Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Here's how it goes:

Our garage is in the back of our lot, off the alley. The car is in the garage, which is so packed with junk that we have to park the truck out front, on the street.

Julie has a workshop on container gardening to give. She has to load up stuff from the garage into the truck. But the car is in the way. So I'm supposed to move the car out of the garage and drive it around front, while Julie gets the truck from in front of the house and drives it around to the alley so she can load it up with stuff from the garage.

That may seem complicated, but if you sketch it out you'll see that it's really pretty simple. Car in back goes to the front, truck in front goes to the back. Two adults are assigned to the task of making the switch. It should be easy.

Unfortunately, the two adults are me and Julie, and we have all of the communication skills of the U.N. without the translators. We are a two-member Tower of Babel, with a couple decades of marital baggage thrown into the mix.

I'm sitting at my computer. Julie announces the Plan to me. I will move the car to the front, she will move the truck to the back. She disappears out the front door to get the truck. I get up and walk back to the garage to move the car. So far, so good. Of course, it takes only a few seconds for this simple Plan to begin to fail catastrophically.

I open the garage door and back the car into the alley. I sit in the car and wait for Julie to appear with the truck. I turn on the radio and listen to an item on National Public Radio. I begin to wonder where Julie is. It should take all of fifteen seconds to move the truck around the corner and into the alley. Where is she? The NPR item concludes and, just my luck, it's Pledge Week. The radio hosts start screaming about how they're behind in their goal and the radio station is going to go bankrupt and they'll all have to get minimum wage jobs at Wal-Mart if we don't pledge right this minute! I'm already a dues-paying member, so I turn the radio off. I sit and wait for Julie. She doesn't show up.

So I figure (wrongly, of course), "She has a garage door opener in the truck. I'll shut the garage door and move the car around to the front and she'll show up in her Own Good Time, click the garage door open and she can start loading up the truck." I drive down the alley and around the corner.

I'm no sooner out of sight than Julie pulls up in the truck. (She'd stopped in the front yard to water some plants, figuring that it would take me a few minutes to pull myself away from the computer.) She discovers that she has no garage door opener, so she gets out of the truck and walks to the back gate. It's locked. She starts yelling for me to open the gate.

I can't hear her because I'm parking the car out front. I go into the house and the dogs start jumping and dancing around me as if I've been on a two-year expedition to the North Pole. I pet the dogs and eventually get around to going out to the garage to see if Julie ever showed up.

I unlock the back gate and peer into the alley and see the truck, with the door open, and the garage door still closed. No Julie. I go back inside the house...

...and meet Julie coming in the front door, fit to be tied (which would have been the only safe thing I could have done with her at that point). She's been yelling at me to come unlock the gate, and she finally gave up and walked back around the corner to the front of the house. The voices in her head have told her that I've been sitting at my computer the entire time and that I never moved the car. She storms through the house proclaiming, "The sex isn't worth it!" and I'm standing there with a dazed look on my face like a dairy cow whose barn has just been ripped apart by a passing tornado.

Eventually we piece together what's happened and realize that the garage door opener that was supposed to be in the truck, isn't, but damned if we can find it. We turn the house upside down looking for it and the stupid thing has simply vanished.

That afternoon I drive to Mitchell's Market and as I'm walking back to the car I see the garage door opener on top of the hatchback. It has sat there through the drive out of the garage and down the alley and around the corner and all the way to the market, which is some kind of miracle.

It's not the biggest miracle of the day, though. The biggest miracle is that Julie and I are still together after twenty-six years of this crap.

Friday, March 26, 2004

We bought a new barbecue. Natural gas. I hooked it up myself.

Do you really need to read any further?

Actually I'm quite proud of myself on this job. Did you notice how the evening news did not feature an item about an enormous fireball erupting into the sky over Los Angeles yesterday? That was me, not blowing myself up!

I learned a few things, of course, in the process of hooking up the new barbecue.

Our old barbecue was also natural gas and we'd had a plumber install the gas line and hook everything up. This was the same plumber who'd proven himself inept at installing a dryer vent, but I'd assumed that dryer venting was merely a gap in an otherwise thorough education and that he'd done a professional job on the gas line to the barbecue.


In discussing the hookup of the new barbecue, the barbecue salesman said, "Do you have a safety valve on the gas pipe?" I thought for a moment. "Hm...you mean, a gizmo with a little red handle like that one there?" "Yes." "No."

A safety valve sounded like a good idea. I kinda wished I'd had one for the past twelve years.

Then the salesman asked if I had a regulator on the line. "What's that do?" I asked. "It regulates the flow of gas to the barbecue so it doesn't overheat. Not having one voids your warranty. Do you have one?" "No."

So I got to hook up a safety valve and a regulator as well as the rest of the new barbecue. I remembered to shut off the gas before setting to work. (I've learned something from all of those Pete Smith Specialities!) I used the proper pipe compound. After turning the gas back on, I checked for leaks with soapy water, not with a match as the instructions warned against, although frankly, I had a pretty good intuitive grasp on that "don't test for gas leaks with a match" thing. I did everything just right.

Unfortunately, I forgot that, while the gas was off, the pilot lights in the furnace and the water heater would go out. When I turned the gas back on, I forgot to relight the pilot lights. We woke up (against all odds) this morning with the slight taint of gas in the air from the unlit furnace pilot light. I turned off the pilot light, opened the house, put the dogs outside and we went out for breakfast. Not firing up the stove when the air smelled like gas was another intuitive flash.

When we got back, the house was aired out and I successfully relit the furnace pilot light. I forgot about the pilot light on the water heater, however, until Julie appeared in the hallway, fresh from the shower, shivering, and announced, "There's no hot water!" Oops.

But these are minor failures compared to the disasters that might have occurred. Maybe I'm an easy grader, but I'm chalking this project up as a success.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Now and again, I feel old. If you define "now and again" as "every friggin' morning."

I just watched the new big-budget remake of Dawn of the Dead, a zombie film. Julie can tell you that I have a soft spot in my brain for zombie films. Start with the classic I Walked With A Zombie, skip to Night of the Living Dead, then fast-forward to Return of the Living Dead and you'll have a concise history of the zombie film in about five hours. (Come on...what else are you going to do with half a day, cure cancer?)

The new Dawn of the Dead is a fine, popcorn zombie movie. You know, as opposed to all of those deep-thinking, Oscar-nominated zombie movies. I had a good time watching it. But dang, it made me feel old.

I grew up with monsters that shambled. Or shuffled. Or jerked clumsily along. Frankenstein staggered around on legs that worked as if they'd been dead for a week. The Mummy had a withered arm and dragged one leg behind him, as if he'd slept on it wrong for two thousand years. Dracula zeroed in on a sleeping woman's neck like a stoned-out hippie pondering the wonder of a Hostess Twinkie. And zombies...well, hell, you'd have to twist your ankle or get your foot caught in a tree root to get overtaken by a zombie.

But darn it, these guys were scary. They gave you time to work up a good fright, a healthy dose of dread, before they sucked your blood or wrapped a clammy hand around your throat.

The monsters in today's movies, like the Mummy in The Mummy and the zombies in Dawn of the Dead, are like super-villains. They move at super speed. They have super strength. They're on you in a flash, like a Del Taco commercial with those hideous spongemonkeys, and before you have a chance to feel anything like dread or suspense, it's all over, you're toast, and they're off to the next victim.

What's next? Will Frankenstein attack you with kung fu martial arts spin kicks? Will zombies shoot comic book-type beams out of their eyes?

It's sad, really, this whole "let's turn monsters into super-powered villains" trend. Where's the chance for your girlfriend to cuddle up against you while the monster makes its slow approach? Where's the chance for you to chuckle in terror and try to figure out if it's armpit or breast you're feeling on the back of your hand?

I'm well beyond such adolescent sexual fumblings, of course, but still...I mourn for the relentless, slow-moving monster. I can only hope that a few years from now Hollywood re-discovers the appeal of the ponderous, and that a new generation of filmgoers exits the theater saying, "Wow! Did you see how slow those zombies were? It was like, like...they were really dead or something! Creeped me out, man!"

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Here's how these things go:

I bought a fire pit at CostCo. $100 seemed like an excellent price for what scientists recognize as the first step on the evolutionary path to television. It was a small unit perfect for our small back yard patio.

I got it home and started piecing it together and an amazing transformation occurred: the unit quadrupled in size from what it had been in the store. Now where in the hell was I going to put a copper tub the size of horse trough?

The next morning, Julie left to have breakfast with a friend, so I started cleaning off one end of the patio by myself. The patio in the picture on the fire pit box was immaculate. Ours was a mess containing a picnic table Julie salvaged from the alley (which used to have wheels on two legs, but the wheels are gone so the table lists like a sinking ship), a bunch of dead plants in homemade planters left over from a workshop Julie conducted on how to kill plants in containers, old tomato cages (any gardener caught throwing away a tomato cage will have his trowel broken over one knee and will be stripped of his knee pads), and a bunch of succulents Julie picked up from her desert-dwelling cousin a couple of months ago that hadn't yet found their way into the ground. These were the treasures on our patio. The rest was a bunch of crap.

I moved one composter ("black plastic box containing garbage") out of the way, which involved digging out the compost and putting it somewhere, then moving the plastic bin, then shoveling the compost back in. I cleaned out the garden area, ripping out grass, weeds and the freesia Julie revered.

Julie made the mistake of coming home, which you'd think she'd have learned not to do long ago. After berating me over the freesias, she pulled on her gardener's gloves and pitched in. We decided to plant the succulents in the front yard. This meant I had to cut sod ("dig out grass") to make room for the succulent garden.

The gardeners on TV use a "sod cutter" to cut sod. It's a power device, and you can rent them, but I'd blown my wad on the fire pit, so I used a shovel. To remove sod manually, just sit on your butt, dig the shovel under the grass, lift out a divot of grass, and set it aside. Repeat this process approximately four million times, then die. Your work here is done.

One more tip: it's really better not to do this with a toe you've broken by running over it with the trash barrel.

Anyway, the succulent garden is planted, we're still cleaning off the patio, and we have yet to fire up the fire pit. But we'll get to it eventually and it'll be great. Really, it will. Meanwhile, I'm watching TV.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Life is funny. It isn't usually ha-ha funny, but it's often weird-and-surprising funny.

Such as...a person can be sitting around bemoaning the fact that he's broke, in debt, his mother-in-law is visiting for a week, his dog is sick, he's in the middle of figuring his taxes and he's out of Scotch, without ever stopping to think: "Well, at least I haven't run over my toe with a trash barrel."

Then he runs over his toe with a trash barrel and it hurts like hell and he thinks, "I didn't realize how good I had it two minutes ago, when I was blithely walking around without pain shooting through my foot."

I don't know what further misfortune I'm cleverly dodging right now, but I assure you, I'm grateful for it.

J. Knight

Friday, March 05, 2004

I'd like to deviate from my usual grousing and griping to celebrate a recent innovation that has enriched my life, particularly my life's fat content.

I love bacon, but what a mess! Gallons of fat wind up splattered all over the stove and suffused throughout the air, and there's that whole pan full of the stuff that you have to dispose of somehow. I would eat a lot more bacon if it weren't such a mess to cook.

Enter: Box Bacon! It comes from various manufacturers, but my favorite is Oscar Mayer. The bacon is fully cooked. All you have to do is pop it in the microwave for twenty seconds, or warm it up in a pan, and voila, you have ready-to-eat strips of pig!

Here's a great recipe my friend Carrie Lawton gave me for a party appetizer: Get some dates and remove the pits if someone hasn't already done that for you. If they're big, you may want to cut them in half. Cut a strip of box bacon in half and wrap it around the date. Fasten with a toothpick. Do this about 30 times and put the bacon-wrapped dates on a cookie sheet. Heat at 350 F. for about ten minutes. Yum! Sugar, salt and fat, heated to perfection!

I'm not kidding. These things are terrific.

Of course, you might want to consider my taste. Last night Julie and I attended a charity event featuring food tasting, with the food provided by some of Santa Monica's most chi-chi restaurants and caterers.

I tried and discarded the lobster ravioli. I managed with some difficulty to swallow the chicken-stuffed-mushroom. I passed straight by the raw tuna and the chicken liver paté and the various offerings of sushi and...along with a large crowd of similarly-minded males...zeroed in on the Pink's Hotdogs. I ordered mine with chili.

So there you have it. Box bacon. Hotdogs with chili. Keep these guidelines in mind when you invite me over for dinner.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

I'm a Democrat and a pragmatist and I'm voting for John Kerry this November because he has the best chance of beating George W. Bush. But dang it...why does he have to be such a @#*&! politician? I'm thinking we should rename it the "Dithercratic Party."

Kerry, Edwards, Dennis Kucinich and Reverend Al Sharpton debated here in L.A. this week. Edwards was running a distant second to Kerry as they approached the home stretch, but people were still listening to him and I thought maybe he'd be desperate enough to speak frankly. Kerry's ahead by a couple of lengths, so I thought maybe he'd feel confident enough in his lead to actually say something.

My dream was not to be. Only the two tailgunners spoke their minds, and Kerry and Edwards dithered. In particular, they dithered about their votes to give George W. Bush unlimited power to conduct a war on Iraq.

Now, Bush lied about this whole thing. He promised a coalition of forces that never materialized. He lied about weapons of mass destruction. He lied about Saddam Hussein's involvement with the terrorist attacks on 9-11. He bamboozled the Congress; the Democrats, despite their reservations, caved to W's popularity and his demands.

Those who voted to give Bush this power have had cause a'plenty to regret their votes. And surely, Kerry and Edwards do. But when asked point-blank by Larry King if they regretted those votes, they both launched into fancy tap-and-shuffle dances that would have done the Nicholas Brothers proud.

First they tried to sidestep the question, but King was relentless. When it became clear that King had them backed into a corner, they both mewled out self-justifying responses that tried to straddle the ground between condemning the result of their actions while staunchly refusing to admit that they made a mistake.

Why is it so freakin' hard for politicians to say, "I screwed up?" Why can't they look back and say, "I wouldn't do that again" or "If I had it to do over, I'd do things differently?"

Then there's the way both of them dither over the gay marriage issue. They don't approve of gay marriage, they say, but they oppose a constitutional amendment banning it. They think they're staking out safe territory that will not alienate conservatives but which will make them more attractive than Bush to liberals. What they're doing is pissing me off. Where's the candidate with the balls to stand up and say, "This is a big, fat phoney-baloney issue that isn't even worth debating. Please...I have serious matters to worry about."

Both Kerry and Edwards lost my enthusiastic support that evening. I'll still vote Democratic...hell, I'd vote for Cthulu over George W. Bush...but my vote will come grudgingly.

Thank you, Howard Dean, for the passion you brought to the campaign. You are missed.

J. Knight's AtomBrain.com

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