Saturday, October 31, 2009

D.I.Y. Will Power

My renovation mojo has left me. Yes, it done left me cold, and I’m not going looking for it. It can steal my car and go back to its ex-wife for all I care.

This ought to tell you something: I went to the Home Depot the other day and left with the one item I needed and THAT WAS IT. No paint chips or pieces of molding or any other ingredient for whatever projects I can usually cook up that instantly cause my husband's eyes to roll into his head and send him into convulsions about all the lost weekends yet to come.

Back in the day I did it all: paint, wallpaper, drywall repair, drywall hanging, tile work, low-level structural engineering, homemade load-bearing walls, and hydraulic cement application – you name it, I did it and without one of those pesky Class A contracting licenses.

In any other circumstance I might be glad to be rid of this burdensome need to remodel and improve, but the loss of my renovation mojo is a problem because I would not say that my house is actually “attractive” or that many of my projects are in any way “finished.” Things need to be painted and holes need to be patched. Grade C construction plywood, I must remind myself repeatedly, is not a floor covering.

Fortunately I am a compassionate person who does not like to see others make the same mistakes I have made, and in seeking ways to avoid doing any of these “incomplete” projects, I’ve come up with a system that may help you as you undertake your own DIY projects. I'm well aware that there are many guides to home remodeling out there that can tell you HOW to remodel. But only this questionnaire will tell you if you have the mental toughness to proceed. That’s right; this questionnaire will determine if you have the most important thing you need before you begin work: the indomitable will to renovate.

For the sake of argument, I have assumed that 1) you are an American citizen and/or a legal resident; 2) you are over 18; 3) you own your own home and you are not upside-down on your mortgage or for that matter, sideways; and 4) you have asked your doctor if you are healthy enough for sexual activity.

And just because we're friends I’m going to spot you 50 points to start….OK, you may begin:

· Do you have a realistic sense of your project’s costs and enough money in your budget for any unforeseen cost overruns? If no, subtract fifty points. If yes, subtract fifty points anyway because I already know that you’re lying.

· If you would describe yourself as an optimist, add ten points.

· If others suspect your optimism is pharmacological in origin, add twenty points. That's assuming your doctor has a liberal policy as regards prescription refills and is open to middle-of-the-night phone calls.

· If you work well in close quarters with others and never lose your temper AND if you have never, not even once, called a work partner an incompetent assmonkey, add fifteen points.

· When was your last tetanus shot? If recent, add one point. If more than five years ago, subtract six points and sign attached waiver.

· If you don’t necessarily have a big budget but you have a lot of spare time, no friends, and are not active in your community in any way – in other words if you are the proverbial quiet loner but one without sociopathic impulses -- add three points. If sociopathic tendencies are present, we’ll call it a wash.

· Is this home renovation project in any way compulsory or part of a plea bargain in lieu of jail time? What I mean is, do you NEED to complete this home renovation project as part of a court-ordered community service requirement? If yes, add twenty-five points.

· Subtract one point for every year old your house is.

· If you have children -- and I mean even ONE -- take away one hundred sixty-four points.

· If you have a dog, subtract five points, unless it’s a really, really good dog that you are certain will not drink latex paint or run off with a power tool while it's still plugged in, then you can hold steady at your current tally.

· If you have an elderly cat that frequently misses the box, subtract as many points as you feel appropriate. (In my case, that would be 823.)

· Subtract one point for every additional pet in your household, including fish, hermit crabs, and gerbils. Actually, you know what? Forget that. They'd all eventually die of neglect anyway even if you weren't renovating.

· If you have a recurring problem or maintenance issue in your home that you’ve attempted to fix several times without calling in a professional because you believe all carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and general contractors are crooks, subtract eleven points.

· Subtract thirty points if the above-mentioned problem is a roof or leaky basement and an additional five points if remediation of said problem has resulted in a trip to an emergency room.

· And speaking of that, you do have good health insurance, right? Not too big a deductible? Nothing written into the terms of your coverage about not paying out in the event of "self-sustained injuries as a result of failing to read goddamned directions" or "ladder-related fractures"? If not, subtract forty-four points.

· If you have something better to do, subtract ten points. (And, yes, a sigmoidoscopy does count.)

· Are you working on a bathroom remodel? If yes, what would you say is the capacity of your bladder to hold liquids? Are your neighbors close by? Are they accommodating, decent people who could be described as "long-suffering"? If your bladder can hold more than 200cc’s and you can answer yes to both neighbor questions, add two points. If the answer to the neighbor question is no on both counts, but you have a private fenced yard, add one point.

OK then, let’s tot things up and see how you did. If your point total is a negative number, well, then it’s probably for the best that you not undertake any projects until such a time as you can make improvements to yourself that might boost your score. The severing of your corpus callosum being but one example.

If, however, your point total is positive, then congratulations, you clearly have the right personality for long-term home renovation. Of course, I must wonder if you are already under the care of trained medical professionals because if you have enough patience, time, money, no kids or pets, health insurance, and the good sense to leave complicated projects to the professionals, then what the hell are you doing your own renovation work for anyway?

**This blog entry is dedicated to my friends Wendy and Don Skinner, who have the greatest will to renovate I’ve ever encountered, and are, oddly enough, NOT sociopathic loners.**

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Another Million Dollar Idea

I’m probably going to regret posting this because someone is bound to rip off my idea but here we go: after a week of dealing with sick kids single-handedly while the husband was traveling for work, I feel like the world is ready – or at least I am -- for my brain-child: Pibble.

Pibble, quite simply, is kibble for people. It will utterly, completely, and finally solve the problem of having to cook dinner when you just don’t want to freaking do it.

Now, hearing about this revolutionary idea, your first reaction may be to shrug and say that we already have something like that; it’s called cereal. No, Pibble is wholly different from cereal. For one thing, it’s infinitely easier. Let’s face it, for many people, even maintaining the extremely low levels of sundries necessary to make cereal a reality is too much to manage or maybe it’s simply too much of a hassle. Cereal requires that you have cereal and then on top of THAT, cereal requires milk, which requires getting off the sofa and going to the store. Herein lies the beauty of Pibble. With Pibble you need not be inconvenienced by the lack of milk because Pibble doesn’t require milk. Pibble is the perfect food unto itself. If you’ve got a sack of Pibble in your pantry, you’ve got all you need to sustain you until the Meals on Wheels gets around to you or until your roommate orders pizza. And it certainly saves you the trouble of having to egregiously mooch a couple pieces of that pizza and pretend you had no idea that he’d just ordered from Domino’s, and it also saves you from having to make empty promises like “my treat next time.”

Just think of the applications. Haven’t you ever gone through a period in your life when you were so busy/sick/depressed/hung-over that the mere thought of going out to get half a gallon of milk was akin to a Sherpa-less climb up K2? Or what about when there’s an unexpected snow storm and the weather forecasters have whipped everyone in the local viewing area into a frenzy? No need to join the scramble for dried pasta and Velveeta down at the WaWa: you were smart enough to lay in a sack of Pibble that could carry you through ‘til the March thaw. As a matter of fact, you might be so squared away that you thought to order the Pibble “Survivor Pack” which includes 400 pounds of high-grade Pibble and 128 rolls of toilet tissue suitable for use in any backwoods septic system.

Just think of how nice it would be after the arrival of a new baby. Instead of flowers or your neighbor’s cardboard lasagna and bag of salad you get a sack of Pibble. Or when there’s been an extended illness in your BFF's family and you want to do something for them but not something that would require actually having to cook: Pibble again. Or, heavens, with our new Bereaver’s Deluxe Pibble Pack, you can finally stop feeling so awkward when someone dies. Nothing would speak more eloquently of your concern and thoughtfulness than a bulk delivery of Pibble with a tenderly worded condolence card that says, “Here. This will keep you alive for awhile. Whoops. Probably shouldn’t have mentioned the A word there so, like, sorry and all that.”

Pibble also doesn’t go bad. You just shovel it into a bowl with a scoop or perhaps one of my Pibble accessories, the Pibble Shovel (patent pending), and voila: breakfast, lunch and dinner for as many days as you need or until you get sick of nacho cheese, which for many people is a time that will never come. Heck, you don't even need utensils to eat Pibble. I'm not going to tell on you, and so long as you brush the crumbs out of your neck creases, no one needs to be the wiser.

You can see that I’ve clearly thought this through extra thoroughly even if I haven’t pulled together a fully fleshed out marketing plan or financing, or for that matter, a recipe. But I’ll get to that. Perhaps the next time my husband leaves me alone for days on end with a bunch of sick kids.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Deep Cuts

I stayed up way too late watching a documentary about The Who on VH1 Classics last night. I’m sure you’ve watched your fair share of these things too. “Behind the Music” was a favorite for a while, but it ran its course due to redundancy. There are only so many ways to dramatically render shooting, smoking and snorting your money away while your friends watch helplessly or nearly as often, don’t realize you had such a problem because, you know, they were drunk. All budding musicians should be forced to complete a scared straight program that consists of watching these rockumentaries for 28 days before being allowed to sign with any major record label. Call it “pre-rehab.” So I stopped watching because they were all so sad and dumb, which I think is an accurate description of many lead singers. That being said, if they should ever do a BtM episode on The Wiggles I will definitely not miss that one.

I grew up in a region of the country known by those of us who know these things as The Classic Rock Corridor. I’m sure there are other pockets of space-time scattered throughout the lower 48, Alaska, and Hawaii where these exist, but this particular area is located in central Upstate New York. Classic Rock inexplicably persists there despite the advancing years and a drastically changed music scene. It is the land that rock forgot – or where rock is eternal, depending on how you look at it. You can tell you’ve entered into the Classic Rock Corridor because suddenly your radio station will fritz out and the only station you get is playing Yes or Pink Floyd or, more often, Boston – and more specifically still “More Than a Feeling,” which I’m pretty sure is the national anthem of the Classic Rock Corridor.

Getting back to The Who for a minute, I should say, they were never one of my favorite bands. I never doubted Pete Townsend was as cool as cool gets, but I think I suffered from “Baba O’Reilly” overdose from too many years of living in the corridor. Now, mind you, I don’t reject my upbringing. I haven’t forgotten where I come from. You want to duel Classic Rock lyrics? Bring it. I know every word of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” and who among us has not said to his kids at some point: “How can you have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat!”

But I stopped talking about music a long time ago, and I stopped buying music for a long time. I felt that talking about music and bands had become this way to quickly eliminate people from your list of Those Who Should Be Taken Seriously. I thought it was an adolescent thing, but then it seemed to follow me into adulthood as well. People need you to know what bands they like and don’t like. Nowadays I think we no longer worry about having clean underwear on in case we’re hit by a bus. Instead we worry what people would say if they saw every song on our IPod. What if someone found you by the side of the road and saw every single one of your songs – I mean every single one -- and you didn’t have a chance to explain that your girlfriend was the one who’d loaded Lady Gaga? Some people might not bother calling an ambulance. I worry that soon we will not have to have actual conversations; we will just have a bar code on the back of our hands and carry scanners around with us like cell phones. Want to know someone’s whole life story? Just scan them and you can move on if you don’t like their playlist.

Ah, but this is modern life. Short cuts are a fact of our existence, I guess, especially since we’re all so busy, but I will always resist them just the same. When we were younger we all tried to like the same stuff. Now we all seem intent on being as different and singular as possible. But I, for one, want you to know that you should feel free to confess to me that your music tastes are NOT exotic, obscure, and terminally hip. I will not walk away from you at a party. In fact I might find it charming.

My husband gave me an IPod for Christmas two years ago. It was literally the first piece of technology I’d owned since having a portable CD player in 1994. Getting that IPod, not to overstate in any way, allowed me to rediscover one of the lost passions of my youth. My father once told me that the first time he heard a song in stereo – it was The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” – it was so beautiful, such a great leap forward in experiencing the fullness of music, that he wept. It was like that for me, too – getting that IPod was just really effing awesome. One of the first songs I picked from ITunes was “Let My Love Open the Door.” I guess I’ve aged into Pete Townsend finally or maybe, now that I have a choice about it, I can choose the occasional Classic Rock song and feel good about it. If I got hit by a bus tomorrow, I hope that you’d notice that it got played a LOT. The rest of the songs, well, I’ll keep some of them to myself and just beg for your understanding. After all, it’s not what the music is, it’s what the music does for you.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Panda Has No Clothes

I hate pandas.

This realization is the closest thing to a Joycean epiphany that I've ever experienced. I can tell you exactly when it happened. I was at the National Zoo one day with my kids a few years ago, and I saw a huge long line snaking down and around the Elephant house and out of sight. What was it for? Ah, yes. The panda exhibit. Everyone wanted to see those Chinese charmers, so furry, so cute. Who doesn't love a panda?

Now, as long-time readers of this blog are well aware, I don't stand in long lines. I think it goes hand in hand with my desire to not join in trends. If I see a long line, I walk right away from it, even if they're giving away chocolate-covered gold at the head of the line and especially if it's hot and let me tell you, it's always hot during zoo season and that whole dang zoo is uphill. There is no downhill at the National Zoo. That place makes you yearn to be elderly or infirm so somebody will push you around in a wheelchair along with a portable IV bottle so you don't get dehydrated.

As I stood there contemplating whether I should override my usual aversion to lines for the good of my kids, I notice that everyone at the back of the line is excited in anticipation of seeing the pandas and yet everyone who walks away from the exhibit is terribly disappointed. Why? Because they waited and waited in line and they couldn't even see the panda. OK, maybe they caught a glimpse of some dingy yellow fur balled up in the corner, but that was it. The pandas were sleeping or they were otherwise unavailable and the kids, they were so sad that they didn't get to see the panda because everyone but everyone has been telling them since the day they were born how cute and loveable the panda is.

Let me tell you something: No one has EVER seen a panda at the zoo. Certainly no one has ever seen one move or behave in any way other than lying around picking its toes. If the panda were human, it would be living in your basement playing World of Warcraft and listening to its old Boston albums. You'd have to lock it out of your T.V. with parental controls because it was spending hundreds of dollars a month on pay-per-view porn, OK? And that's because pandas are lazy, good for nothing, sacks of crap who by all rights should have been removed from the ecosystem by the cleansing fire of evolution. The more I have learned about pandas over the years has only increased my loathing of pandas, for example, every time I read about the zoo's repeated attempts to get the female panda to mate with the male panda and how this inevitably fails so they have to do IVF. These animals are naturally incompetent at mating! I'm sorry but if you are too dumb to hump, your particular branch in the great evolutionary delta should run dry. And certainly your existence shouldn't be propped up by millions of taxpayer dollars that we the United States give to China to have the right to stand in line at the National Zoo in the blazing sun walking uphill to NOT see a panda.

The point is this: Pandas suck. They do. People will try to tell you that they're great and so cute and we really ought to save their habitat but don't you listen. Open your eyes to the truth all around you. Once you do, I guarantee you'll start noticing other "pandas" in your life and you will come to see that not-really-a-bear for what it is. And when that day comes I hope you will vow, along with me, that you will not have the black-and-white fur pulled over your eyes ever again.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Girl and Her Rock

I have begun to blog. This after promising to never, ever blog so help me God. But here it is. Somebody check the weather forecast for airborne pork.

I've had good reasons not to blog until now. Those reasons are currently 9, 6 and 4 and before they were on the scene, well, gosh, we didn't have blogs back then. Plus there's the trend thing. As a card-carrying curmudgeon-in-training, I naturally seek ways to not join into trends, even accidentally, which is a lot harder than it sounds because let me tell you, those bastards are everywhere. For a while I figured not blogging was the literary equivalent of reducing my carbon footprint: if everyone's blathering, I'm going to shut up. For the sake of our children's children. That's what I told myself but really, the truth is I didn't blog for the same reason that a lot of people don't blog: I had a profound and pervasive case of 'who cares what I have to say?'

Nevertheless here I am, writing my inaugural blog -- hold on while I release the doves ... OK, there we go, had to shake the last one out, he was gripping the bars with his beak. I will begin by explaining why this blog is entitled "A Rock in My Pocket" and if this story holds your interest, I hope you will come back for more because if you value a good rant, then heck, I'm your girl. And I've been bottling it up for long time so I'm bound to get myself into a nice, soapy lather on a variety of topics including: coffee drinking, why I hate pandas, and Tiresome People and Their Works, all of which will be featured in coming days and weeks.

OK, let's get back to it: Many years ago when I was in writing school, I had a teacher who, on our first day of workshop, handed everyone a small rock and said, "Write about the rock." Oh-kaaaay. Write about the rock. Write about the rock. Well, gosh I'm sure there's something interesting about this rock or she wouldn't be asking us to write about it. Heck, every life has a story. Maybe this holds true for rocks as well. Maybe we are all the same, you know -- rocks, people. Aren't we all one? Maybe that's what we're supposed to write about. The oneness of things. We ARE the rock. Yes! That's it! No, OK that's way too whatever. Zenny. Is that the correct adjective for zen? Maybe it's Zennish? No, of course it's not. Zennish? What are you, a dumbass? Wait, everyone else is already writing. What do they know about THEIR rocks. Maybe they got better rocks than I did. Should I ask for a different rock? This one is so, I don't know, uninteresting. I mean that girl over there has, like, some Ivy League rock fer pete's sake. I've clearly got THE WORST ROCK IN THE CLASS.

I did end up writing something about how the rock was smooth and flat and would have made a good skipping stone because, you know, it would have. I don't remember the exact details but I can assure you, whatever I wrote, it was nothing special.

I gave up writing a couple years after graduation out of the same sense of duty that causes a young man of 28 to sell his amplifiers and get a real job because Dad wants access to the garage again. I had written my heart out, finished two literary novels that caused several well-respected agents to lose all their enthusiasm (if you get that joke then you have experienced the joys of querying), and I figured, well, there it is. It's not meant to be. Time to get on with life.


See, I had this manky old rain coat back then in graduate school (I had a manky old everything back then in graduate school). That day, that very day that I did the rock writing exercise, it must have been raining and at the end of class I must have put the rock in my pocket. And for whatever reason -- no real good reason -- that's where it stayed. In that rain coat pocket. For years and years and years. And then one rainy day I realized I'd been carrying that rock in my pocket for ten years. Then it was twelve. Now it's been fourteen. At some point during these past fourteen years, I looked at that rock and I thought, when I finally get published, I'm going to chuck this rock like a skipping stone, where I don't know, but that's what I'm going to do. I'm gonna send that rock flying.

I still have that rock in my pocket and it's still nothing special, but I love that stupid thing. If anything ever happened to it, it would break my heart. I LOVE MY ROCK. This skipping stone taught me that what gives something meaning -- what really makes something spectacularly important -- is that you keep on caring about it when no one else does.

So that's my story, and I'll bet right now your thinking, "Who would hate pandas?"
Until next time....