Power to the People!

September 21, 2008

Disaster strikes! Blackouts and debris scatter the landscape! Certain unnamed individuals (cough, cough) are ill-prepared for this particular eventuality. Film at 11.

Earlier this week, my hometown was hit by wayward bits of Hurricane Ike, touching down on various parts of the surrounding counties and laying waste to buildings, vacations, and dreams of one last day of doing whippits at the Denny’s parking lot half-drunk at three in the morning before the fall starts. The end result was that I had no power for almost (gasp!) three days.

Of course, I’m not above telling everyone that I’m pretty much a pussy when it comes to the matters of everyday convenience. So when we experienced the power outage, my first thought was thank goodness this will only last an hour or two; I can catch up on those things that I love doing and need to get done, such as sleeping and occasionally napping.

Of course, it became readily apparent that my electricity was going to be out for quite some time. A casual survey of nearby acquaintances gathered the following range of responses:

1) Dude, this will be like camping. Awesome!
2) I want to kill myself.

And, of course, scattered reports noted that the electricity wouldn’t be on for days, maybe even a week. This was unusual; even though the electric bill is high enough that it would still be cost-effective to pay for several teenagers to hand-crank electric generators hooked up outside our house getting paid union scale to meet our electricity demand, I still usually found their post-storm triage to be quite efficient. Granted, by “post-storm” I mean “post some stupid drunk hits what appears to be the only utility pole in our county delivering electricity about once every two weeks.”

Normal people, unlike myself, tend to think they can last through a crisis such as a power outage. This is an absurdity wrapped in falsity and smothered in temperate indifference. We all think that we can find some old classic literature or at least that issue of National Geographic about the Sudan genocide we’re supposedly going to get around to caring about someday, or maybe it’s a perfect day of talking a peaceful walk through the woods getting some fresh air and some nature cred. This is a dirty lie you tell yourself to let you sleep at night. Once the power goes out, you’ll be quite literally itching to be sitting in your La-Z-Boy watching Grey’s Anatomy instead of sweltering outside trying to keep up with your Proust.

So when there’s quite literally not much else to do, idiots such as myself have to create new and inventive ways to pass the time. I my own self came up with the following wonderful games:

1) Try to find my clothes in the dark
2) Try to get dressed in the dark
3) Try not to swear when I bump into furniture while getting dressed in the dark
4) Try not to swear when I realize I forget to charge my cell phone
5) Make mental note to write nasty letter to utility companies and their quasi-socialist organization, convincing myself that private-sector incentives would have given me power by now even though I know full well they’d just the standing around playing Elephant Walk instead of fixing the power lines
6) Curse the darkness, throw out candles

I can’t really complain too terribly much, of course. On the one hand, Western Pennsylvania is pretty much shielded from any kind of natural disaster except for the occasional ice storm and baseball season. Dealing with hurricanes is not exactly the type of thing they prepare us for in elementary school, focusing more on field dressing deer and protesting toll roads. So since it is a fairly rare occurrence, we’re somewhat justified in being unprepared for such things.

On the other hand, when you see the devastation like what occurred in Texas, having three days without power seems a minor inconvenience. While I’m denied warm showers and Lean Pockets for a day and a half, I wig out and start plotting the revolution, sliding my finger down the Blue Pages and taking note of who will be first up against the wall. People in Galveston and Houston have lost the opportunity to not move to Oklahoma for a month or two. They deal with it by rolling up their sleeves and actually working, which in Texas I suspect means actually dumping buckets of pure testosterone over the affected areas until they are repaired.

One of the strangest things about these hurricanes is how little affected Florida has been lately. It used to be that any tropical storm formed in the Atlantic booked a first-class ticket straight for Miami, ready to swipe away large swaths of property and infrastructure and cause the cost of black market firearms and cocaine to triple overnight. However, the last few years have seen minimal damage to Florida, at least compared to the south central region. One assumes that Mother Nature is taking a bit of pity on the Sunshine State, letting it stew in its own man-made disasters of swamp ass, Mark Foley, and Cam Cameron.

Anyway, the power was restored and all was right with the world. I can go back to doing what I normally do, which pretty much amounts to sleeping and occasionally napping. Wake me before the plague of locusts arrives.

Tender Loving Care

July 27, 2008

Well, it turns out that I have tendinitis. This is not, as they say, a particularly promising development in my life.

I have no idea how I developed tendinitis in the first place. I haven’t smacked any particularly aggressive volleyballs, or experienced an unlikely bout of push-ups, or engaged in defensive measures against a random assault, or, even more dramatically, picked up any unexpectedly heavy packages. The rather more mundane story is that I woke up one day with the inability to move my wrist without screeching in pain like a little girl. This is a situation that leaves many ludicrous theories to the imagination, most involving night terrors, Kerryesque thrashing, or alien interference in my bedtime schedule.

For a while I thought I could manage it—like I manage all of my life’s problems—with a deft mixture of ibuprofen, willpower, and Diet Pepsi. Usually after an hour or two of waking up the pain would subside and I would go about my daily routine of avoiding work, only this time I had convinced myself I had a legitimate excuse for doing so beyond being lazy. Then, when I was ready to go to sleep at night, it would start to hurt again.

Alas, as time progressed, the window of time in which the pain dissipated got smaller and smaller until they met, a cataclysmic event paralleled only in history to the time the neighbor’s dog rammed his snout in my crotch as a gesture of unexpected goodwill. So I broke down and did what I spend a large amount of my personal resources avoiding to do on a daily basis, and voluntarily entered a medical establishment.

Thankfully, the ER wasn’t busy and I was waited on promptly. The doctors at the emergency room did a good job, of course, but they still displayed to me, as they always do, the standard air of disapproval that all medical personnel give me. They can read guilt, like a nun or a Democrat, and register the same amount of condemnation on me as someone who commits venal sloth or supports offshore oil drilling.
And no one was more disapproving than the nurses. I have a deep-seated fear of nurses—a Pandora’s box of psychological issues that some poor therapist will some day unlock, along with the reason that I’m scared of the smell the furnace makes when it first kicks on in the fall for the year—and so the nurses looked at me with disbelieving incredulity. “Are you sure you don’t remember what happened?” they would say, like the grandmother holding a baseball in front of the neighbor’s broken window. “You don’t remember picking something heavy up? Pushing something harder than you thought? Beating your wife?” If my trip to the hospital were a cartoon, it would show the phrase “tsk, tsk” somewhere in the panel. Also, the nurse would be hot and quite possibly Asian.

While there was significant worry, mostly on my part, that I had managed to get a hairline fracture or the beginnings of carpal tunnel syndrome, X-rays displayed nothing. The doctor determined it was a mild inflammation of the tendons in the wrist, and prescribed a healthy dose of getting your act together. And Motrin. And a huge, white, Lode Runner-style bandage to keep me from flailing my arms in the air like I just don’t, uh, care.

The worst part, of course, is trying to engage in everyday activities with my non-dominant arm. Carrying groceries is a minor chore only occasionally punctuated by rampant profanity, and doing things such as, oh, I don’t know, typing a 800-word column required periodic rests with refreshing beverages and nice, relaxing episodes of Dexter.

Of course, having tendinitis has its advantages, too. There is an almost infinite amount of pity that can be farmed out of a ten dollar Ace bandage wrapped around your forearm. Every marginally cute girl approaches me with a standard “awww…” as if I were a lost puppy or a pile of designer shoes instead of a passive-aggressive slacker. (Of course, there may be some psychologically repressed tension that this is an obvious cry for someone to take care of me, but we’ll let Pandora keep the earned interest on that one.) Also, I can get out of doing menial work with a sorry look on my face and pointing wordlessly and lamentably to my forearm.

And, as everyone remembers with my Sudafed and Benadryl debacles, even standard drugs such as Motrin screw with me. While I can’t claim to any acid trips or conversations with fluorescent witch doctors on my floating sponge travelling the circumference of the earth, I have been rather cloudy-headed, and my decision-making process appears to be lacking. (“Hey! Hey you, the hot Asian chick! Are you a nurse? Can you borrow a uniform from one of your nurse friends? Don’t lie to me, I was in ‘Nam!”)

Still, though, I can’t quite wait to get this over with. Even as I feel it getting slightly less painful to move, moving through life with one operable hand is kind of a pain. At any rate, I’ll have a week or two to come up with some comparable excuse to not be able to function like a normal human being. It certainly can’t be more difficult than typing this many damn words.

The Day My Hair Dryer Tried To Kill Me

April 21, 2008

I have had one of the first truly defining moments of my life.

My hair dryer tried to kill me.

Now, to set the stage of this incredibly traumatic experience, let me first state that it was a mere few days ago that I went and engaged in another incredibly traumatic experience, getting my hair cut. Now, I like to think of myself as a fairly non-metrosexual guy, inasmuch that I haven’t really taken care of myself in any sense of the word since about 1985, which, coincidentally, is the last time I updated my haircut. But I do have a lot of hair, and it does have a certain level of maintenance so I don’t walk around looking like a cross between Alfalfa and Sanjaya. So while I don’t fuss over my hair—I try to keep my yearly spending on hair products about equivalent to my nearly expenditures on calendars—I also don’t want to walk around looking perpetually like everyone in the world’s younger 9-year-old brother who is in that awkward stage after they give up wearing that wrestling T-shirt every single day but before learning how to use a comb.

As such, I prefer that my hair to be left a little longer than normal, since if it’s cut too short it tends to stick up, and I have to shove enough chemicals in my hair that Hans Blix wants to inspect it. (Wow, a Sanjaya joke and a Hans Blix joke all in one day. Time to update the Rolodex.) And yet every single hairdresser I’ve patronized since I learned to walk has taken me saying “Please don’t cut my hair too short” to “cut every single piece of hair on my head to the minimum length molecularly possible.” Seriously, I’m like a six year old in that chair, sulking while she tries to chat me up about the weather to distract me from the fact that she’s chopping off waaay too much hair. What’s left is an atrocity wrapped in a disaster, at least until two weeks are up and it either grows in or I kind of forget about it. Granted, it’s sort of my fault, since I’m not assertive enough to say anything and instead just throw a big wad of cash at her as I leave so she doesn’t see me tear up, partly because it’s not worth the hassle and partly because I don’t trust women who are holding sharp objects.

So I was already kind of torqued off when I woke up Saturday. I woke up late after staying up the previous night either partying hard with my ladeez or doing crossword puzzles (I don’t recall which) and was getting ready to greet the day at a somewhat reduced pace, in the sense that it took longer for me to get ready than it took Dostoevsky to write The Brothers Karamazov had he had to invent each Russian word as he wrote it.

So after my shower, I start to dry my hair. To sketch the profile, the hair dryer, which had recently attended to its eighth birthday, was mauve, which also means it was a gift, since I would never electively acquire such a color. But while drying my hair this day, it tended to switch between the high setting and the low setting primarily at will, something that should of set off alarm bells like it was an ELO concert but instead I assumed it was just one of those things electronic devices do because they hate me more than they hate their own life, as evidenced by my DVD player that is currently solely powered by its own sense of self-loathing.

Alas, with the motor grinding away and sounding more and more like a cat choking on the Empire State Building, I did something I knew the moment I did it that I should not have done it. I peered deep into the nozzle of the hair dryer while it was still running in the extraordinarily likely case that between the time I finished my shower and started drying my hair I had earned an engineering degree and would know be able to both diagnose and fix the problem.

Instead, I was greeted with the hair dryer catching on fire. OK, perhaps that’s a bit dramatic, but saying that “I caught a modest burst of flame as the dust and accumulated hair burned up in about two seconds” just makes me sound like a pussy. I did, however, quickly do what all of the emergency medical personnel tell us to do when we are holding malfunctioning electronics in a room full of water, which is to scream like a little girl and throw the thing on the floor. I also believe I complemented my heroic acts by loudly stating something along the lines of “Goshen gee willikers, my hair dryer has caught on fire! Heavens to Betsy!” Or something conveying those same sentiments; it’s all a hazy blur at this point.

My hair dryer, having finally taken its stand in protest of eight hears of hard labor of working for four minutes every day, let out a few last whimpers in the form of what in hindsight were probably highly dangerous sparks, then just stopped, dead. I lifted the limp carcass and carried it outside so the house wouldn’t smell like a Dutch masseuse, then promptly went to the drug store to buy a new one. I wasn’t going to let an attempted assassination stop me from exercising my American right as a citizen to go through life with dry hair.

How Not To Wash A Car

December 31, 2006

As most of you know, I have a rather unfortunate aversion to those everyday commonplace tasks that are necessary for the survival of the Western world, such as mowing the lawn and carting pennies to the bank. At one point in my life, and admittedly perhaps later in my life when my worries will mostly center around when to schedule my bypass and what brand of cat food I’m having for lunch, I found these tasks to be endearingly charming, perhaps even relaxing, but by no means a net negative on my life. But now, the indignity passed upon me by the responsibilities of modern life in the form of putting away the Christmas lights and vacuuming the floor is a burden Atlas himself would have let roll out onto the dark recesses of the netherworld with nary a guilty thought askance.

Add to this list washing the car.

Again, at one point in my life washing the car was a remotely fun exercise; getting to be outside for a bit accomplishing something other than sitting in my chair thinking idle thoughts about (mostly) women wasn’t the worst thing I could be doing with my life. And I did it the way my ancestors did it: free, at home, with well water and a six year old bottle of Spic N Span bought specifically for the purpose, and the rag we used to bury the dog in set aside so we didn’t ‘accidentally” use one of the good washcloths in rubbing multicolored bird droppings off of the windshield.

Well, a few days ago I finally decided that the car needed to be washed before the onset of winter, because there’s no balls on way I’m doing it in the dark recesses of the netherworld, otherwise known as February. I made this determination after a rigorous examination of the facts, namely, it was the last week of December and it was almost 60 degrees out.

Alas, the appropriate accoutrements for washing the car had long been packed away under the laughably inept prediction that there would be a winter this year. So after a personal cost/benefit analysis I decided that I was going to drive the car to the car wash.

Now, it has been a while since I’ve been to a car wash station. The last time I went you needed to deposit pieces of eight in the vacuum to get it to run. Indentured servants would wax the car. So it wasn’t without a small amount of trepidation that I pulled into the concrete stall.

The first thing I noticed was that I didn’t like my neighbors. They were two ne’er-do-wells—damn, am I getting old—who apparently watched all those Cheech and Chong movies in an attempt to learn how to speak Hippie. Conversations seemed to depend on what the object of the conversation was going to be:

Jackleg #1: Dude, what are you doin’?
Jackleg #2: Man, what are you TALKIN’ about?
Jackleg #1: No, no, no, no, man, that’s it, man, that’s just the thing.
Jackleg #2: Yeah, dude, no kidding, right?
Jackleg #1: Got that right, dude. [high five, I think. I hope.]

The second thing I noticed was that I had failed to bring any change. Now, granted, the only thing I remember about the car wash was bringing what seemed to be at the time the equivalent of the federal deficit in quarters along for the trip. Of course, the other thing I remember is that I am pretty much a forgetful idiot, so all I had was a few disheveled Missouri reject quarters the Coke machine at work won’t even accept (and she’s easy) and plenty of pennies, dimes, and Chuck E. Cheese tokens in my coat. (Oh, that’s right, since the potentiality for getting soapy and/or dirty is high, I have a specific coat I use for the sole purpose of car washing and, apparently, going to Chuck E. Cheese.) So I couldn’t use the vacuum machine without change.

Helpfully, though, the machine for the actual car wash took dollars. And, coincidentally, that’s how much it cost to wash the car! Or, at least, that’s how much it costs for two minutes and twenty seconds worth of a car wash. I looked somewhat dubiously at the cryptic list of methods for car washing including, but not limited to: rinse, soap, soapy rinse, hot wax, blow dry, rinse, foamy soap, cold wax, rinse, rinse, soapy foam, toasted without pickle, and rinse. I determined by looking at my car and calculating the amount of bird crap on it that I was going to boil this down to rinse, soap with that big ol’ brush, and rinse.

Well, the initial rinsing went fine. But the brush with the soap on it—well, that was a different beast altogether. If there were three cameras and a live studio audience it couldn’t have been staged any better. I slip my dollar in and race over to the brush, lifting it gently from the cradle. Nothing happens. So I wait. Nothing happens some more. So, like every vacant-faced neighbor in every stupid sitcom ever made, I peer gingerly down into the brush inches away from my face to see where the soap is and—POOF—out comes a brilliant spray of suds to blast my face and my car wash coat all over with lather. And—I swear this is true—I did a slow burn to no one in particular—just in case anyone was watching. (“Hey, dude! All right, man! That’s just it, you know?”) If only there were a muted trombone doing the old “wah-wah-wah-waaaaah” that you used to hear in those old Merrie Melody cartoons when Elmer Fudd peers into the cannon that he thinks that wascilly wabbit had burrowed into, only to find the Korean 9-year-old that got paid fourteen cents an hour to color in the scene.

Anyway, Steve’s Big Trip to the Big Car Wash was largely a success. Even though I didn’t get to clean out the inside of the car and run the alarmingly real risk of finding asiago cheese and herb trees growing in the passenger side seat by March, I had least made the token effort fighting the good fight against dirty vehicles and sedentary musings about pretty girls. Dude, you, like, know? High five. I think.