Monday, July 30, 2007

California Sweating vs Virginia Glistening: A Cavey and Kim Adventure

After a day of antique shopping, Cavey and I decided we needed some real excercise. The original plan was to use the treadmill but that evolved into a brisk walk.

Now, a brisk walk in California is nothing much. It may be hot, but it's a dry heat - so it is best to walk in the evening or early morning during the summer.

In Virginia, a brisk walk means losing 5 pounds of water weight due to the humidity. If I have not adequately described the humidity, allow me to take a moment to do so.

Picture taking the hottest shower you can stand. Once you step from the shower and begin drying off, you long to open the bathroom door, don't you? Notice how steaming HUMIDLY HOT it is until you open that bathroom door?

Okay. So now I have described for you the typical humidity in Virginia at 6:30pm.

So, we are taking this brisk walk and I am absolutely ecstatic over the many things that are beautiful in Virginia.

It is green - everywhere. Just rolling green lawns, broken up by huge green trees and thick green shrubbery that comes from the richest looking black and brown soil you've ever seen. Whole plants just spring up out of nowhere along the side of the road and in the ravines that run in front ofsome houses. In fact, whole shrubs can spring up overnight in a sidewalk crack.

"Those are beautiful flowers," I exclaim as we pass a particularly lovely brick house with an abundance of yellow and black flowers and huge green leaves and stems. "Oh those...? My mama's been tryin' to get rid of those things FOREVER..." responded Cavey.

And the houses? They are so full of character you want to cast them in a movie. They are beautiful homes dripping with architectural amendments that literally make me gasp. And shutters? Real shutters! Clapboard? Detached garages? Basement windows?

Lest you think me odd (or a closet architect), let me tell you that shutters in California tend to be factory fabricated and encased in polymer. All houses look alike and vary only in shades of beige. And if flowers grow in the desert, it's because their owners are anal-retentive and bring the plants in every winter. And half the summer.

Here there is brick and moss and NO FENCES! The lots are huge and this is such a beautiful neighborhood.

So naturally, I went on and on about that. Cavey looked a bit perplexed but she is a good hostess and let it go.

She told me as we passed each house the name of the occupants. These are neighbors and friends she and her husband's family have known for a lifetime.

"Those people there, in the white house? They haven't lived there very long.... only 10 or 15 years," she said, while I pondered that I don't even know the last names of any of my neighbors, although we are good about waving to each other.

After our brisk walk we returned to Cavey's lovely home and I quickly noticed that there is more than just architecture that makes us different. I was sweating profusely, at the point of dripping.

Cavey is not even glistening. Neither one of us got our heartrate up too much with this brisk walk, but I am rapidly losing water weight while she just looks a little "bothered."

I was then enticed by Cavey's children to jump on the trampoline. I am not sure how long I lasted, but at some point, I had to accept the fact that these children were
trying to kill the visitor from California.

"You sure do sweat a lot, Mrs. L," said the lovely and talented younger child.

"The only thing funnier than you on the trampoline, Mrs.L.... is Mike [the cat]," offered the exquisitely handsome son.

Not sure what to say in response to these effusive compliments, I stood there gulping water in an attempt to replenish what I just dripped out into the back lawn.

"Um.. Mrs. L? You're gonna take a shower, now...right?" asked the curiously sweat-free daughter.

"You think I should?" I replied.

Ever the Southern hostess she smiled. "Well... only if you want to."

She did look noticeably relieved when I emerged from the shower and represented myself - all cleaned up.

I think the poor child was truly concerned - after all, I am sleeping in her bed.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

My Cat Otis Has Quirks

Quirks are good things because they cause a second look. Anybody with a quirk - or several, since they tend to come in a package - is noticed and considered different. Set apart from the madding crowd, if you will.

But in a cat they are curious. I say this because my cat Otis is full of quirks and they only serve to beg the question: Why?

If I knew the answer I could be on Animal Planet. The pet psychics would be calling ME for advice. But I cannot explain. I can only illustrate.

I will list them his quirks:

1. He loves Dan dearly and goes out of his way to sit ON Dan or near him when Dan is home. But he never pesters Dan for food.

2. He can take me or leave me - except when he is nearing the hunger stage. If he is within 2 hours of possible hunger, Otis tends to keep a careful cat's eye out for me. If I am away, he in in my space within seconds of my return home.

3. Otis has staked out "spots" around the house. These include, but are not limited to the following locations: Under the dining room table, under the livingroom end table, the computer chair, the back of the couch (never the loveseat) in the family room. NEVER the livingroom. He loves to lay just outside the doggie door so the dogs can't leave. The dogs are polite enough to not step on Otis when he does this. If they get out through the door, however, all bets are off. They will trample over him to get back inside, using the pet door. Otis also favors the carpet next to my bedroom's French doors, but only during the Fall, Winter, and early Spring. Never in summer. He also likes the newspaper, but ONLY if I am reading it.

4. Otis will yowl at you if he is in the front yard - never the back yard.

5. He tolerates female guests and will allow them to pet him. But he adores, unequivically, any and all male guests, including those we don't know. He follows the cable guy, delivery people, and meter readers all over - dogging every step in an attemt to rub against their masculine legs. He also likes boys, but in moderation. He barely tolerates girls. Even as a kitten, this was so. The boys in the neighborhood could haul that little fluff ball all over heck and gone on their bikes or skateboards. But he leaped out IMMEDIATELY if any of the little girls attempted to put him in their baby buggies or bicycle baskets.

6. He likes chicken but hates beef.

7. He likes milk but hates cheese.

8. He will sleep across the shoes tossed against the family room loveseat. The more the shoes, the better he sleeps.

9. Otis loves bags. If one sticks around long enough, such as the one in the office filled with school supplies, he attempts to bond with it as only a cat can do. He kneads it, bites at it, and then acts surprised when he gets plastic in his mouth.

As I write this, Otis is laying across the above referenced bag. It now has several "love bite" holes in it and surely can't be comfortable for resting. But this is his way of letting me know that he just MAY be ready for his second helping of Fancy Feast today. It IS that time and he just wants to be sure I remember.

But it won't be me he thanks once he is fed. He will wait for Dan to get home and then greet him with a slam against the leg and a lap visit as soon as the man settles into his chair.

If I had MY way, he would then yack up some chunks of plastic - but then again, maybe I am being petty. After all, he's a cat.

Or maybe I'm just being quirky.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Farcical Fable of the Fearsome Feathered Mamba

It occurs to me I need to tell this tale in order to explain the 'feathered mamba' reference in my earlier swimsuit post.

I assure you this story is funny - and all at my expense. Which means it is funny for most people but slightly embarrassing for me.

About 4 years ago, my friend Cavey invited a bunch of us from the Professional Reading Chatboard on for a get-together at her mother's lake house in Virginia. The eMails and phone calls were flying during the month before the trip and one of the concerns I expressed was about snakes.

You see, I am not really a snake person although I do try to be and have become significantly less phobic over the past 10 years. The one snake fear I have to deal with accompanies my hikes on the Pacific Crest and other trails in the region. During the summer and autumn months, the rattlesnakes are out. Of all my hiking trips, I've only seen one and I heard one in a bush last September. But the fear is real, especially if I am hiking alone.

But other areas of the country have lots of different kinds of skeery snakes. And some of them like water. I have watched National Geographic and the Animal Planet enough to know that I am not being histrionic here. It is perfectly logical to expect snakes in Virginia - especially near water.

So naturally I asked and was not too pleased when Cavey casually replied that yes, they do indeed see snakes at the lake. "But they won't hurt you," she said. "Unless it's a copperhead."

I almost cancelled my tickets. I came this close. Black snakes? Copperheads? "Yeah, they like to curl up down by the water," Cavey said, with way too much serenity in her voice for my taste.

So, needless to say, I had to scan like a hawk the first time I went near the lake. There is a beautiful dock and cabana by the water - so wilder elements don't often make an appearance, I am told. Ducks, yes. But black snakes? Copperheads? "Well.. there was that one time..."

I swear that people in the South are much too relaxed about these things.

"They won't HURT you," Cavey said when we were treading water one day.

This, of course, is small comfort to somebody who absolutely dreads the possibility of sharing water space with a black snake. Well, with any snake, to be truthful. And with my luck, it would be a copperhead who spent too much time last night taking snakey licks out of Bubba's beer can - the one that dumped over on the dock down the shore. So he'll hit the water with one heck of a reptilian hangover, making him mean as a .... well, mean as a snake.

I was a grown up about it though, and took to the water like a fish. I loved it and since no snakes were ever in sight, I relaxed a little bit every single day.

So one lazy lake afternoon, I was treading water and talking to Cavey, Brad, and Grace as they lounged on the dock, nursing glasses of sweet tea and discussing vacation-related things like reading comprehension and the efficacy of computer-based fluency programs. In the water with me is Nik, Brad's wife, who is half asleep on the inner tube, lifting her head periodically to talk Brad into taking a swim or to proclaim that she is really, really, happy here in the water.

Cavey needed to repeat something to me because I hadn't quite caught it and did the old "HUH?" thing from the lake. As she came to the ladder she adjusted her sunglasses and began peering over my head towards an area of water about 20 feet away from me. After peering for a couple seconds, she leaned her head forward and looked harder. This caused me to turn around to see what she was looking at. Now, this is where accounts will differ. I truly don't remember saying anything but in my mind I was convinced that she was watching a big black snake swim through the water. Had I been rational, I would have turned around and looked better myself.

But I did not.

Somebody on the dock asked, "What is it?" at the same time I was swimming faster than I ever had in my entire life, counting the year I was on the swim team. I hauled my ample self UP the ladder and OUT onto the dock in one swift move that caused Cavey to reel backwards and almost dump her tea in Grace's lap. This caused Grace to jump up, which caused Brad to jump up.

In the meanwhile, Nik has seen me swimming wildly for my life and figures she will haul that tube to the ladder first and ask pertinent questions later. Her eyes had that "deer in the headlights" look as she attempted to get OUT of the tube and ONTO the dock.

Nik's reaction only served to reinforce that I was right all along - there are black snakes in that lake water, I just knew it! Nik saw it! She had to! Look at her face! Look how fast she swims in that tube!

Now, THEY will all tell you that I was the one who actually SAID the word "snake," which caused Brad and Grace to leap up and Nik to begin paddling hard enough to send her heart into arythmia. But I am sure that it wasn't me and that I was simply reacting the way any normal person would react when a really good and trusted friend starts peering at the water behind you in a very suspicious way.

As Nik is gasping for breath and I am turning around to see how many inches I came from certain snakey contact, Grace and Brad and Cavey are looking at the water very, very, closely.

"What is that?" asked Brad.

They all peered closer.

And then in a second and a half I became the butt of any and all future lake jokes.

"It's a stick," Brad said, with no small measure of delight.

"A WHAT?" yelled Nik, who was still clutching her chest.

"A stick," chortled Grace. "Yes - a stick!" I think she slapped her thigh but I am not certain. I was still reeling in fear and embarrassment.

Cavey is holding her sides laughing, snorting sweet tea out her nose while Brad points out the "stick" for Nik. She shoots me a rather incredulous look.

"Yes," said Brad dramatically. "It is the fearsome lake mamba. The feathered mamba, to be precise."

"Yep, that's it," agreed Cavey. "The feathered one."

"I need a beer," said Nik, and headed off towards the house, squelching her baser instict to push me back into the water, I am certain.

No amount of 'splaining on my part did any good. They would not agree, ever, that that moving black stick in the lake resembled a snake.

They also thought it was funny when I grumbled, practically under my breath, that mambas don't have feathers.

Swimming Suit Dilemma: A Whale Tale

I am looking forward to my upcoming trip to Virginia this weekend - to visit Cavey and the Rocket Scientist.

Since we MIGHT get to go to the lake house (to feed the mighty Feathered Mamba), I need something to wear while swimming.

I have two perfectly reasonable lined lycra tops that will camouflage any and all abdominal imperfections, like scarring, stretch marks, and (oh yeah!) fat.

The bottoms, however, are really bicycle shorts and acceptable if I am swimming alone or with a similiarly-proportioned-friend - but not suitable for the lake house, where the women are tanned and fit and full of collagen. (And the men are above average.)

When these bottoms get wet they are less than attractive.

So - I went to Mervyns and looked.

And looked.

And looked.

Mervyns has all manner of swimwear on sale, which is a good thing except nothing was right.

I found some black speedo type bottoms. Of the scores of black Speedo bottoms hanging on the rack, flung into the aisle, and piled all over the floor, there was exactly ONE in my size. ONE pair that didn't send rolls of muffin top over the edges for that quirky "I am so accepting of my fat self" presentation. They did have quite a few "Size Moose" Speedo bottoms but I, thank goodness, didn't need those. "Size Cow" is bad enough.

I have a gray lycra top. There are NO such things as gray bottoms or gray sport shorts to wear over the black speedo bottom. So I can't match the gray lycra top.

I have a blue lycra top. There are no such things as blue bottoms or blue sport shorts to wear over the black speedo bottoms. So I can't match the blue lycra top.

I found some blue Adidas sport shorts with stripes. They weren't exactly what I had in mind, but I was getting desperate. The stripes come in purple, white, pink, and
green. There was exactly ONE pair with white striping that would reasonably go over the black speedo bottoms and match the blue lycra top.

One try-on quickly determined that these are the type of shorts that will immediately, without hesitation, without passing Go to collect $200, fall off the split second the Rocket Scientist hits the gas and I shoot up on water skis. There I will be: In front of God, Bubba, and everybody with my fat self in black speedo bottoms and blue Adidas shorts riding along my knees.

OR WORSE: The Rocket Scientist will hit the gas and I will tumble, head over heels like a skipped rock - resembling Baby Beluga with blue sport shorts clinging to the right ankle and the left water ski tumbling towards Maryland.

For now, I am relying on Plan B. I will wear the black speedo bottoms, the ONLY one in my size, under the blue bicycle shorts that match the blue lycra top.

I will look frumpy next to the beautiful southern women but I can comfort myself by remembering that I am slimmer than I was the last time I visited Virginia. And that whatever I managed to wear THAT trip, while water skiing or leaping from the water to escape the Feathered Mamba, stayed on. At least, there are no extant pictures to prove otherwise.

I can't recall what I wore - I only remember Cavey saying, when I finally emerged from hiding under my towel, "What are those, hon? Bicycle shorts?"

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hope for the Brown Dog?

Our long-haired dachshund, Seamus, never has headaches.

This is because, as the saying goes, you must have brains to have headaches. And since Seamus has never demonstrated any intellectual prowess, we don't think he has much in the cranial region.

This isn't to say we don't love him dearly. But this is a dog who will go in and out the doggie door, even if the French door right next to it is WIDE open. He tries to smother you with kisses - with chew bones, dog toys, and Meaty Bones in his mouth.

This is a dog who loves to hike but simply cannot go off-leash. He just doesn't understand that "off leash" means he may roam around a bit, but he must stay near ME. Augie and Duke have modeled this procedure for Seamus many times. He still takes off like a houng dog after a rabbit - especially if he sees a rabbit. And dachshunds ARE hound dogs.

It isn't that I haven't attempted to train him. I wait until he's a bit tired so I can get his attention and then let him off-leash and constantly praise him for staying on the trail. ("Good trail, Seamus! Good trail!")

If he goes into the bushes I call him back, taking care to keep my tone neutral. Most of the time he comes back and I praise him again ("Good trail, Seamus, Good trail!")

But when he is off-leash he acts possessed and eventually he takes off further and further away from me - until I having to run to stay caught up with him. This makes him run AWAY from me. I've never beaten this dog in his life, but he is certain that once I get a-hold of him after a chase UPHILL, I will pound on him. So he keeps running.

Augie is very good at finding Seamus and I suppose that he does his canine best to convince the brown dog to rejoin the pack. But I think Seamus speaks a different dialect.

Each morning, Seamus starts the Rancho Vista/Palmdale West Division of Canines Meeting. It is their morning meeting and apparently quite important because all the dogs participating seem to have a LOT to say. Sometimes Seamus starts this meeting too early and I have to call him back to bed. But once the minutes have been read and old business covered, Seamus is loathe to give up the podium to Daisy next door, who I am sure could run the meeting without him.

Seamus is a OneDog Alarm System - warding off attacks by trash trucks, mail carriers, UPS drivers, Mormon missionaries, neighborhood dog walkers, and neighors standing or conversing in their own yards. In fact, without even SEEING a neighbor or a dog walker, Seamus discerns them and barks. And barks. And barks. From the BACK of the house.

He doesn't respond to verbal commands to cease barking. I have read the dog trainer books by Uncle Mattie, Cesar's Way, by the Dog Whisperer, and looked up online dog training manuals. To no avail. None of these supposed experts has ever dealt with a dog like Seamus, I am sure. And to compound the cacophony, dachshunds are hard-wired to always, always, always have the last word. Even if it is a full minute AFTER the initial barking frenzy.

So, when the construction dude arrived today to dig big holes and cut pieces of concrete with very loud tools, Seamus went on alert. As if the sound of a jackhammer working on the patio isn't loud enough - Seamus must bark loudly and often to express his supreme concern. And to compound the problem, once Seamus actually SEES the construction dude, all he11 breaks loose, despite my attempts to calm him down and tell him this is a FRIEND not a FOE and this is GOOD what he is doing, very, very GOOD. Patio covers are GOOD for dogs in summer, very GOOD.

So I took Seamus to the chair and ordered him to stay there. Dan laughed and Seamus immediately tried to leave. I stood there and ordered him back. When he didn't comply, I picked him up and put him back on the chair. Then I praised him for staying.

I praised him a LOT. And he stayed.

And then he attempted to get down but one order from me to get back to the chair sent the low dog scuttling. He jumped up on the couch. I decided that wasn't a battle to fight, so I praised him again.

And... he went over the the chair and promptly flopped down. And he stayed!

I'm not sure - but maybe there's hope for Seamus and I can teach him commands.

I just don't look forward to hauling that chair up the Pacific Crest Trail.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Heroic Dogs...But what would MINE do?

While getting my hair cut today, the conversation in the salon turned to the heroic little chihuahua in Colorado who jumped in front of a hostile rattler, saving the 1-year old grandson of the homeowners from a nasty, and possibly fatal, snake bite.

Since I hadn't heard the story, I Googled it when I got home and found there are many heroic dog stories out there - dogs who fetch phones for disabled owners, dogs jumping in front of lunging alligators, dogs chasing nasty critters out of houses.

The salon owners, knowing I hike with my dachshunds, told the salon group that my "lowdawgs" would probably do the same for me.

But I'm not so sure.

Yeah, they do the usual barking frenzy when anybody walks in front of my house and they happen to see them. Any and all delivery people are suspect and heaven help ANYBODY walking towards me while we are walking or hiking.

That is, unless the dogs are tired. Then, they are as docile as lobotomy patients and move aside. If I stop to talk, they stand there and allow themselves to be petted. Or they flop to the ground for a few minutes of panting shut-eye.

When the speech teacher at school brought me a baby glossy snake, I couldn't get it to eat. So, I decided to to let it go in an area rich with the glossy snakes' favorite food - juvenile lizards. When I released the snake, Augie sniffed around with much interest. When we passed the location on our way down the trail, Augie went back to the exact release spot - to sniff some more. But the snake was gone - hopefully dining on lizards and shouting, "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, I'm free at last!"

But the most telling event that makes me wonder about my dogs taking a rattlesnake bite for me involves Duke and a walk up the San Francisquito trail.

Up ahead, about 20 minutes into our hike, I spotted a snake laying across the trail. Not close enough to discern a species, I called to Duke, who was trotting happily
ahead of me.

"Duke!" I shouted. "DUKE! Stop!"

Duke promptly jumped over the lounging reptile, turned around, and sat down. Luckily for both of us, it was a gopher snake and it couldn't care less about me, Duke, or
the fact that his long snakey body was completely blocking the trail. (Snakes do this because they CAN. Showoffs.)

And what do you say to your dog when he obeys - albeit a bit too slowly? Castigating him for the possibility of sitting down next to a rattler would only tell him, in
complete canine understanding, that he did a bad thing - so it's better NOT to listen when she yells, "Duke! Duke! Stop!"

Or do you praise him for sitting down, albeit a bit too slowly? In his canine brain will he think that sitting next to a snake is a GOOD thing?

It's just so complicated.

My friend and teaching colleague, Pam, spent $175.00 to take her two dogs to a rattlesnake "desensitization" class. She was very proud of this, since she and her
husband and just built a lovely home on a golf course - that backs right smack dab up against prime snake territory.

The course involved a live rattler whose jaws were muzzled shut, making him one happy snake, I am sure. The snake was placed in various positions while the instructor gave various directions to the dogs and their owners. Small electric shocks were involved. This serves to upset the dogs and unsettle the owners.

The muzzled snake probably got some perverse satisfaction out it.

"Now we can walk anywhere and not worry," Pam said happily and much confidence when I asked her how the training class went.

But a week or so later, Pam was not so sure. It seems she took the dogs for a walk behind the house, up on a trail. Not only did she completely miss the rattler laying in the road (she walked over it), her dogs did too. According to her husband, who was walking behind them, "all of them just stepped right over it without a look." One of the dogs even turned around to sniff it. The husband's sharp warning scared the dog more than any old electric shock, that was for sure.

So, while Pam's dogs will probably bond with any trail snakes, mine will probably hop over them. Or sniff them.

Not too big a chance our dogs will "take a bite" for either of us.

Unless they're tired. Then they might flop down ON them and wait to be petted.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Hades that is Time Warner Cable's "Customer Service"

I just wasted the past 90 minutes trying to solve an internet connection problem that has plagued me for weeks. It has gotten worse over time.

Each time I call Time Warner, the company that bought out Adelphia, I go through a phone labrynth until I reach the technical support department for internet service.

I have done this so many times now that I know which buttons to push before they recorded voice finishes her inane directions - thus getting me connected THAT much
faster. Of course, most of the time it is 'hurry up and wait' since a 'technician' is always "helping other customers" and I am to "please stay on the line" and I will be helped - eventually.

And each time I am connected to a pleasant young man who leads me through a series of computer hoops in order to correct the problem. It has gotten to the point that I try most of this stuff BEFORE I even call - thereby saving precious time.

Once I called and got a pleasant young lady - but she concluded that the problem was with my Norton Internet Security and that I needed to call them. I spent the next
55 minutes talking to some guy named Saresh or Harish in India - before he concluded that the problem was with the cable company - and NOT Norton. I was to call back Time Warner. I did and we did a comical rerun of the first call to the young lady - only this time it was a pleasant young man.

Go to "settings" and repair the connection? Check.
Shut down computer and start it back up again? Check.
Shut down computer, unplug little wire, count to 45 and
then hook it back in and start it all up again? Check.

I also try the cheater way - unplugging and replugging the little cable wire while the 'puter is on. THAT trick used to work but it doesn't anymore. The computer or the modem or whatever is plaguing me has caught on.

So today, Bryan, the pleasant young man assigned to help me, put me through the hoops. We went to the "black box" and did all kinds of "pinging" in order to find out what the problem is.

"Why don't you just reset the modem?" I asked. "That always seems to work."

"I want to get to the root of this problem," he said. "If you don't mind."

"Good man," I said. "Let's get to the root of this problem."

We disabled Norton and Pinged in the black box some more. (You get to it by clicking on 'run' from the Start box and then typing in "cmd.")

This took FOREVER. And the phone connection wasn't that good. The phone problem has been going on ever since I had to switch from SBC to stupid Verizon. But that is another post altogether. (I get to pay MORE for my telephone and get worse service.)

Then, Bryan told me that the problem was most likely the modem. I asked him if the modem was INSIDE my computer and he said no, it was the cable box I got from Adelphia. The one with all the lights.

He said he could hook me up to my local service provider to set up an appointment for a service technician to come out and replace the box. The last time one of these
pleasant young men attempted to do that, I was connected to San Antonio, Texas, and was told off by a rather unpleasant young man who wanted to know why I called HIM
when I am clearly in California and not San Antonio, Texas.

"I didn't call you, I was connected to you by somebody at your help desk," I replied, feeling foolish and annoyed all at once.

"Well, ma'am.. I can't help you. Nothing for you comes up on my screen."

"So what do I do?" I asked him. "Can you connect me to somebody who can help me?"

"No - you will have to call back the place you just called. Ask them to connect you again."

Needless to say, I didn't call back again - until today when ONCE AGAIN I had connection problems. After spending almost 2 hours with me on the line, Bryan connected me, successfully, to rather UNpleasant young man named Robert.

"What can I do for you?" Robert asked in a monotone. I started to go through the whole story and then said, "Bryan gave me a ticket number. Would that help you?"

"I got the ticket number." (Dead silence.) So that means he has the whole sordid pinging history right in front of him. Apparently he didn't understand it. Bryan assured me that all my "history" would be on the screen for local company.

Then he spoke. "What can I do for you?"

I patiently told him about my internet problems and he asked if the little box's lights were lit up.

"Yes. They are always lit up," I replied.

"Well. Then there's nothing wrong with the modem."

"But Bryan determined that it WAS the modem." I said, getting annoyed. "What should I do now?"

He waited awhile and then said, "You can just monitor it. Watch it and see if the lights go out."

I almost laughed. I am to "watch" the box? THAT will solve this problem?

"The lights NEVER go out," I said through rather gritted teeth. "And the computer won't connect to the internet."

"If the lights are on, the problem is not with the modem."

"Then what IS THE PROBLEM?" I asked patiently, once again.

There was dead air and I was certain that Robert had hung up on me.

"If the technician comes out and there is no problem you are going to be charged a service call."

"But if the problem is the modem - then how can I be charged?"

"If the lights are on, the modem is not the problem."

Robert gave me a choice of times and I selected the morning. He asked me AGAIN for my name and phone number. Apparently, all of Bryan's helpful information was written
in a language that Robert didn't care to understand.

So, I gave him my name and telephone number, reiterated that yes, the bill IS in my husband's name, and thanked him for his half-hearted attempt to "help."

Then he thanked me profusely for calling Time Warner Cable. Well... as profusely as a man who speaks in monotone can muster.

I'm thinking that WiFi is sounding better and better everyday.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

For Want of the Perfect Fabric

Today I ventured out into the heat again, in search of
the perfect fabric for re-upholstering my great-great-
grandmother's English rocking chair.

What I am looking for is very elusive. It is fabric that I
will know when I see it and so far, I haven't seen it. I
haven't even caught a glimpse.

For your information, all the fabric out there in the commercial world looks alike and all the local stores carry the same tired stuff... just more of it in some
cases and for more money in others. Most upholstery fabric is just variation on a theme.

I want something vintage and colorful - in keeping with the historic nature of this chair. I can remember only too slightly the fabric that was on it during my earliest
childhood. I have tactile memories of running my finger along a stripe of burgundy or a swirl of velvet - but only catch a glimpse of the colors - a deep red, some greens, blues, golds... maybe browns?

None of my old family photographs shows the material on the chair. I have a wonderful picture of my great-great-grandmother sitting on the chair. But her body covers the upholstery. Every single square inch of it.

I contacted my older cousins but, being guys, they are little help. They can barely remember the chair, let alone what fabric adorned it during their childhoods. This
perplexes me since they played on and around it for years and years. But they are men and I suppose this lack of material memory is to be forgiven. I bet they remember all of my grandfather's fishing rods and guns and tools.

I have haunted my local antique shops, looking for scraps of vintage fabric or an old table runner or plush rug that might serve the purpose. I have a small and colorful tapestry rug hanging on the wall in my hallway - it has a lot of pretty red and is adorned with adorable English corgis - which is appropriate, since the chair was made in England and came with my great-great-grandparents when
they emigrated - both times. But how can I cut up that tapestry and make the Solomon choice about which dog to place where? No... I just can't do it.

I don't think I can adequately describe what I want for this chair. I only know that I shall know it when I see it and this makes for a frustrating search indeed.

The chair may just sit in my livingroom without upholstery for the time being - until I find the perfect and ellusive fabric - material that may only exist in my mind.

Which means I need to find a really good hypnotist.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dad in a Sock

My stepmother has relented and is allowing me to take some of Dad's ashes up to the High Sierras with me - to scatter around the mountain lakes and streams he loved all his life.

It is a strange business, this scattering of ashes. Not something you come across everyday so there are no set rules or regulations for decorum or anything. I've never come across any articles about it in Good Housekeeping or Ladies Home Journal.

I was home alone when the Strange Box that contains all of my Dad's earthly remains arrived. They didn't come in the mail or by Federal Express - which he might have appreciated. They were hand delivered by a guy in a fancy suit, driving a non-descript car, who approached my front door carrying a simple cardboard box. It wasn't until he opened the box on my dining room table that I saw the actual box itself - blond oak with bits of brass hardware. Inside THAT box was another box - a heavy brass contraption that separated the holder from the actual remains by about 5 pounds of heavy metal.

During our brief discussion, after I "signed" for Dad, the guy told me that if I ever wanted these ashes scattered, they could handle those arrangements. "It is illegal in California," he said somberly, "to scatter cremated remains without a permit."

I hated to ask what all THAT entailed but I couldn't imagine some strange suited-up funeral home dude following me up some remote mountain trail, schlepping my dad's ashes in a backpack.

And yet - this is precisely what I shall do sometime within the next week - shlep my what little bit of my father I possess in a physical form up a mountain trail or down by a rushing creek, or along the edge of a mountain lake.

I am am gathering from my life's experiences that there are no "cremation police" lurking in the bushes of the Sierra Nevada, waiting for people like me to begin scattering ashes without a permit. So I am going to be a scofflaw and do this the way I want to do it, which is the way it should be since I don't intend to involve outsiders anymore than I already have during this very difficult time.

The first time I rememeber being in the Sierras with my Dad was a time we were camping with my grandfather and my sister was about 2 years old. She wasn't steady on her feet yet and despite the sturdy white shoes that my father called "clodhoppers," she tripped and fell about every 2.5 minutes. Every tumble involved crying and carrying on, which annoyed the heck out my 7-year old self, who wanted to explore and cross the creek and collect pinecones in peace. There I was, 7 years old, craving mountain peace.

I remember my father picking her up after a fall and telling my grandfather that Susan was "tripping over every single little rock that protrudes even an INCH off the ground." This he said with a huge smile and evoked great laughter from everyone around the campsite.

At some point, Susan managed to manuever herself over to the creek, plopping herself down next to me. I was on my belly, peering deep into the water, which was rushing past us at almost lightning speed. At the bottom of a clear pool was a small wood-grain pocketknife, lost by somebody and just out of reach. I wanted to reach in and get it - but there was no way I could do so without getting wet - and getting wet was not something I could do and stay out of trouble. So, I stared longingly at that knife. At some point, Susan began reaching for the water and I sat up and pulled her backwards, under the armpits, afraid she would fall in. This didn't deter her and I had to keep repeating the manuever again and again, while telling her that she would fall in if she didn't stop. I did not want her falling in.

She didn't fall in and I never retrieved that pocket knife. And that was one of many trips up North over the course of my childhood.

When my stepmother told me she would let me scatter some of his ashes in the Sierras, I was satisfied but disconcerted. Did I have an appropriate container for such an endeavor? Just exactly does one use?

I am going to guess she used a small screwdriver or Allen wrench to open the heavy brass box - because when she handed me the jar, there they were - ashes.

"Don't tell me you've got him in a Ziploc bag," I said, taking the glass jar from her hands and peering inside at what looked like a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag.

"Yes... I didn't know what else to put him in," she said. "Is that alright?"

Now what to say? What IS appropriate? An urn? A crystal bowl? A leather satchel? What? A medieval medicine pouch?

"I guess you should put that in something," she said, realizing that anyone peering in closely enough might figure out the contents and call the Funeral Police or Cremation Cops, or whoever one called when an unauthorized person is seen carrying human remains in a Ziplock bag around.

After a moment's thought, she went to his dresser and began rummaging around. "How about a pair of your Dad's socks?" She asked a bit brightly. "Hmm.. yeah, these. These were his favorite fishing socks."

She retrieved a pair of rather bedraggled looking wool socks he no doubt used on many trips to the Sierras. I slipped the jar inside one of them and told her the socks would be fine.

My hiking partner on these mountain trips is my sister, Susan, who is now called Sue and no longer trips over little rocks that protrude an inch or more off the ground. Telling her about this little task seemed the appropriate and courteous thing to do, since pulling out a sock in the middle of hike and saying, "By the way, I've got Dad here..." might take her by surprise. After all, he was her father too and it's only fair.

And my father, of all people, would be highly amused at the thought of his daughters carrying some of his ashes on a hike - in one of his socks. It would have been a story he would tell to his friends, with an intake of breath just before laughing out loud at the absurdity and lack of dignity - which somehow suits him just right. Like an old pair of fishing socks.

So I called Susan.

"We're taking some of Dad with us," I said over the phone. "I don't know which part, since I only have about a handful."

She didn't miss a beat. I guess Sue does not surprise that easily.

"We are," she replied with an air of nonchalance and acceptance. "Great."

She paused.

"Where is he?"

"In my pack," I said. "So I don't forget and leave him on the couch or something."

"Ah." There was a pause. "Just don't tell me you have him in a Ziplock bag," she said.

"Well. Yeah. In a jar. In a sock."

"You have Dad. In a sock."

"Yeah. In a Ziplock bag, in a jar, in a wool sock. In by hiking pack. The new one."

Sue exhaled. "OKAY," she said, which much emphasis on the "oh" part. I suppose this wasn't the sort of conversation she thought we would be having either. That made two of us.

Thinking she might be a bit disconcerted by the whole thing, I offered, "I guess we could just dig a hole by a creek. I can dig the hole...."

"No," she interrupted, "We'll scatter him. We should scatter him."


Then she said, with just a tinge of somber excitement, "You have a NEW pack?"

I told her all about the new pack and then we ended the conversation.

So sometime within the next week, my sister and I will hike to a place and scatter my dad's small amount of ashes around the places he loved. We will take turns dipping our fingers into the Ziplock bag and doing whatever it is we are supposed to do - following no protocols or set rules since this is never anything we ever thought about doing.

At some point, we will have to cross a creek on a rickety bridge way too high for comfort and she will help me across as she always does.

She does this wearing her "clodhopper" hiking boots, grabbing me anywhere she deems appropriate, steadying my journey.

She keeps me from falling in - always.