one designed to in no way convey actual information about the gift at hand while at the same time being completely valid as a hint about said present.  Then, with the hint still hanging in the air there next to my self-respect, she dashes both by pulling the answer out of the ether and then announcing that she knows what it is.  Almost always, in these cases, I am able to tell from her tone and facial expression that, yes, she does indeed know.  I then have to tell her to go ahead and say it, which she does, and then she gets to watch my expression as it transitions from one of hope that she’s gonna get it wrong for once to one of dammit, she got it right again.  This, for her, is fun.  And it’s happened time and time again, and I’ve only been able to keep gifts a secret on a scant few occasions.

Over the course of our marriage, though, our major annual celebrations have dwindled somewhat to the point that we don’t really do anything huge for one another, even at Christmas.  Sure, I might find something crafty off of Etsy that I know she’ll like.  Or she’ll get me something Doctor Who related.  But mainly if there’s something out there we want, we usually just go get it and don’t have to wait for a big celebration to ask for it as a gift.  This has greatly cut down on the amount of gift-guessing on her part, which is the major downside as far as she sees it.

This year was different.  For her birthday in October, I knew I had to come up with something good because she had given me a massively cool and very expensive gift for my birthday in September in the form of a leather satchel.  I’d been searching for just such a satchel at the time she picked this one out, as I was trying to find a replacement for my decade-old Magic Bag (a.k.a. the CompUSA laptop bag which I won as a runner-up prize in an online sweepstakes I’d evidently entered in 2002 and which has served me well since, save for the daylight I could see pouring in the fabric around the reinforced strap rings).  I’d figured that if the Magic Bag had to be replaced I may as well replace it with something cooler and had begun looking at leather bags.  The thing is, I’m terribly picky about the requirements such a bag would have to have–being as it would have to live up to the reputation and utility of the Magic Bag.  I’d finally found something I liked and showed it to the wife.  She balked at the price of $140, which I had to admit was a bit more than I usually spend for personal luggage.  Then she proceeded to go online to Etsy and find a bag that cost four times as much and was four times cooler.   This she purchased for me for mine day of birth.  I didn’t even have to try and guess what it was.

After the bag had arrived and I’d had a few days to bask in its glory (it is quite possibly the coolest thing I own) she let it be known that I’d better have big plans for her birthday, cause I now owed her.




I pondered this for some time.  It was going to be difficult to come up with something anywhere near as cool as that bag.  My first impulse was to schedule some sort of vacation destination–which I’ve had good luck with in the past.  However, I was already contracted to act in two upcoming plays at the local theatre and would have very little time unaccounted for in that department, not to mention the freelance writing gigs I was also contracted to complete in a timely fashion.  This sucked, because the wife had managed to get several days off in a row during the week of her birthday, but I was acting in Dracula: A Rock Opera during that time and couldn’t get away.  Thankfully, my mother-in-law, who I adore, agreed to come up and spend that week with us, so I didn’t have to feel guilty about it.  I still had to come up with a gift, though, and the days in which I could put it together were rapidly decreasing in number.

Now, ladies, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but most guys in long-term relationships have a gift in their back pocket that they know they can rely upon to get them out of the dog house if need be, or which they can use in case of emergency for big-event gifts such as the one I was facing.  (In fact, I have one friend who, I am told, has a secret stash of pre-purchased gifts that he knows his wife will love and which he raids as needed to keep things on an even keel.  And if you happen to be married to one of my friends, wouldn’t you like to know if it’s you?)  I too have had a gift in my back pocket for some time, but it’s one that was going to take some effort to achieve.  The wife and I, whilst driving down town a year or so ago, spotted in the window of a gallery a beautiful piece of country-chic art that the wife was really taken with.  It appeared to be a series of narrow, aged boards, around an inch and a half thick and probably four feet in length, fastened together and with bits of old posters still adhered to some of them, as though these boards had once been a part of a fence on a busy thoroughfare which was a popular place for people to adhere notices to.  Painted onto these boards was the silhouette of the neck, head and front feet of a horse.  The paint appeared to be very thick, but some of the layers of it had chipped away and been repainted over, leaving wonderful textures to it.  The wife loved it.  The thing is, though, once we got a close look at it, her admiration turned to disappointment as we realized that it was not boards at all, but instead a print on canvas wrapped around a 1.5 inch thick frame.  This meant it was light-weight as well as beautiful, but also fake as anything.  Sure, the texture of the horse had been incorporated into the texture of the print, but it just lipstick on a hog at that point.  She no longer wanted it, particularly after we saw the $480 price tag on it.

My back-pocket gift was the idea of recreating this work of art–not copying it exactly, but approximating it with my own touches added to it.  I even had some old lumber around in our woodshed, just a gathering age and looking appropriate to the task.  The major difficulty would be the horse, since I’m not a good enough artist to paint one on my own that would look at all good.  However, I thought I might be able to trace one on from some sort of projection of a horse, assuming I could find a projector.  The real question was whether or not I needed to pull the trigger on such a project given the short amount of time I had.

While the wife was at work, I drove down to the gallery and had another gander at the original.  It still looked impressive and expensive.  And while the cost could be justified by the amount she’d spent on my bag, I knew she would never be happy with a print picture of wood when the real thing was within grasp.  Feeling guilty for potentially stealing the intellectual property idea for my proposed gift, though, I went ahead and purchased some copper jewelry from the same gallery.  It would serve as either a bonus gift or an emergency backup gift should my artistic project not pan out.  At that point in mid-October, though, I had time on my side since the wife’s birthday was not until October 30.  But there were a few other things I would need should I decide to pull the trigger on the project.



Wisdom Dispensed (a.k.a. Actual Conversations Overheard in Bob Evans #28)

SETTING: Bob Evans, where a 60ish father, irritated, offering forceful advice to his son and daughter-in-law, themselves new parents.

FATHER– You know what I think you need to do? You know what I think it is you NEED to do? Okay? Are you ready for me to tell you what it is I think the two of you NEED to do? Here it is… You NEED. TO. DO. SOMETHIN’.

Mountain Bounty

“Mountain Bounty”

By Eric Fritzius

Based on a sculpture installation by Eddie Booze


Tallahassee the Bounty HunterSaint Augustine the Bounty Hunter had never set foot in the state of Florida, though he had seen its lights during his descent through the pre-dawn atmosphere.  His name was not actually Saint Augustine, which was a local phrase selected by his ship’s translation system to approximate his name. He would not realize this for some hours.

The energy signature of the prison transport had drawn him to this blue, backwoods planet and to the eastern coastline of one of its northern continents. His pursuit had been a close one by galactic standards, but the escaped prisoners still had a long enough lead to hide and shore up defenses.  He hoped he could recapture them quickly. The two Bocaratons aboard—with their blade-like claws, scaly hides and vicious temperaments—might prove a threat to local inhabitants. The three Portsaintlucys, being considerably smaller, were less so, but they made up for their stature with equal parts camouflage and cunning. Lastly there was the Verobeach, the android mastermind behind the prisonbreak. Hers was a mind that would have given hunter legend Littledeerkey pause.

Mid-way along the coast, the energy signature led inland. Saint Augustine descended to follow, his ship’s stealth systems assuming the appearance of a `73 Dodge Dart hubcap. Some distance west, in the light of dawn, he came to a land of rolling green mountains which bore signs of the passing of a great storm. There were fallen trees and damaged structures over a considerable distance. Locals could be seen cleaning debris and sawing trees, while wires were reconnected to poles. What had happened here?

In a rocky bowl valley, just west of a small town, the trail of the energy signature ended. The transport lay crashed and abandoned, its controls smashed. Sensors showed six sets of prints leading out of the valley, in the direction of the town. On foot, Saint Augustine chose to first follow the three-toed tracks of the Bocaratons. This was a challenge, for they doubled back on their own tracks twice and even took to the trees, but the full-spectrum sensors of his hunter suit kept Saint Augustine on the trail and led him toward the town.

On the primary street of the town itself, Saint Augustine began to wonder if the translation systems of his helmet’s display were faulty. The signs above the first three buildings he saw indicated businesses that sold nourishment and friends, then the edge of harmony, then instantaneous serenity. Curious. Further east, a shop claimed to sell the totality of beauty. Many of the other businesses seemed to revolve around green valley-thorns. Saint Augustine first assumed the thorns were local currency until he noticed that there was a company on the next block dedicated to baking them. Oddly, another shop claimed to sell stardust — though why anyone would want the stuff he couldn’t guess.

He flushed one of the Bocaratons at mid-day. It had been hiding in a tree in front of a building the name of which translated to Commodores (1977) Vintage Items. The creature snarled and leapt onto the building itself, its claws carrying it up the brick toward the roof. Saint Augustine swung and fired his net cannon in one fluid motion. The Bocaraton was nearly swift enough to escape with only an entangled foot, but the accompanying stun charge and resulting fall to the ground stilled it. Saint Augustine clamped a restraining cuff around its neck before wrapping it in the net.

“Was that the last of the green ones?” said a voice. The speaker was a local seated at a small table in front of the Enthusiastic Legume. The man’s reddish hair was thin and he wore lenses near his eyes. Before him was a cup of dark liquid with a strong heat signature. “Got another of `em chained up in my tool shed, if you want him. Nasty sucker. Oh, and we caught two or three of the little shape-shifter fellows, too — though it’s kind of hard to tell with them.”

Saint Augustine was astonished. His helmet translator croaked: “You captured the other Bocaraton? And the Portsaintlucys?”

“Not sure about the names,” the man said. “We got a bunch of  `em chained up in there, though.”

“But… how?”

“Son, this isn’t our state’s first time on the dance floor with monsters from space,” the man said. “Why, in the last 50 years, we’ve had Enthmoms turn up in Point Pleasant, a Xorbant in Flatwoods, a minor invasion of Yergs up near Wheeling and enough Men in Black to fill a tractor trailer.  And those are just the ones that made the papers.” The man took a sip of his dark liquid. “We get home-grown weird, too. We’ve fought off African lions, Bigfeet, and Andy Dick, to name a few.” He pointed at the Bocaraton. “Kind of unfortunate for your friends that we just had what felt like a hurricane. They came rampaging through town when most of us were still holding axes, saws and shovels from the cleanup.  We whupped `em good.” The man set down his cup. “You see, West Virginians may not agree on everything. We may have a great many problems that we argue about. But I like to think that when it comes to pulling together to do the right thing, or get through an ordeal, or defend ourselves from toothy aliens, you’ll find us prepared for about anything. Now,” the man added, “you ready to take these things off our hands?”

Still carrying the Bocaraton, Saint Augustine followed the man to his home nearby where his tool shed was indeed found to contain an assortment of the wanted prisoners. The Portsaintlucys had shifted to match other items in the shed, but Saint Augustine sorted out the replica lawn ornaments from the real ones and attached linked restraining cuffs to each. Saint Augustine led the string of them back to the primary street and on toward the bowl valley. The man — who had introduced himself as Lair-E — accompanied to see them off. He only laughed a little after Saint Augustine introduced himself.

As the group topped the first hill, near James’s Vehicle-Based Eatery, there came the thrum of engines from the direction of the bowl valley. Moments later, Saint Augustine ship rose into the air — its stealth field masking it as a large boulder.

“Oh, schnargle!” Saint Augustine said. The Verobeach! It had to be her. His ship’s security should have been impossible to crack, but the Verobeach wasn’t known as the artificial dodger for nothing. Why hadn’t he gone after her first?

The boulder ship rose into the sky until its atmospheric engines kicked on in a burst of light, carrying it out of sight and into the black. They stood in silence for a long time. Then Lair-E cleared his throat.

“On occasion, we’ve also been known to take in strangers,” he said. “And, when it comes to strangers, I guess it don’t get much stranger than you folks.”

The Talkin’ Milk & Cheese Vs. the TSA Blues (an Air-Travel Horribly True Tale)

Just got back from visiting my sister in Austin.

In addition to eating like an asshole, as is my Austin tradition, I also had the traditional visit to Austin Books & Comics, my favorite comic shop in the whole wide world. If you can think of a graphic novel or comic book trade paperback collection, chances are quite high that Austin Books & Comics will have multiple copies of it in stock. They also have a huge supply of statues, toys and figurines to keep your inner geek happy for decades.

While there I happened to spy a set of vinyl figurines cast in the shape of cartoonist Evan Dorkin’s most famous creation Milk & Cheese. For those unfamiliar with Milk & Cheese, they’re dairy products gone bad, known for their hatred of most things that aren’t alcohol, mindless violence or the late TV show A Current Affair. (They once engaged in a successful two man war on drugs because they were tired of the anti-drug commercials interrupting their viewing of A Current Affair.) I love the characters and own every one of their comics, most of which are #1 issues. I also have both the flat illustrated Milk & Cheese refrigerator magnet set, but also the now rare three dimensional porcelain magnet produced by Graffiti Designs in the late 1990s. (Oooooh, ahhhhh.) Until that moment, though, I’d only seen pictures of the Milk & Cheese figures, as they were produced several years ago and in limited supply. Another reason I’d never seen them in person is because they cost around $70 at the minimum when they were first released and I was still smarting over the cost of the porcelain fridge magnet. Because of this, I had no idea how huge the figures are. The photos I’d seen didn’t really give any sense of scale, so I’d assumed that Milk was probably smaller than the typical smallish carton of milk and Cheese a smallish wedge of cheddar. The figures were easily twice the size I had expected, though. They came packaged in a huge foot and a half long box decorated with Milk & Cheese comic strips. The display of the figs in the shop listed them for the usual $70, so I still wasn’t going to bite. However, on further exploration into the toy section of the store, I saw that they had a endcap display of them that had the sets listed for $30 each. I figured they must be a former display model, or something had to be wrong with them to be at that low a price. But when I asked a clerk he said that the figs were dairy products reduced for quick sale because the store had bought too many sets. So I bought a set for $30.

Cheese and Milk, of Milk & Cheese fameAnd they’re completely awesome!

Inside their box, Milk & Cheese are nestled securely inside a bagged, plastic vacuform insert along with their weapon accessories: a plastic broken gin bottle, a large plastic hammer, and a plastic stick with a plastic nail through it. I left everything in its place, didn’t even crack the seal on the plastic bag and put it all back in the box. For a bit I considered shipping the box to myself in WV, saving me the trouble of packing such an enormous item in my check luggage. I also considered collapsing the box and packing the figs loose within my clothing. Then I changed my mind and instead packed the full box into my carry on gym bag since it was light enough that it wouldn’t be a hassle.

On Saturday, we headed to the airport, checked our check bag and proceeded thorough the TSA security line. We did the whole remove all metal and run your carry on through the x-ray machine bit. I made it through the security screening before the bags and was able to look back at the x-ray display screens while I put on my shoes. On the screen was what looked like my satchel, at least from the snake nest of media cables I could see. I was sure this would take them a few moments to suss out. But it was actually the gym bag that they’d paused the conveyor belt to examine in depth. The tech stared at the x-ray. Then stared some more. Finally, he called one of the TSA officers over and said something to her before starting the belt again. My bags came rolling out.

“Whose bag is this?” the TSA lady asked pointing to the satchel.

“That’s mine,” I said.

“This is your bag?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Sir, do you have any glass products packed in here?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” I said.

Then the TSA agent seemed to look at the satchel for a moment, perhaps listening to someone speaking to her in an earpiece, for she then said, “No, this isn’t the bag.” She slid the satchel to me in its plastic tray. Then she pulled the tray containing my gym bag close and said, “Whose bag is this?”

“That’s mine,” I said again.

“This is your bag?” she asked again.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Sir, do you have any glass products packed in here?”

“Not that I’m aware of,” I said again. Did I, though? We had been to a Penzeys Spice store and had loaded up on little glass jars of curry powder and peppercorns and what not. But I’d definitely packed those in the check bag.

“You don’t have any glass products?” she asked again, now with suspicion.

Had I stuttered?

“Not that I’m aware of,” I repeated.

Another pause and perhaps another listen to a voice in an earpiece.

“Sir, do you have any figurines in here?”

Figurines? Ohhhhh!

“Yes,” I said. “Yes, there are two.”

“May I search the bag?”

“Go right ahead.”

The TSA lady unzipped my gym bag and there at the top was the long Milk & Cheese box. She removed it from the bag, nosed around in the clothing that had surrounded it, found nothing made of glass, figurine or otherwise, and then began the process of opening the Milk & Cheese box itself.

“Um, technically I guess there is kind of a bottle in there,” I said. “But it’s a fake plastic gin bottle,” I added. I didn’t mention that the fake plastic gin bottle was sculpted to appear broken, nor did I mention the fake plastic stick with the fake plastic nail through it, nor that their accessories were supposed to represent weapons. By then she had the box open and had pulled out the plastic bag-covered vacuform insert with Cheese and Milk (that’s the order they’re packed in) staring up at her baring expressions of malice on their little Dorkiny faces, their hands clinched in fists of dairy fury. The TSA lady blinked down at them for a few seconds as though what she was seeing didn’t compute. At least they’re not flipping her off like my Milk & Cheese magnet, I thought. Then she smiled and said, “Oh, it’s a game!”

“Actually it’s–   Uh, yes, it’s a game,” I said.

She took the insert over to the x-ray tech to show him “the game.”   He seemed to approve, or at least not deny. She then repackaged my toys and zipped up the bag, after which I gathered my possessions and made my way over to where my wife was standing, shaking her head.

“Apparently Milk & Cheese caused some problems with the TSA,” I said.

“Naturally,” the wife said.


Copyright © 2012 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ Selling the House, Gates of Hell, Poo Tank Maintenance, Humiliations and General Grossness, Big Ol’ Grin of Satisfaction, Bad Dog Blues (a truly horrifying Horribly True Tale)

One of the most humiliating experiences I can imagine is to take a huge dump in the front yard and then invite someone over to have a look at it. It’s just not something that is ever done. Even more humiliating and nonsensical, though, would be to then ask them to dispose of it for you. As unbelievable a scenario as this is, it’s exactly what I did this week, only several thousand times worse. For this week, you see, was the week we had the septic tank emptied.  Yessir.

We’re about to move, you see, and, as part of our process of readying our house to hit the market, we’ve been going down the list of home improvement projects we’ve intended to accomplish for four years and getting to some of the ones left there. So we finally had the automatic garage door opener on my side of the garage replaced, redid the hall bathroom, regrouted part of the tub surround in the master bath tub, etc.  And, as we went down the list, some items were moved further down it in priority—such as actually replacing the tub in the hall bathroom, which we avoided by rationalizing that we didn’t know what kind of tub the new owners might want there, so why not let them do it?  Other items were added to the list out of the blue.

“We should call someone to come clean out the septic tank,” the wife said over breakfast. I’d already been thinking about that, oddly enough—not because of breakfast but because a cleaning of the poo tank was probably due. According to the paperwork we’d received with the house, the last time it had been emptied was a few months before we bought the place. So you figure once every 3-5 years being the norm for emptying a poo tank (though some argue against emptying it at all), it was about time. The thing is, I’ve never lived in a place with a septic system before and we were kind of mystified as to where the tank itself was located, and had no idea where its lid could be found.  We deduced it was in the front yard somewhere, because that was the direction our poo pipe ran from beneath our house, but we were not at all sure where the tank was buried. Our front yard has a lot of trees, so it seemed like it would have to be located in between some of them, but the trees were spaced fairly close together. If you were going to bury a 1000 gallon tank, it would have to be somewhere between the trees, we reasoned.

We’d had cause to speak with the health department, a few months previous, as we’d been trying to determine when our well had originally been dug.  While I had them on the line, I’d asked if they had records of the septic tank’s installation and, hopefully, location. They faxed over two diagrams, one for the proposed tank and drainage field location and one for the inspected tank and drainage field location.  They showed two different locations for the tank, but I figured the inspected one was the correct one.  It put the tank somewhere outside my office window, with the drainage field further down into the yard. I didn’t do any digging to check, but figured that would be where I’d have to direct any poo removal specialists when that day came.

And now it had.

The poo removal specialists arrived around midday and were soon awash in the oh-so-vicious snarls of my two dogs Sadie and Moose (collectively known as Sadiemoose). While the dogs barked and slavered from behind glass, I went out to meet the poo removal specialists carrying with me the aforementioned poo tank diagram.

“Has it been backing up on you at all?” Terrance the poo tank man asked.

“No, not at all,” I said. “We just want to get it cleared before we sell it.”

Terrance and his poo tank assistant, Matthew, then poked the ground with a pointy metal pole for a while, making their way from the center of the yard over to the area in front of my office window that I’d suggested was where they start.  The poking of the lawn continued, with occasional thunks as the pole struck either concrete or rock. Several minutes passed this way with no real consensus as to where digging should commence. Finally, Terrance took something plastic and orange from his pocket and handed it to me.

“Could you go inside and flush this twice?” he said. I looked at the plastic device.  It was about the size of a flattened golf ball, but had a slot along one side within which I could see a small metal disc, about the size of a thick watch battery.  It turned out to be a tracking device.  I figured he must have a whole box of them back in the truck and that they must be cheap if you could go flushing them willy nilly.  By “flush this twice” I knew he meant, flush the tracker down, then flush the toilet again to send it on through.  This I did and when I came back Terrance produced what looked like a metal detector handle minus the pole and detector disc. He aimed it at the ground until he found where it seemed to be the loudest, which was beside one of the four pine trees planted in front of our house, this one just outside my office window. They stabbed the pole down once more and struck something solid.

Digging began, hampered a bit by the limbs of the tree.

“That tree’s in a bad location,” Terrance said. His point was that with the tree was as close to the tank as it seemed to be, eventually there would be root problems. They might not make it through the concrete tank, but they could certainly bore into the septic pipe leading into the tank and gum up the works—that is, if they hadn’t already. He recommended the tree be taken out.

Within 20 minutes a foot and a half deep pit was dug out and the upper surface of a section of the concrete poo tank exposed. There was a rectangular concrete plug in the top of the tank with a rebar hook embedded in it. They looped some chain through that and lifted the whole thing off.  And there before us were exposed the gates of hell itself.

I will not go into detail as to what the gates of hell look like in this case, but I will say that the gates were quite FULL. To the brim even. I will also not describe the smell, which you already have a pretty good idea about I’m sure. What I will say is that having four years-worth of one’s leavings exposed to strangers is a very embarrassing experience even if it is the job of said strangers to see such leavings on a regular basis. I wanted to apologize and issue denials and run away all at the same time. But there was just no denying what we were all looking at and smelling, nor was there any denying exactly who had produced a goodly portion of it.

“Looks like we got here just in time,” Terrance said. Then he and his poo tank assistant went back to their poo truck and soon poo hoses were hooked up and stretched across the yard and into the gates of hell. The powerful poo pumps on the poo truck soon began to make quick work of their 1000 gallons worth of burden. And Terrance stood by with a giant poo rake to help the process along. He seemed pretty skilled with that rake, and was able to use it to retrieve his orange radio tracker, which he tossed to Matthew, who put it in a pocket.  And with that I suppressed a shudder at the realization of how many poo tanks that thing had probably seen in the past and how little cleaning it was likely to have had before being handed to me earlier.

“I been doin this a couple days,” Terrance later said with a grin. “Thirty five years, actually,” he added.

“What’s the strangest thing you’ve pulled out of one of these?” I asked.

“A dead body,” he said. Then he grinned again and said “Not really.” But he did say that when he was first starting out, about the same age as Matthew, he was working on pumping out the septic tank of a man and wife whose septic system had become clogged. The man of the house asked him what had been causing the clog and young Terrance told him “Condoms.”

“What?” the man said.

“Condoms. You know, rubbers?”

The man of the house said that this was not possible. He and his wife didn’t use condoms.

“Well, maybe it’s from house guests,” young Terrance reportedly had offered.

No. This wasn’t likely either.

“Well, maybe it was the people who owned the place before you,” Terrance said.

And at this the man of the house said, “I built the house.”  The man then excused himself, went inside and there shortly followed a great deal of angry shouting between the happy couple.  Terrance’s boss came running up at the sound of the screaming argument from within the house and asked Terrance what he’d said to cause it. Terrance told him. “Boy, don’t you ever tell the customer what’s in the tank!” the boss said.

I laughed at this story, but within mere minutes we were to discover something of a different brand of disturbing within my own poo tank. As the level of substance decreased in the tank, a PVC pipe with a T joint on the end was exposed. This is the end of the pipe that ran from our plumbing beneath the house. Unfortunately, as the level finally reached the bottom of the tank, we could see a second section of T-capped pipe lying in the muck at an odd angle, its other end very much broken.

“Ohhhhh,” Terrance said when he saw it. “If that’s what I think it is then you’re in for a world of shit.”

“What?” I said.

Terrance asked for a flashlight, then got down on hands and knees and lowered his head into the gates of hell for a look around, specifically toward the easterly end of the tank which extended several feet beneath the ground. When he came back up he looked grim. It seems that the piece of broken pipe was supposed to reside in the other end of the tank, as it was a part of the system that connected to the drainage field. The way a septic tank works is that everything enters the tank where solids sink and paper and sludge float. The solids are digested by microbes from the monthly Rid-X treatments we send down. The liquids are able to bleed off into the drainage field, which are a series of pipes running down into the yard that allows for natural filtration of the water. According to Terrance, though, the broken pipe was preventing this system from working naturally and it had all just been building up in the tank itself.

I shook my head in annoyance at this, but was not entirely surprised. After all, it’s not like anything around here is ever going to be simple or go to plan. No, it’s going to take three times as long, cost three times as much and drive me nigh unto madness before the end of it. At least this time, though, I had two guys who were willing to return, venture into the gates of hell and fix our poo pipes. We’d be able to include their work in our packet of Cool Things We Did to Make the House a More Attractive Purchase folder for prospective buyers.

The poo tank assistant fished the broken pipe out of the poo tank with the poo rake and then dumped it in the yard. Terrance then picked it up and used it as a visual aid to explain the work that would need to be done, including replacing that thin chunk of pipe with much thicker modern PVC that wouldn’t break. The work would involve a lot of digging—including possibly digging up the offending and dangerous tree, if we liked—to expose the other lid to the poo tank where the bulk of the work would need to be done. Until the work was done, the septic system would be inoperative, or at the very least inefficient, and would just fill up to the gates of hell once again. It would take a while, but far sooner than if the drainage field was operational.

I agreed to it and soon the men were plugging the poo tank with its concrete lid again and winding their poo hoses back onto their poo truck, promising to return at the crack of dawn the following day.  They left.

I went back in the house and was greeted by our dogs, who were very interested in getting outside to potty and explore and see what smells these strangers had left behind. Oh, you’ll smell some smells, I thought. I opened the back door and out they ran.

After several minutes, I began to wonder why the dogs had not returned to the back door. They’re usually only good for a couple of squirts in the yard and then they’re back wanting to be let in. Oh, they’re probably around front checking out the smelly hole in the ground, I reasoned. So I stepped out onto the front porch where I could see them over by the hole. I clapped my hands to call them and they came running. Moose trotted up the steps first, happy to see his “pa” as always. Then Sadie rounded the edge of the porch, a huge smile on her doggy face, and I was afforded a horrifying sight nearly as bad as the gates of hell earlier. Sadie’s neck and shoulders were coated in something black. To the untrained eye, it might have appeared to be very black mud. But to my trained eye and nose, I knew it to be raw sewage.

Where did she… ? How did she…? What the f…?!

And even as I watched, she gave me my answer by dashing back to the poo tank pit where I witnessed her bend over and roll gleefully onto the sewage-coated piece of broken pipe that was still laying in the grass above the pit.

“LEAVE IT!!!!” I screamed. “YOU! LEAVE! IT!!!”

Sadie looked up through a haze of filth and flashed a big ol’ grin of satisfaction. This was by far the greatest and best stinky thing she’d ever found to roll in and she was in stank heaven.

Cursing, I threw open the front door and yelled at Moose to get in the house.  Then I snatched up my phone and texted “YOUR DAUGHTER JUST ROLLED IN SEWAGE!!!” to my wife. Then I then began preparations to give that damn dog the queen mother of all baths.

But which bathroom to use?  Normally we bath the dogs in the big tub in the master bathroom. But we’d not yet sealed the new grout we’d freshly put in the master bath tub surround. I could bath her in the hall bathtub, but did I really want to chance this dog shaking wet sewage all over the freshly painted walls? Onto the good towels? I finally opted for the bathroom with the most room and the most tile and went with the master.

Sadie, of course, knows that we don’t dress in normal clothes for bath time, and she never comes to a bath willingly.  So we’ve learned that if we want to bathe her without so much hassle, we have to dress as per normal, calmly walk up and lift her 80 pound butt, carry her to the tub and only then  strip down to skivvies.  However, picking her up now meant coming into contact with sewage and I didn’t really have any normal clothes I wanted to sacrifice.  So I put on my painting shorts and a t-shirt I didn’t care about.  This didn’t fool Sadie.  One look at me and she went into red-alert mode, dropping her front down to the deck and giving me a warning woof.  And any move I made toward her sent her skittering away.  I opened the back door and ordered her into the house, determined to get her into closed quarters where her running range was limited.  This was very dangerous, I knew, because there was carpet in the house and she was just as likely to decide to roll on it in her flight from me as anything.  But I was able to corner her on the parquet floor of the kitchen and eventually reason with her until she let her guard down enough for me to slip my arms under her chest and lift her.

I held my breath as I carried Sadie back toward our bedroom, but half way there I had to take a breath. Oh, it was awful. I felt my throat tighten, suppressing a gag. You never consider when you use the bathroom that you’ll ever see, let alone touch that waste again, but here I was carrying a dog coated in it.  And I was quite certain that if I dwelled on that fact long enough, I would indeed throw up.  Instead, I tried to put it all out of my mind and just concentrate on putting feet in front of the other all the way to the bathroom.

I lowered Sadie into the tub and set about spraying her off with the shower hose. I avoided her head, though, because that’s usually the trigger that makes her shake and the longer we could avoid that the better for the surrounding room. Pulling the shower curtain as far closed as I could, I then sprayed it off too then growled loudly at her when she did shake. Dots of dark water struck the shower surround and dripped down. Ewww.  Unfortunately, in my haste to get things ready I neglected to actually bring doggie shampoo into the bathroom. What I had brought was doggie conditioner. I couldn’t leave her there to go look for any shampoo, either, or she’d be out of the tub and dripping diluted sewage around the house for sure. So I grabbed the next best thing, a bottle of Head & Shoulders, and started pouring it on her. I gave the bath extra attention to detail and spent a lot of time scrubbing her face, neck and shoulders. Then I rinsed her off and, since I’d brought it in, poured on some conditioner. Finally, I took a sniff of her neck to see if the sewage was gone.  It took my nose a few seconds to process it, but it seemed like the smell was gone. I gave her some extra rinsing to make sure, then toweled her off with three different towels—all of which were popped into a hot washing machine before the dog could finish her triumphant post-shower victory prance around the house.

This accomplished, I cleaned up the bathroom, washed all the sewage drops away and then had a shower myself using the same H&S technique as with Sadie. After I too was dry, I grabbed one of our industrial strength contractor’s trash bags and went outside to deal with the poo pipe. I managed to get it into the bag without actually touching it, then sealed it inside the trash can.

It took a few hours before I risked letting Sadie out again and even then I watched her every move and called her back every time she tried to head around to the front of the house. I had dispatched the pipe, but who knew what sort of drippings she could sniff out and roll in. I only hoped the following day’s adventure would prove fruitful and far less disgusting.

I slept very poorly. I kept having mini panic attacks that once the septic guys dug up the other side of the tank they would find something even more horribly and expensively wrong. What if the reason the pipe had broken within the tank was because that whole end of the tank had collapsed? That would suck.

At the ass crack of dawn, I finally arose to await the arrival of Terrance and his assistant. They’d said they would roll in around 7:30. I made extra coffee in case they needed some and commenced to wait. While I did, it began to snow. We’d had nary a flake since mid-November, which I’ve attributed to the fact that I’d had my snow tires installed in mid-November. But down the flakes were coming now. I wondered if it would mean a halt to the project for the day.

Around 8:30, Terrance and his assistant arrived driving a different truck from the previous day. This one was a smaller and with a flat black metal bed in the back upon which was mounted a bright and shiny new portajohn pump. Hitched to the back of the truck, though, was a long trailer on which was secured a medium sized backhoe. Terrance unloaded it and soon its treads were rolling up my driveway and then across the yard to the septic dig site.

As they set up, I told Terrance the story of Sadie rolling on the pipe. They agreed it was an awful experience, but I know it was far from the worst septic-based thing that had happened to them, so I doubted if they felt any actual sympathy.

With a bit of digging from the backhoe’s scoop, a new hole was opened a few feet to the right from the previous one. Some fine tune digging with a hand shovel later and the tank’s other lid was exposed. This time they hooked the chain for it across the backhoe’s shovel and lifted it off. Inside was a deep dark and relatively empty space, save for some liquid in the bottom. Terrance borrowed my flashlight again and poked his head into the tank to have a look around. He explained that he needed to see which direction the pipe leading out to the drainage field was headed. The interior portion of that pipe was the broken one that Sadie had rolled on, which is why he had to look inside the tank to see where it had been connected before the break. It seemed to be at the southern end of the tank, so that’s where they next began to dig to expose the pipe leading into the yard. As expected, this pipe was also broken and partially collapsed. He said this was likely due to the whole tank settling at some point and sheering off the pipe on the outside, which led to the breaking of the interior part of the pipe as well. It probably still worked to some degree, but not at prime efficiency.

Within half an hour, Terrance and his assistant had dug out around the pipe, sawed through it below the break, installed a new section of thick PVC pipe that ran from within the tank, through the tank wall and connected to the drainage field pipe. We were now back in business.

“Wait about two weeks then pour a whole box of Rid-X down the toilet,” Terrance advised. Then he added, “You still want that tree pulled up?” I explained that the wife did not want the tree removed up at all, but had agreed to it on the grounds that within a couple of months this would no longer be our house and we would not have to be concerned with whether there was a tree imbalance in front of it. Terrance’s assistant hooked their chain around the middle of the tree, the other end to the backhoe and with a smooth application of reverse they pulled it right out of the ground, roots and all. Then it was just a matter of recovering both sides of the freshly repaired tank and smoothing the mud back down in a mostly level fashion. It doesn’t look too bad. Not nearly as bad as the wife expected. The tree itself I sawed all the limbs from and will shortly carve it up for firewood with my chainsaw. I’ll plant grass over the place where it had grown and hopefully by the time the place sells we’ll have something of a yard over there again.

And the next time anyone opens the gates of hell to see my leavings, I won’t have to be there to see it.


Copyright © 2012 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin Sweet Merciful Turd on a Shingle Blues

Another home improvement project horribly true tale has been thrust upon me.  However, I just don’t have the energy to follow this rabbit down the hole and attempt to chronicle it. The last such chase did not end nearly as dramatically as I imagine anyone would have wanted.  Instead, you guys can make up your own awful adventure based on the photo below.

Optionally, here are some elements you may choose to incorporate:

  1. There was an incident with a botched front door deadbolt installation for which I was in no way responsible–though I would have, in all likelihood, botched it just as badly had I been there to assist;

  2. the purchase of a replacement door was subsequently required;

  3. we’ve never done a door installation of this magnitude before;

  4. turns out you can’t just replace a steel front door without replacing the jamb and everything, so we’d have to buy a pre-hung door and remove the old one to put it in;

  5. also turns out no one in our area sells a pre-hung steel door set big enough to fit our doorway that doesn’t also look like sparkly wet crap;

  6. a two hour road trip to another town to fetch one that didn’t look like sparkly wet crap was then required;

  7. upon return with the door, it was discovered that the screws for attaching said new door were apparently made of Chinese pot-metal and were of SPECTACULARLY SHITTY QUALITY, for two of them sheered off during installation;

  8. the decorative window in the door was installed improperly at the factory and is, in fact, not precisely parallel to the paneling below it by around an 8th of an inch, a fact that we did not discover until the door was well and truly in place;

  9. said door was manufactured by the Masonite Corporation, who I invite, along with the National Fenestration Rating Council that certified the door, to eat a bag of dicks;

  10. the deadbolt, once installed, turned out to be equally shitty to the quality of the screws and its mechanism did not stand up to even the slightest of pressure in turning the deadbolt, which resulted in a bent and no doubt Chinese pot-metal shaft within it, as well as its subsequent removal and return to the local retailer;

  11. a new, more expensive deadbolt was purchased;

  12. said new deadbolt was returned due to the fact that its purchaser (me) managed to get one with the wrong finish to match the door handle;

  13. said new new deadbolt with the correct finish had to then be returned because its purchaser (me, again) managed to buy one with a keyhole on each side rather than one with a keyhole on the outside and a turning latch on the inside;

  14. the returns clerk at our local Lowes failed to disagree with me when I pointed out to her that clearly I was a moron;

  15. the molding that had previously surrounded the old door is now null and void because the new door jamb does not sit as far in as the old one did, so a gap revealing the drywall beneath is clearly visible on three sides of the door;

  16. as of this writing the door is still not fully reinstalled, though it is at least secured in place and has multiple locks present.


Copyright © 2011 Eric Fritzius

The Talkin’ I’ll have a Bloody Mary with a Twist of Skunk Blues (a Stanky Horribly True Tale)

This past weekend, I was enjoying some Saturday evening TV with the glow of a beer still about me when our dogs began barking oddly at the back door. Through the glass of the door, I could see one of our cats, D.J. Kitty, sitting on the deck railing.  Then the dogs paused in their barking to sniff at the bottom of the door. Immediately, they began whining loudly to get out. I had no clue what was going on, but I got up and opened the door and they nearly turned an ankle trying to get off the back deck and run into the night. Only after they were gone did I take a good breath and picked up the strong odor of skunk.

“Ohhhh shit!” I said.

I could just imagine those dogs, who love to chase after little critters like squirrels and cats, running headlong into a skunk and finding themselves with a face full of spray. It would be horrible and I would have to spend the rest of the knight scrubbing them. Moose is smaller, granted, but his fur is very thick. And Sadie, while thinner of fur has more of it, and fluffy.

The dogs had already run around the corner of the house and were presumably in the driveway. Frantically I began shouting for them to come back while also clapping my hands as loudly as I could. The clapping part is their signal that Pa Means Business and Shits Are Gonna Break Bad if They Don’t Head Back This Very Second. True to their training, they listened and came running back.

“Get in the house!”

Moose ran right in, but Sadie paused at the edge of the yard.

“GET IN THE HOUSE!!!” I shouted. She whined and cast a glance toward the back corner our home’s exterior, as though weighing how much trouble she would be willing to incur by running that way to check for skunks.

“GET! IN! THE! EFFING! HOUSE!!!!!” I screamed. Only I didn’t scream “Effing.” My neighbors must adore me. Reluctantly, Sadie went in the house and I slammed the door after us, crisis averted.

Standing at my firmly shut back door, it was astounding to me how strong the skunk funk already was inside the house. The door had been open for less than 30 seconds, but it smelled an awful lot like skunk. It was so strong, in fact, that I wondered just how close to the house the skunk had been for it to smell so powerful. I could at least count my blessings, though, that the skunk hadn’t managed to spray one of the dogs or the…


oh shit.

I looked over at D.J. Kitty, who was munching food from his bowl atop a table in the kitchen. With fear and trepidation did I move over to the table. Double that and you’ll have my feelings about the prospect of leaning over to carefully sniff the cat.

Back when I worked for a public library, I once had to check in a book that had been steeped in what we believe was horse urine. And upon first sniffing that book, I realized to my horror that what I’d thought was merely mud was actually the bladder-based waste-product of a living creature. This is much the same gut reaction that hit me as I sniffed the cat. He didn’t smell exactly like skunk spray, but the cat was definitely covered in some sort of powerful, revolting, animal by-product concentrate. Again, it not exactly skunky, but in the ballpark. I couldn’t think of what else it could be and the skunk in the area was too much of a coincidence for it not to be skunk funk. My best guess was that the skunk odor we’re all familiar with is actually a combination of skunk-funk-concentrate and air.

D.J. hopped down from the table and our dogs took an immediate interest in sniffing him. I knew my nose wasn’t off. He was doused in something awful.

Somehow I had the presence of mind to go and shut the bedroom door. It would be hellish to have to sleep in a room that smelled of skunk and I knew my wife, with her acute sense of smell, would not be able to handle it. I then stripped off my shirt and went to catch the cat, who I hauled to the hall bathroom tub.

An episode of Mythbusters backed up the home remedy of a bath in tomato juice to cut skunk spray, but I didn’t have any at hand. So, instead, I soaked the cat in vet-shampoo and scrubbed him for ten minutes. After rinsing him off, I found he was definitely still stinky, but maybe a bit less so. He was also wet and cranky.

I texted the wife to warn her about the skunk. When she came home, she immediately wrinkled her nose upon walking into the house. I don’t think she was very happy about it, but it wasn’t as if I had let the cat in KNOWING he was coated in skunk spray, so she couldn’t really complain.

“He smells a little better now,” I offered.

The wife suggested we put the cat back outside regardless. He was way too rank to stay in the already stinky house.

“I know it’s probably a long shot,” she began, “but did you happen to close the bedroom door?”

“Yes, I did,” I said, proud of my forethought. She was equally delighted.

The bedroom had indeed remained blissfully free of skunk smell and we kept it closed off and the dogs locked inside of it throughout the night. Eventually, the dogs had to make stinky of their own and whined to go out at 5 in the morning. Upon entering the hallway with them, I was hit with the still potent smell of skunk. Waking up on my return to bed, the wife suggested we turn off the heat and open some windows in the rest of the house. Sure, it was a bit chilly outside, but we’d be pretty snug in the closed off bedroom. And by morning, the house nearly smelled normal. The cat, however, did not.

From the store, I purchased two of the biggest cans of tomato juice they had and took them home, prepared to give D.J. a proper tomato bath. One of the many troubles with giving a cat a tomato juice bath is that despite it being the standard suggestion for skunk spray remedy, no one ever tells you exactly how to accomplish it. Do I fill the bathtub with tomato juice? Do I pour it on his head? Do I need a wire bristle brush? Does he have to soak in it for half an hour? Should I heat it first? I didn’t know. I decided to go with a soak/pour combo to cover bases and I decided to do this in the kitchen sink. I’m not sure why I thought it would be easier than the bathtub, but it was a mistake all around.

Before seizing the cat, I mixed two different kinds of shampoo with half a giant can of tomato juice and stirred it up. (Mythbusters also said soap was good.) Then I put the stopper in the sink drain, put the cat in the sink, rinsed him with the sink’s spray hose and then held him with one hand while pouring the mixture over his back and head with the other. I began massaging it over him, trying to get the cat good and coated, but the soap mixed in was making him slippery. Thinking that he wasn’t coated enough, I then tried to pour the rest of the can of tomato juice over him, but I couldn’t get a good grip on the sides of the can with only one hand and had to awkwardly pull the can over by gripping its top edge, before tipping it over using my forearm and chest, and then pouring it onto the cat.

D.J. Kitty was not having a good time of it, but he didn’t squall too much and didn’t claw me. (Clawing me is what he saves for when I’m actively trying to feed him in the morning.) What he did do, though, was one of those patented Kitty-Full-Body-Shakes, sending blobs of soapy tomato goo flying in all directions. Quickly I realized my error of doing this in the kitchen. I also realized that the puny spray pressure of our sink hose would not be enough to cut the tomato mixture in any sort of ideal time period. Those thoughts, combined with the fact that D.J. suddenly decided he’d had enough and had begun clawing at the edges of the sink to escape, which became a two-hand job to prevent, made me certain that we needed to finish this bath in the bathtub.

I didn’t have a spare hand to grab for a towel, so I just pulled D.J. to my chest,  keeping his claws away from my body, and ran with him to the hall bathroom, blobs of tomato falling to the carpet in a trail behind us.

The bathroom rinsing seemed far less traumatic for him, if no less messy. By the time we were done, it looked like a cat had exploded in there, from the cat-slung smears of tomato-soaked cat hair sticking to the sides of the tub. And while the tomato juice bath had cut the stench quite a bit, it had not taken it all, particularly around his face. I could have done another soak on him, but it wasn’t so bad that he really needed it. Let him keep a stank head for a few days, I thought. Maybe that would teach him a valuable lesson about which woodland animals he’s supposed to be hassling.


Copyright © 2011 Eric Fritzius

Actual Telephone Conversations Heard at My House #7 (a.k.a.: Marriage Shorthand Theatre 3000)


ME– Hello?

WIFE– (CALLING FROM WORKHey. I need to access my knowledge repository of all things moviewise.

ME– Okay. Lemme get my hat.

WIFE– I need to know the movie with the baby with the red curly hair. It was sort of a sci fi thing. Early 90s. Kind of with the dwarves. Sort of like Time Bandits…

ME– Willow?

WIFE– Yeah, that’s it. Thank you. Bye.

The Talkin’ I Am Just An Ordinary Guy, Burnin’ Down The House, Blues Part II: Still Burnin’ After All These Years (a frighteningly familiar churnin’ burnin’ Horribly True Tale)

In a Horribly True Tale I penned nearly ten years ago, I mused that perhaps I shouldn’t be allowed to be a home owner due to the occasional lapses in attention to detail I suffer from when it comes to major home appliances.  Said lapses have previously included: leaving for work with a turkey carcass on the stove in the cast iron Dutch oven with the burner beneath it set to medium; and, in a separate incident, turning the wrong burner of the same stove onto high so that all of its heat was applied to a plastic spatula rather than to the tea kettle for which I’d intended it.  However, all previous warning signs to the contrary, I am now a home owner and have been for well over two years without any major incidents.  Oh, sure, we’ve had to make it a family policy that all tea kettles in the house must come equipped with lids that not only howl and whistle, but which also automatically close and cannot be left ajar, preventing me from burning up any more of them due to inattention.  But that’s hardly anything to get excited about, right?  Right?

Today seemed an average day.  I woke, saw the wife off to work, made coffee, ate breakfast, walked our two dogs, annoyed our two cats, assembled a podcast, wrestled with the uploading of the podcast, discovered it was my treacherous firewall causing the FTP clog, fixed that, publicized the upload and then ate some lunch.  I noted while digging in the refrigerator at lunch that we had an awful lot of raw green beans left over from our recent venture into the realm of summer time home-delivery of organic veggies.  One bag of them had already gone bad, but we still had a giant plastic container that I’d spent the better part of an hour filling with beans I’d snapped myself which soon would go bad if they weren’t cooked.  Wouldn’t hurt to make them for supper, I reasoned.

Around 2:30 I decided to head to the gym and to the grocery store.  I was about to leave when my progress was interrupted by a 20 minute phone call from our insurance company.  After taking care of that, I left the dogs and cats in the house and drove across town to the gym.  There I had a semi-vigorous workout for 35 minutes or so, checked the bulletin board on the way out for any new cool happenings about town, ran into our friend Tarek in the parking lot and talked to him for a couple of minutes before leisurely driving over a few blocks to Kroger.  There I strolled into the building through the exterior set of automatic doors, chose a shopping cart and then went through the interior set of automatic doors and began shopping for more produce.  Something tickled in my mind at that thought, but I put it aside as I’d found some Asian pears that looked tasty, followed shortly by some avocados.  A minute later, I was swinging my cart back toward the vegetables proper when my eyes fixed upon a bin of green beans and the tickling in my mind transformed into a shudder of horror.

What I’ve neglected to mention until this point in the narrative is that earlier in the day—more precisely, between the time I had decided to go to the gym and the time the insurance company had phoned—I’d put all of the green beans from the plastic container into the largest of our butt-ass expensive Pampered Chef pots (the very ones my wife had hosted a Pampered Chef party in order to get a high enough discount on them to justify their expense) and put them on the stove where I planned for them to simmer to perfection while I was out on errands.  However, after giving them only a few minutes on the burner’s #2 setting, I’d gone back and turned the dial up to high so the beans would start to boil and get a head start on the cooking process.  My plan had been to turn them back down to simmer after they hit a boil.  And even as I’d turned the knob to high, I had thought to myself that I should be very careful to remember that I’d turned the beans to HIGH, because it would be a horrible tragedy if I were to run off to the gym with the beans on high and burned down the house as a result.  Then the phone had rung and 20 minutes of retirement talk and Simple IRA explanation ensued, after which I had practically bolted from the house leaving all the animals trapped inside behind me.  All of this flashed through my mind over the course of one second, there in the vegetable aisle of Kroger.

Abandoning my shopping cart where it stood, I hurled the peaches and avocadoes in the direction of their displays, already shifting my ass into proper hauling gear as I headed toward the automatic doors.  I then nearly slammed into said doors, which failed to automatically open for me and played a loud klaxon alarm as punishment for my attempt to egress through them.  Apparently once you got into Kroger, you could not get out via that door.

“OH, GODDAMMIT!” I screamed across the produce section.  I didn’t have time to argue with the doors, though.  I ran between the nearby service desk and the checkout lanes and then through the other set of automatic doors Kroger has deemed as their preferred exit.

In the parking lot, as I ran toward my car, I was already trying to determine the probability that my house and pets were now in flames.  I’d only been gone for around 45 minutes, so I thought it unlikely that the house had ignited yet.  Granted, many house fires start in mere seconds, but the one on the stove was at least contained within an expensive and high-quality stew pot, lid secured atop it, situated beneath a stainless steel oven hood.  There had probably been enough time for the broth and water to have cooked off, leaving only the moisture in the beans to prevent actual combustion.  If I could get home as quickly as possible, I might only have a smoky house and freaked out pets to deal with.

The problem with exiting the parking lot of Kroger in Princeton, WV, is that while there are three exits for the lot none of them are ideal for a quick departure.  The easternmost exit is probably the least used and therefore the quickest, but it isn’t so much an exit as a connection to the speed-bump strewn shopping center next door.  It also puts you at the furthest distance from the road leading to the highway I needed to take in order to get home, which was to the southwest.  The most direct route to the highway, the westernmost exit, was no good either, though, because it always has heavy traffic pouring by it from the north and south, but with really shitty sight lines, making it extremely difficult to turn left there.  I opted instead to take the northernmost exit, which has just as much traffic as the western exit, but with better sight lines and the notable advantage of having a chicken lane.  Unfortunately, it’s also the exit that every slow-of-ass human being tries to use and they always turn left.  Sure enough, as I arrived at that exit there were already two vehicles ahead of me, intent on turning left but unwilling to actually go when given clear opportunities to do so.

A momentary digression on the topic of going:  I’ve been a licensed driver for over 23 years now and in that time I have come to the conclusion that ours would be a far better world if all drivers of all vehicle-equipped nations could find it in their hearts to simply go.  This is not to say there is not a time and place for caution behind the wheel, but, for the vast majority of any driver’s time, going is the policy preferable to me, especially when I’m the guy behind the person who isn’t going or am otherwise in a circumstance where I am forced to rely upon them to go in order that I may also go.  I fully realize that there are plenty of allegedly valid reasons as to why people do not go as they should, such as red lights, or the desire not to violate posted speed limits, or two lanes of busy cross traffic at 4 o’clock on a Friday afternoon.  These excuses matter not one whit to me when it comes to my desire for other drivers to go.  And regardless of whether or not the driver in question can go, I make my feelings known by screaming the word “GO!!!!” at full volume from the safety of the interior of my vehicle.  It is the single word that I have screamed the most during my lifetime and it is my behavior to do so on any given average day.  So imagine, if you will, the rending of vocal cords that occurred as I sat behind the two cars at this northernmost Kroger entrance/exit, with my house and pets going up in smoke in my imagination.

After nearly a minute of impotent screaming, the front car was able to escape from the parking lot, leaving behind the small, primer-colored pickup truck in front of me driven by a young woman whose aspect in her rear view mirror suggested her to be maybe 20 years old.  Her passenger in the truck cab looked to be another similarly aged girl.  In the bed of the truck was a teenaged boy wearing a ball-cap and looking mighty dissatisfied with his lot in life.  This driver also refused to go.  However, she not only refused to go in the long intervals of heavy traffic during which she could not go, but also during the two or three occasions when there were large enough gaps in the traffic in which she conceivably could have gone had she but the skill to do so.  At least three minutes passed during which my mental image of my pets aflame because of this girl blocking my path caused my blood pressure to spike.  I slammed my fists on the steering wheel and wailed “GOOOOOOO!!!!”  Then, around the start of the fourth minute, both lanes of traffic magically cleared and the girl had no remaining obstacles to her path forward for a nearly a quarter mile in each directionAnd yet there she sat, her head swiveling back and forth, regarding both of the clear lanes of non-traffic, her foot firmly on the brake.  Never mind that her situational luck would not hold for very long and soon traffic signals would turn green and hellish road congestion would again be unleashed upon the land, she remained stationary as though she fully expected Doc Brown and the DeLorean to slam through the space-time continuum and cut her off.  I laid on my horn, causing the kid in the back to jump, and again screamed “GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”  The girl stomped the gas, then immediately stomped the brakes, causing the kid in the back to first fall forward and then suddenly backward, smacking his head into the back of the truck cab.  He looked pissed, but didn’t actively climb out to come beat me about the face and neck, nor did he even make eye contact with me.  He just rubbed his head while the driver moved forward not even an inch.  I don’t know if she was trying to punish me for daring to impugn her driving ability or if she just couldn’t get it into first gear, but by the time she was able to move again the traffic flow had resumed before us and it was another half minute before enough of a gap opened up for her to escape—though not long enough for me to.  A minute later, I caught a break and I floored it all the way to the westernmost traffic light where I managed to turn left in a narrow and perhaps unadvisable window of space.  I then sped toward the next traffic light that led onto highway 460, but was forced to stop a good 200 yards from it when I saw the enormous line of cars that were waiting to turn left onto the highway there.  I screamed and raged and pounded the steering wheel some more, all because I’ve found myself in similar lines at that light before and knew that it would be at least a ten minute wait to get out.  People in huge lines at that like traditionally do not go, and drag ass in moving at all, allowing the light to cycle back to red before anyone can move more than two car lengths forward.  The right-turn lane, however, was practically wide open and had a green arrow.  I roared past the slow asses, turned right and then tore down the highway in search of the first police median turnaround I could find.  There weren’t any, so it was a good two miles before I reached the next intersection where I was able to whip a U-turn and floor it back the way I’d come.  The light near Kroger was kind to me, this time, and I zoomed perpendicular to the line of non-going slow-asses there who I’m pretty sure hadn’t moved an inch since I’d passed them a minute earlier

Down the highway I roared, easily doing 70 in a 55.  My plan, if pulled over for speeding, was to inform the officer that he was welcome to give me as many tickets for speeding and reckless endangerment as he liked, but he was going to have to give them to me in the driveway of my potentially burning house because I wasn’t going to hang around.

The next four traffic lights were not kind.  In fact, the first of them contained a stalled vehicle that was blocking one of the lanes—MY LANE!!!—further gumming up traffic.  The color red, more commie slow-asses and Grampy Patrol members bedeviled me on my way through the next three lights, after which I finally arrived at the road leading to my neighborhood.  I traversed its mile-long, serpentine length at breakneck speed, the lack of smoke above the trees providing me some hope.

As I reached my driveway, the house appeared intact and I could see no smoke through the windows.  As I exited the car, however, I could definitely smell something odd in the air.  I bounded around the back of the house and threw open the back door.  Flames did not explode into my face, Backdraft style.  And while the interior of my house was definitely smoky, it was not exactly floor-to-ceiling smoky.

Our youngest dog, Moose, was running through the kitchen looking very concerned.  From the front dining room of the house I heard our other dog Sadie barking.  Then they both whipped past me and out into fresh air.

I turned off the burner of the stove, the stench of charred beans coming from the pot atop the burner.  The cooking surface around the pot was covered in a ring of brackish colored crust.  There were scorched-on spill stains along the sides of the Pampered Chef pot, made when the liquid contents had boiled over. Its clear glass lid was tinted brown and sounded as if it were on the verge of exploding from the heat coursing through its metal frame.  Through its now tinted surface I could see that the pot no longer contained any liquid and the formerly impressive pile of beans within were now basically a thin layer of charcoal around an inch in height from the bottom of the pot.

After I’d opened all the windows and doors in the house, it occurred to me that the one thing missing from all this was the blare of our smoke detector in the hallway immediately outside our bedroom.  There was smoke in our bedroom, which would have had to have wafted past the detector on the way into the room, so I didn’t know what the detector’s excuse was for remaining silent.  I poked its test button with a stick and it flared to life, spewing high pitched alarm beeps and then shouting “FIRE!  FIRE!” followed by “WARNING!  CARBON MONOXIDE DETECTED!”  Turns out, this is just what it always does when the test button is pressed.  Otherwise, this Kidde Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector appeared to be very late to the party.

The dogs watched as I hauled the pot of bean-char outside and set it on a patch of dirt.  They looked more than a little worried, so I told them they were good dogs, gave them dog hugs and apologized profusely for leaving them in the house with a burning pot of beans.  After giving the pot an hour to cool, I dumped the remains of the beans into the compost bin and washed out the pot.  The interior bottom of it had lost much of its nonstick surface and is likely ruined.  As pricey as the pot was, I’d rather buy a new one than a new house.

By the time the wife arrived home, several hours later, I’d put candles out in all the rooms and tried to make the place smell as good as it could under the circumstances.  She, to say the least, was not happy about the beans or her Pampered Chef pot.  Mostly, though, she was glad that the house and its residents were all okay.  We joked to the dogs for the rest of the evening about how their Pa had tried to kill them and, likely, would again in the future.

Even with all the windows open, it took two days for most of the smoke smell to dissipate and now, several days later, we still get a whiff of it when opening up closets and cabinets that had since remained closed.  The ghost of burned beans past.



Copyright © 2010 Eric Fritzius

Actual Telephone Conversations Heard at My House #6




ME– Hello?



ME– Hello?


ME– That’s me.


ME– Uh huh.

MATT THE STONER TELEMARKETER– We just wanted to call to tell you we’d like to send you a $1000 online gift certificate.

ME– I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I have a strict policy here of accepting no solicitation over the phone.

MATT THE STONER TELEMARKETER– (PAUSEUm… This isn’t soliciting. (ANOTHER PAUSEUm… what’s soliciting?

ME– Selling things over the phone.

MATT THE STONER TELEMARKETER– Oh, no. We’re not selling anything. I thought for a minute there you meant soliciting, like on TV shows… you know, like, with hookers.



ME– Yeah, um, listen, this still sounds like something I’m not going to be interested in.

MATT THE STONER TELEMARKETER– Oh, no, it’s really great! It’s…

ME– You have a nice day, Matt.


The Talkin’ I Can’t Get into Things Without My Magic Keys of Satisfaction Blues (a horribly yet magically true tale)

I’ve had my Subaru Forester since February and have enjoyed it quite a bit—particularly its allowing-me-to-traverse-my-icy-hilly-blind-curve-filled-neighborhood-in-the-winter feature that my previous vehicle did not possess. It’s a nice roomy car that can haul lots of stuff, such as heavy, enormous dogs and is plenty comfy. It also came factory-equipped with an Oh Shit-handle above the driver’s side door, which is an innovation that gives me far more comfort than any unseen airbag ever could.  One of the only drawbacks to my ownership of it, though, is that until recently I have only had one key for it.

When we purchased this previously-driven vehicle in February, we were given two key fobs and one actual key. We were told at the time that the previous owners of the car had not returned both of the keys, but were assured by our salesman—let’s call him Stan—that he would be in touch with the previous owners soon and they would return the second key within a very short period of time. Having two keys for our vehicles is pretty important in my family, as I’m married to a kind and wonderful lady who has been known on more than one occasion to lock herself out of her own vehicle. The two key fobs would certainly help in unlocking the car in such a time of need, but the wife doesn’t even carry her own fob, let alone be willing to carry mine. Hell, I only started carrying mine after a series of embarrassing incidents involving the Subaru’s tendency to blast the horn in alarm whenever the door is unlocked using the actual key alone. There is a way to tell it to stop doing that, but you have to tell it every single time and I can never remember the steps, so I just carry the fob.

Jump ahead to late April. We happened to be driving by the dealership, which prompted the wife to inquire if her key had ever arrived. It had not, so we stopped and I went in to ask Stan about it. I had to reintroduce myself and explain the lack of a second key thing. At the time, though, he was in the middle of a sale and asked if I could call him back about it some other time. He said was sure he had it somewhere.

Jump ahead to June. I never heard from Stan, nor did I call him back as requested, mostly because I sensed that there was no way he actually had my other key and that getting a new one would be the equivalent in difficulty to going on a magical quest akin to the Lord of the Rings.  Eventually, though, the topic of the key came up again when I had to borrow the wife’s car to haul a larger amount of stuff than my car could handle and we again had to trade keys. I decided it was time to get this key quest straightened out.

I returned to the dealership one afternoon, found Stan, reintroduced myself and told him I was still in need of the second key. He wasn’t in the middle of a sale this time, but another salesperson had commandeered his office for a sale of their own, so he couldn’t get to his desk, where he assured me the key was located.  He asked if I could return later in the day.

“Well, either today or tomorrow,” I offered.

It was at this point that Stan should have piped up to alert me to the fact that the following day was his day off and that he would not be there. Stan, however, is a salesman and therefore sends off salesguy vibes.  They reminded me of the vibes I used to detect from a particularly weaselly ad sales guy I once used to work with in my radio days, whose nickname was, in fact, The Weasel. This is not to say that I think Stan is necessarily a weasel (NOD), but like many of his erminey ilk he defaults to behavior designed not to mess up a potential sale, such as never telling people things they might not want to hear like I’m going to be gone on my day off.  Clearly, he preferred to instead have me return two days later pissed off.  Come to think of it, that’s pretty weaselly behavior, so let’s put another checkmark on the Weasel Chart for Stan.

So, after returning on his day off to find Stan absent and his even more openly weasel-like fellow salesman unwilling to help me for fear of screwing up something Stan might conceivably have in the works, I returned again two days later. I was determined that while I would not be openly hostile, I would also do nothing to disguise my annoyance with everyone involved.

Through the window, I could see that Stan saw me coming and perhaps even noted my expression, for he immediately put down his slice of pizza and ran to riffle in his desk drawers before I could even open the door.  Spouting apologies for not having begun this search weeks before, he began pulling fistfuls of key fobs out of the desk in his search, looked in all the drawers, looked in his filing cabinet, and made more nervous small talk. Failing to find any Subaru keys, he apologized again and then disappeared into the depths of this particular building of the dealership complex for a full ten minutes, leaving me to watch his more weaselly-looking fellow sales guy slink around in an attempt to look busy.

Eventually Stan returned to announce that he’d spoken with someone with technical skills and they were even then printing instructions on how to program a “new one” for me.  These modern car keys sounded complicated.

Soon enough, another fellow came out, instructions in hand and he and Stan followed me out to my car. At the technician’s request, I handed him my keys and he had a seat behind my steering wheel. He was there for under a minute when he emerged, holding up my keys by the fob with one hand and a second fob in the other. The second fob was our extra fob that my wife had left in the car while driving it days before.

“Does this one work?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“And yours works?” he asked, dangling my keys from their fob.


“Then why do you need another one?”

Inwardly I smiled.

“I don’t,” I said. “We already have two key fobs. What we don’t have are two actual keys.”

The technician looked confused for a moment. “You don’t have two keys?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said. “That’s why I’ve been coming in here for the past several days asking for a second key.”

Wow that was a massively satisfying thing to be able to say. In fact, it was worth all the hassle so far just to be able to say it in a perfectly pitched tone of calm, polite, righteous indignation.

The technician turned a cold eye in Stan’s direction then stalked off toward the building, wadding up his instruction pages and pitching them at the nearest trash can upon entry. Stan looked rather embarrassed, standing there in the illumination from my blazing self-satisfaction.

“I feel like a huge idiot,” he said.

I said not a word to dissuade him of this notion.

Stan leaped into action to right his wrong. He piled into a golf cart and asked me to follow him down to another of the buildings in the complex. I was then led on a merry chase from building to building, eventually just joining Stan in the golf cart to save time. At each stop, Stan was treated to having employee after employee explain that he was in the wrong department and would need to go talk to so and so over in such and such other department. Half an hour later I was still waiting for a key, but was at least standing in line in the correct department with the correct employee, who had only moments before sent Stan on yet another trek to locate a blank key for him to cut.

Again, the magical quest would have been easier.  Turned out, though, mine was not yet completed.

Upon Stan’s return with the blank, he announced that he was going to head back up to his own building, since I didn’t really need him there for the rest of the process. At first I was tempted to explain to him that I’d already invested far more of my afternoon—nay, my MONTH—in this little venture, all of which was due to his inability to follow up on assurances he’d made to us four months prior, and that until I had a working key in my hand he was just going to have to suck it up and waste some of his time, in addition to wasting mine. I almost said that. However, I’d long since decided that I didn’t really like Stan very much, nor did I care to listen to any more of his uncomfortable attempts at small talk, which I sensed would almost certainly soon turn to sports, a topic in which I’m not only uninterested but also illiterate.  I told him to begone and he vanished in a puff of weasel-tinged brimstone.

The guy with the key-cutter soon produced a replica key for me, but explained that it wouldn’t actually work with my car until they cast a few spells on the magic chip embedded in it.  The wizard for this was located in one of the previous departments we’d visited, back up the hill.  I climbed into my car and tested this new key in the ignition.  As was foretold, only my original key would start my vehicle.

I made the journey back up the hill to what I believed to be the wizard’s lair, only to be told that the wizard in question, who actually worked next door, had been sent on a side-quest and would be back in a sec. They advised me to go wait in the sun by the wizard’s mystical garage bay. So I waited. And I waited. After ten minutes and half a sunburn, I went back inside to inquire if the wizard had been alerted to my presence.

“He’ll be back in just a minute, sir,” the man there said.

I returned to the garage to find that the sorcerer’s apprentice had appeared and was working on another car. He asked who I was waiting for. I told him the wizard’s name.

“Jimmy,” I said.

The apprentice nodded, but said that the Wizard Jimmy’s quest had involved taking a vehicle to one of the dealership’s other branches. He would, the apprentice assured me, be back. I did the math in my head, though, and knew that the branch in question was a good ten miles away. What choice did I have, though? I waited.

Eventually, the Wizard Jimmy did appear.  The skin of his arms, baked dark by the blazing sun above, was marked with black and arcane symbols no doubt denoting his elevated status among his wizardy brethren.  He was also the least weaselly person I’d met the entire day. I found him instantly likable even beyond the fact that he held the power to set me free from my now hour plus trial.

The Wizard Jimmy asked what wish he could grant me. I gave him both my magic key and my somewhat less magic key.  He then asked me to search my heart to determine whether I truly only desired two keys, or if perhaps I might one day want more.  For once his arcane arts were applied to them, no more keys could ever be produced. I told him I was true of heart in my desire for only the two.  The Wizard Jimmy then produced a flat brown creature—his familiar, I’m sure—and inserted my keys into its orifices. It squeaked as he massaged the rows of scales upon its back. A few moments later, he removed my keys from it and passed them into my grateful hands with a hearty, “There you go, big guy.”

I climbed into my vehicle and found that both of the keys worked as promised. I waved to the wizard and then sped from the parking lot, not even bothering to return to the office of the wizard’s supervisor for fear he would present me with a bill for all their sorcery and this would be a situation in which I would be unable to restrain myself from calling down furious wrath upon one and all. So far, they haven’t called to tell me otherwise, though one of their minions did leave a message asking if my experience was satisfactory. I have yet to phone her back.


Copyright © 2010 Eric Fritzius

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