Wednesday, June 17, 2015

There's a snake in my car.

Sunday evening after stopping for ice cream, my Wife and I walked over to my Blue 1990 Mazda Miata, which I love as much as a person can love the car that is standing in for the Aston Martin one richly deserves but forgoes out of love and concern for ones family, and as we were about to get in, she leaped up in the air, threw out an arm in a dramatic gesture and spooled up to a High "D" which she held, without taking a breath for at least 12 or 13 seconds. She also managed to suspend herself  11 inches(!) off the ground for that little moment in time. The very INSTANT she hit her panic button I thought to myself; "Snake!? How can there be a snake!? There must be a snake!". I ran over, put a hand on her shoulder to calm her and draw her back to earth before she could gain more altitude and slip away, glanced down onto the floorboard of the car and saw the snake that I knew was going to be there but could not believe was going to be there.

 Tiny little grey thing, 8 or 9 inches and no bigger around than a french fry. All curled(not coiled) up with it's little paws over it's ears and an astonished expression on it's cute little furry face. Well, if it had paws and ears and fur. It was absolutely as harmless in demeanor and equipment as any creature can be. But having been through all this a number of times in the last 19 years, 11 months and a few days for Cleopatra and I, and innumerable times since "The Fall From Grace In The Garden" for our little serpent, we all knew our parts and dutifully followed the standard script; She, shrieking her lines in that glass-shatteringly calm, matter-of-fact way of hers, stating that she would not be riding home in that car, today, tomorrow or any day before the end of time, Me, standing slope shouldered, muttering, sotto voce, words of common sense and wisdom, uselessly, to the wind, and the Snake? The snake darted off stage via the opening in the carpet for the seatbelt bolt, with a flip of the tail and a cheerful "Later Losers" to the delight of the audience.

So let's just go over our respective roles in this tragic comedy before going any further, just so you can concentrate on the action without worrying about how the plot is going to develop...

Cleopatra, my lovely Wife(and she IS a fabulous Babe, BTW), aggrieved Heroine,guaranteed to end the play recumbent on a pallet of satin cushions, blowing kisses to the crowd who shower her with roses and applause.

 The Snake. Noble Trickster, will show itself to be equal in wit and humanity to the rest of the cast, impossible to outsmart and invariably able to turn all attempts on it's life and person back onto it's reluctant assailant with uproarious comic genius.

Me. Shlub. I will end the play barefoot, covered with soot and holding a smouldering steering wheel, spent airbag draped at my feet.

How can it be otherwise? All I have to defend myself is common sense and reason against all the forces of Nature and Culture. You have no idea how my life has changed in 4 days. Absolutely nothing is as vital as proving to my Wife that the snake is gone and will never come back. And I will still have to burn my car to the ground even if I can produce a snake cadaver of the right size and description. I may have to burn her Packard too, as a preventive measure, then buy her another one and possibly burn it as well if that one does not feel sufficiently snake free over time. You see, this is not the first time. This spring in Florida we all watched in disbelief as a 3 foot black snake shot across my In-Laws yard, up the front tire of the knackered old Bentley we bought for our oldest Daughter to drive, and into the engine compartment. I, as the responsible Husband and Father, got the hose, opened the hood, saw the serpent nestled under the intake manifold plumbing and sprayed it with a good blast. Knowing, KNOWING, we were going to see that bad old snake drop to the ground and take off for the everglades. Alas no. It did disappear but it did not drop to the ground and slither off. It just, disappeared.

 I, as many of you will know, am a Liar, so you will not be surprised if I tell you that I, for the good of my family, lied and lied and lied over the course of the next 24 hours. "No, there is NO POSSIBLE way for a snake, OF ANY SIZE, to find it's way into the passenger compartment from under the hood", and, "I can ASSURE you that that snake crawled out of there as soon as the coast was clear since it's a SCIENTIFIC FACT that snakes are repelled by the smell of automatic transmission fluid", or, "There's NOWHERE for him to hide! We'd be able to see him if he was still in there!". I'm pretty sure he's still in there. All the way back to Virginia I was dreading the moment when a sleek, glossy, indigo head was going to emerge from a dash vent leaving me speechless and alone in a speeding station wagon, with only my snake and the empty seats and broken windows where my wife and daughters were just before the "Rapture".

Also,We almost had to burn our new house down because there was a wee little 5 foot snaky thing under the dining room table one afternoon a year or so after we moved in. That was an eventful day. I was able to rescue that guy and put him out in the field with instructions to never come back if he wanted to preserve his cool dry skin and high frequency hearing.

You see, I don't mind snakes. I'm not especially into them or anything, for romping and playing catch in the yard with a Frisbee I typically prefer a dog, but I don't have anything against them. I mean, The whole garden of Eden thing is so far in the past, and really, Serpent or no, we were eventually going to get around to consuming everything glossy and bite-sized within the walls of Paradise anyway so let's just shake hands(metaphorically speaking) and give it a rest. Of course the rules are different with venomous types, I'm really going to have to insist you stay a long rifle shot away from the house, but provided you do that I promise to watch my step out in the wilds and not be all injured entitlement if you sink a fang in when I tramp on your tail.

So I really don't want anything bad to happen to this little dude. In fact, if it was just me, I'd leave him alone. Let him stay as long as he wanted, maybe even have a chat and a laugh on a Sat morning going to the market with the top down. He could keep any mice from moving in and prevent me from having to do to my Miata what my friend Bruce is having to do to his, rip out all the seats and carpet AND the dash assembly to remove the mouse nests and tangy smell that accumulated while the car sat idle for a couple of years in a carport. I think it's sort of a settled issue in any case, it's moved in apparently. I've seen it twice since then, once yesterday sunning itself across the rear of the console when I went out to go to lunch and this evening I think I saw it's glittery little eyes peering at me from under the passenger seat as I waited for a light. It gives off a sort of domestic, proprietary air, as if "this is my Home, you know? And why do you have to keep trying to grab me or lure me into little Tupperware containers with the lid propped open with a stick and a string like we were living in some ridiculous "Road Runner Cartoon?"


 I've thought about just telling Cleo that the snake is gone, "I totally saw him sliding out the wheelwell with an overnight case and a garment bag", or scouring the road for a dead one of approximately the same description and planting it under the seat or whatever. 'Problem with that is the whole "Everybody knows I'm a big fat liar" thing, so I'm probably doomed to going everywhere in that car alone until she finally drops a match in the trunk herself. What should I do? What would YOU do?

Oh well, time will tell how this play ends. Updates as events unfold...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Martha Stewart Vs. Tommy Chong

You know the old saying, " A place for everything and everything in it's place"? What do you think about that? Is that just your normal Martha Stewart sort of rule for everyday order and efficiency, or crazy, wistful musing about life in a faraway perfect world. As in "A place for everything and everything in it's place...Whoa... like, far out Man"(read in your best Tommy Chong voice to really get what I mean here).

I wish I was a "Martha" but I'm a "Tommy" who can't find my hat in my handbag or whatever the saying is(WAIT! I just realized, I might have insulted Mr. Chong right there, which would be a shame because I really like Tommy Chong (and hope you do to), so if he's a neat and tidy, squared away sort of person, and I've inferred he's a slob like me than I'll have to apologize if I ever meet him, which would still be cool, if now a little awkward...). Anyway, like I was going to say before all that, I don't do a very good job of keeping my things organized, and since I have A LOT of things and am forever rooting around in my proverbial handbag looking for my hat, it can become something of a crisis at times.

Like right now.

You see, while I'm sitting on the back porch trying to write a blog post, the washing machine is spread out in chunks large and small all over the laundry room because I can't put my hands on a specific pair of Vise-Grip pliers I need to try to get the crumbling remains of the rusty bolt out of the top of the agitator shaft so I can get the tub off to replace the seal that's been trickling water onto the floor for a week. I have 3 or 4 of the size pliers I need(I think the Brits call them "Mole Grips", which if true is pretty interesting because it seems to infer that Moles might have some sort of preternatural gripping powers which would be news to me... wait here, I'm off to Google "Mole Grips", back in a jiff (insert "on-hold" music here), I'm back, Mole is just a U.K. brand of locking pliers similar to Vise-Grips, nothing to do with an obscure species of rodents with "Super Chromium Plated Over-Center Gripping Powers"(sadly)), anyway, I have any number of those clampy kind of pliers but cant find a single one of the right size to go after that bolt. My Lovely wife is KEENLY interested in the progress of this repair, so to buy myself time to find the Mole Grips (I think I'm going to start calling them that instead of Vise-Grips, I'm a bit of an Anglo-file and it's not like Vise-Grip are paying me, so until I start getting checks or free tools from them it's Mole Grips from here on), Oh dear, where was I?, Washing machine, Wife, probing questions about progress of repair... Oh yeah, to buy myself some time I soaked the remains of the bolt with penetrating oil and have now retired from the field for a period of "Soaking and Penetration". I have some breathing space to try to dig up some tools and or work on this little essay before she realizes I'm screwing around and I have to admit to what's really going on here. Sigh.

Care to take a little stroll down the basement steps to see for yourself why I'm in this mess? C'mon, might as well... As you can see I have a big basement, about 30 by 45 feet, really high ceilings, woodbox under the stairs, stove and stone chimney in the middle of the space, air compressor, water heater, well pressure tank etc. in the mechanical room over in the corner, and a bathroom complete with un-finished shower beside it. And 3,000 cubic feet of debris and corruption making all that invisible. Every single thing I own that my wife hasn't taken on the responsibility to wash and fold for me, is contained in this ever-changing landscape of tools, firewood and worn out bicycle tires. You see, I'm not merely untidy, I am also a Gifted Amateur Hoarder.There's all sorts of things down here I have no business having, and most of it is crap. I can see 23 bicycles in various states of completeness, about half crap. Several pieces of old(not antique) furniture waiting to be repaired or fed to the woodstove, all crap. Woodworking tools, large and small, power and hand, most worth keeping but some significant portion crap, enough hand tools of all types to outfit a Railroad Shop, an Appliance repair shop, a Sheet Metal Fabrication shop and a Musical Instrument repair shop(don't ask, it was a phase), only about 10% crap but worthless while mixed with all the crap. Then there's all the welding crap. You've got something metal with a crack in it? Yes I can fix that, please don't ask me though because I'd have to climb a waist high pile of semi flammable crap to get to the Torch, and while there's a fire extinguisher on every wall, it's impossible to reach them. Because of all the crap.

Sometimes I joke about the situation down here and call it the "Collyer Brother's Living History Experience". After the famous pair of wealthy Bachelor Hoarders who died in their Mansion full of Crap in the 40s, and caused a sensation as the New York City Fire Department emptied the building through the windows onto the sidewalk while trying to find their bodies. After seeing the pictures of their house I was struck by how much of the crap being thrown out onto the street looked "interesting", or "valuable" to me. And, this is true, I wondered if onlookers were free to help themselves to any small items they thought might be "useful". Pathetic. So I really shouldn't treat the poor Collyer Bro's as a joke so much as a cautionary tale.

Now, I am in no way so far down the path of compulsive crap collecting as Homer and Langley, but unless they were born in possession of  54 bicycles between the two of them, at some point they had to have passed through the stage I find myself at right now. Were they already doomed then or was there still a chance for redemption? Did they realize the dangerous path they were treading and put up a fight, maybe still throwing out the least valuable of their rescued single shoes after returning home in the wee hours with 7 orphan Brogans? Or possibly they occasionally gave something away to whatever friends they might have still had, only to experience actual chest pains whenever they remembered watching that friend wheel the 25 year old wreck of a bike out to whatever was the 1930s equivalent of a Subaru... But maybe they just gave in and threw themselves, heedless and headlong, into grabbing IT ALL. As long as I'm married I'm probably safe, certainly not off the hook, but safe. But I completely empathize with that compulsion; to hang on, to pick up from the curb, to rescue and repair. The uneasy urge that clutters up the corners of our houses and basements and free time.

 I'm due for another big purge. It happens every few years when I find myself stepping over something that I have no good place for, and realize I have no good use for, or reason to be clamoring over it and making myself unhappy in the spot where I could be most free to concentrate on things that interest me and give me satisfaction . So I spend a morning or a weekend seeing how far I'll go. Will I really throw out 3 perfectly good sets of 27x1 1/4" rims? Sometimes, yes. A box of still good used tires and tubes from the bike shop? Certainly, after quickly picking out the  best 3 or 4. Ditch that bent Austro Diamler frame that I ran into the back of a mail carriers car in 1984? Uh, not yet, but sometime, sure. Next time probably. Unless I decide to go ahead and replace the down-tube even though that bike was always 2cm too small even before I got all crippled up with age and hard living. These are good times to stop by my house. Let me see your gaze linger on that Bontrager saddle that was never quite "perfect" and you'll be gifted it with instructions to go put it in your car RIGHT NOW before I can change my mind. Same with any of those 8 speed Shimano Deore shifters and derailleurs. There's a cassette or two to match in there somewhere as well... No really, feel free...

I hope it happens soon. My shop in the basement is a special place when it's cleared up and swept out. There's a big bench with a vise and more tools than a few of the bike shops I worked in as a kid, enough nice bikes to have neat things to see where ever you look and all the most interesting bits and pieces from a long time spent messing around with bikes. I've been working and hanging out down there long enough now that it's become a bit like what I imagine the classic European or English shop or framebuilders place to be. I see old photo's of Jack Taylors place or Alex Singers shop and my place isn't completely different, and I like that. I've got some posters on the walls, some of my race numbers and cheesy medals, a bunch of semi iconic vintage parts laying about and all the various tools I've made for myself over the years. I'm not building frames but I can do most repairs on any good steel frame that deserves it and even though I'm not running a bikeshop for money, if you want to come hang out I'll let you use my tools and even do it for you if you ask nice and are good to my dogs. I can't believe I so easily let a place that is so pleasant and important to me get so cluttered and jammed with junk. It would be nice to sit down at the truing stand and relax with the radio playing some Erroll Garner while Andre LeDuc smiles at me from his sepia toned portrait over the bench. But not when it's under a pile big enough to cover a dead horse.

Tomorrow is a good day to get up early, find a shovel and broom and clear out my shop(Yes, yes, after finishing the washer. That's totally what I meant.). Maybe I'll set up my laptop on one end of the bench and start writing down there when it's raining or the porch is too cold, and maybe this time I'll manage to get my act together and keep it that way. Sure. If my "Inner Martha" can make peace with my "Tommy Chong" long enough to gang up on me and stop me dragging home every scrap of 2x4 and angle iron I see.

 In the meantime, I've got to find those pliers...