Thursday, September 28, 2006

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Hard Drive

OH boy, oh boy oh boy. *Hand wringing* *Squinting and pacing*

It's a good thing that last week I had a legitimate diversion from my normal daily patterns. Since G was knock-down, drag-out sick with strep, I had a serious target for my attention instead of throwing myself under a schoolbus because

my hard drive finally honest to god died. *Rapid strobe flashes of Munch's "Scream"*

While deliberately behaving like an oblivious Scarlett O'Hara and avoiding doing anything about the computer at all, I went to Blockbuster and got a bunch of movies and G and I spent a couple of days watching them. What I love about DVD is that with so many films you now get all the extras. Often I enjoy the extras better than the movie. (My first foray into this intriguing world behind the scenes was "A Series of Unfortunate Events," which has awesome animations and music that we replayed over and over.) Such too was the case with "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind." There was a full film-length documentary with the writer and [I think a camera guy?] explaining how they did things, how they shot things, what ideas they were after, and additional peeks at how the imagery works and some accidents that were nothing to do with deliberate art direction.

By the end of that, the still feverish G was so impressed he was ready to go out and make a film of his own. He called up his friend and tried to recruit him into a project. Of course this was without a whit of an idea what the story would be--since he has never learned how to plan anything yet in his life, including making models of ancient Rome, I think he believes the Muse will just land on him while he's in mid-process or something.

But even though the documentary was very long, like all good things it had to come to an end and I was left staring into the face of the black screen of death. I whipped my initial horrors and resolved to call Dell. There was, after all, no way around it. But I was really reluctant; after all, this happened before just a month ago, and I had to send my computer back, and they sent it back saying there was nothing wrong, and it betrayed me again. Little worse than having to reinvent the wheel after you've already invested a hundred hours of sweat and phone disconnections and hold and speaking to people who have no sense of humor and whose English is sometimes hard to understand.

There is little I hate more than calling Big Computer Company customer service. About nine or ten months ago we had such a traumatic attempt setting up and making multiple printers compatible with our network that I live in fear of ever calling again in this lifetime. Even if I were hanging by my teeth from a rope swinging from the bottom of a helicopter, I would not be desperate enough to call for help. We have plenty of experience and know how to do these things--we are not your ordinary garden variety non-geeks. And yet as we spent HOURS on the phone and kept getting shifted off to half-a-dozen other "representatives who could help," we watched a pattern of deceit and "sales opportunity" develop that was nothing short of sharklike. We allowed this to unfold, knowing what was happening, simply out of morbid curiosity. It became clear that these people knew nothing about their own products and drivers or how they were/were not compatible with each other. We had simple questions and they kept saying the printers and drivers were compatible with the new computer we had just set up. In truth, they were not. And the driver disk was corrupt and threw errors and did nothing and loaded and then lost all consciousness of its own software and hardware and it was a nightmare. Several "representatives" actually cut off the phone calls (i.e., hung up or put us on perpetual hold) when we asked to speak to someone more knowledgeable or a supervisor. It went on and on and on until they had tried to convince us that what we had to do was buy a whole new printer and new drivers for compatibility and that the only machine that would fit the bill would require over $500.

Reader, we did not do it. We survived, but the whole event was utterly exhausting.

So Scarlett O'Hara dug her heels in and called. And the inevitable happened: the first time through all the stupid automated menus, I wound up in dead air. Not on hold, not speaking to a real human being, nada. Then I tried again and was put into a queue and wound up in dead air again. A third time I got as far as "you will hear a series of clicks and then a list of tips that might help you resolve your problem." I heard the clicks, but the list of tips never came on and I was in dead air again. (Just to let you know, it takes at least ten minutes each time to get to this point in the menu tree.) Between the third and fourth time, it occurred to me that I was being pretty stoic about the whole thing. I congratulated myself. Perhaps if I had not had the printer experience, my expectations would have been much higher and flames would be shooting out my eyes, nose, ears and mouth. As it was I realized it was about par for the course.

The fourth time I called, I actually arrived at the "tips." Okay, maybe I was fairly miffed by this point because I started talking back to the phone. I had steeled myself, knowing what was going to happen next. But I broke down. "Don't tell me to go to any websites for help! My effing machine doesn't boot! Internet schminternet! How am I supposed to get to the web with a dead machine and no operating system, you #$%%^%$&**7#!!!!"

At this point, I just let the tips blather on. And miracle of miracles, a real human being eventually came on the other end of the line. We began the ineffable dance of what went wrong and digging up the history of the recent [non-]"repair." Upon which the representative, Vincent, told me I was not covered under warranty. Wrong! I had more recent information than that--armed with my customer number and order number, I swiftly put his suspicions to rest. See, Vincent, I knew that the machine would certainly double-cross me again so I dutifully renewed my warranty one day before it expired. Ha-ha.

I took the whole machine apart and put it back together again, knowing full well none of this ritual was going to resurrect the thing. Ultimately Vincent pronounced my hard drive dead and said they would replace it but that I would have to send back my faulty hard drive. A mandate with which I am not sure I can comply. For godsakes, that's like trading in my child or something! Not to mention all the information that is on there that someone who knows how might be able to access. I do not like that one bit.

The new hard drive arrived yesterday. I installed it and the setup screen reports that a primary hard drive now exists (yay! before it was saying "None"). But it can't do anything. It's just a knuckleheaded empty hard drive utterly devoid of my data, web design files, writings, letters, photos, Dreamweaver, my favorite fonts . . . ['scuse me while I finally break down and weep. No, not yet. I'm pretty sure everything's fairly recently backed up on my external].

So ironic that while I was watching Jim Carrey have his memory erased in "Eternal Sunshine," I was waiting for a new, empty hard drive. How hungry I am to have the memory restored.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Time for a List

I was about to go off on a three-hour rant about a great hardcover essay book I got for 25 cents that had been a text at a local private school in 195o. Our grocery store collects and sells 25 cent books for charity, and I thought getting a pile of them would be a good idea for us to take on vacation. That way, if we lost some on holiday, it wouldn't be a big deal. But I'll spare you that story until later. (It is an awesome book except for the "thoughtful" questions and "composition ideas" at the end of each essay. They completely miss the point of every piece and reliably enrage me after all the joy I get from reading the essays.)

That was a non-sequitur before the blog entry even got started. Is there a name for a pre-non-sequitur? I guess it's "pre-non-sequitur."

Today I think it's time for a list. I have loads of lists in my head. I will never get rid of them, and certainly never get rid of a whole list at a time. That is the nature of lists; they evolve. I'm feeling irky today. How about a list of things I dislike?

There are many things I hate. This is just the beginning.

  1. Shoes that make noise. Anyone's shoes. Any noise. Just make them silent. Don't wear any noise-making shoes indoors. High heels should be shot out from under women stupid enough to wear them. Oh, and men who wear them, too--unless it's for a drag show. And all the people who design high heels should be put away.
  2. Socks that wind up getting wet on a floor. Anything wet on a floor. Bare feet that touch something wet if it's not in the shower or on the beach. Eeeww.
  3. Sand under the legband of a bathing suit. No matter how diligently you scrub, it never, ever washes off and you walk around chafing. Ow.
  4. Alarm clocks. Alarm clocks that work; alarm clocks that are inaccurate; other people's alarm clocks, which don't jive with my need for an alarm, and wake me up in their sequence three times before it's time for me to wake up.
  5. Worms (not expected worms; surprise worms, such as when you take out the trash and aren't expecting maggots in the garbage can, or such as when you are minding your own business in the kitchen, take out a frying pan, and find some sort of dried-up larva in it. It does not belong there. Which is just a crime against nature any way you look at it. Also, weevils in flour or other kitchen dry goods. I once had an apartment mate who bought a huge amount of birdseed and stored it in the pantry cabinet. One day I opened the cabinet and the entire bag of birdseed appeared to be crawling. Heart-stoppingly hideous.
  6. slugs
  7. snails
  8. mosquitoes
  9. flies
  10. That is the complete list of critters in the animal kingdom I don't embrace. I don't scream, or anything. Except for the mosquitoes and flies, which I will actually kill, I just shudder a lot and feel faint and get out of the way. On the other hand, I am a great advocate of spiders, and routinely save them from others who would stomp or otherwise kill them. Snakes don't faze me in the least and I even find them quite beautiful, except for huge black water moccasins that almost silently slither off tree branches and drop in the river right above the bank where you're standing--they could have knocked you in the head and taken a bite on their way down--creepy.
  11. This one is really out in left field, but I have to say it. There's a particular kind of front-seat lean in drivers in front of you that I absolutely cannot abide. This driver is always male. The driver doesn't sit up straight and has one arm slung lazily over the wheel. He is driving with the underside of his right forearm. The car is usually a type that would have bench seats, like an old model Buick, a big low-slung Pontiac, or an ancient Chrysler K-car; sometimes an old huge stationwagon like a Chevy Caprice. The guy is possibly two or three seats wide himself, but not always. He has wrecked the seat by leaning his weight in it improperly until the springs have given up. The driver's head and shoulders are leaning way over toward under the center of the rear-view mirror, but driver's head is trying to stay level. Driver is almost always wearing a gimme-cap of some sort. There is never anyone else in the car. These men don't have kids, or they skipped off from the ones they do have. No self-respecting woman would ever ride with them. You can tell they're unsafe in both driving and in life. I want these people off the road. And SIT UP, dickhead!!!
  12. Wet towels on the floor, ever. There is just no excuse for that. I bought a rack for my sons' bathroom. Thinking ahead, I didn't get the kind they'd have to actually fold the towels to use (too much work, obviously). I got a rack of hooks. And for months, even that proved too challenging. And please, boy (only one of them does this), do not drop your wet towel on the expensively refinished wood floor, or try to hide it on the closet floor!
  13. Confusing "codes" that family members leave around, thinking that I will immediately "understand" the code and know what to do without explicitly being told. Also, the fact that they expect me to do something about their stuff in the first place. [Go do it yourself.] For example, there's stuff all over the "laundry room." (We don't actually have a laundry room; we have a garage corner.) Some of it is clean, and some of it isn't. Some's in the washer, and some isn't. Some more has been on top of the dryer for three days and feels dry. Is it clean dry or dirty dry? Does it still need a bit of drying? (Don't assume I can tell. I take medicine that kills my sense of smell for anything but the strongest odors; our laundry is in a cold, damp garage and I can't tell if it's still wet or just cold.) But usually I can tell which laundry is still dirty. Also, in what order did all of this take place, and on what step is it now? And, since it's been here for four weeks, would you please finally get your stuff out of here so others who need them can use the appliances?

    A couple more examples of mysterious codes: The Motrin bottle has been left out of the medicine cabinet. Is this a sign that I am supposed to get more Motrin when I am out? Also, the man's deodorant is sitting on the counter. Am I intended to replace it? Well, I won't, because no matter what it is always a brand I cannot find, and it has to be deodorant not antiperspirant, and I can never find the right combination of brand, deodorant, and scent all in the same product, and if I choose the wrong product I will get yelled at. The man's electric toothbrush has been standing on end for two weeks. No one ever said anything about a battery needing replacement. So I put the toothbrush back in the medicine cabinet. Sick of looking at it and cleaning around it. Kids: the milk bottle has been left out of the refrigerator. Has that whole tablespoon of milk you left inside gone bad? Okay. Then pour it out and rinse the bottle and put it in the recycling.
  14. Kids sneaking all the batteries. I have a "lock box" for the batteries. LOL. They have figured out how to bend the plastic box and slide their greedy little hands in to pilfer. When it comes time for the legitimate persons of the household to really need a battery, the box will be discovered empty. This will lead repentant children to cannibalize batteries from other sources, and those batteries will invariably be dead and useless.
  15. Gross stuff in my car. They treat it like a toxic waste dump and it's so embarrassing I hate to give a ride to their friends or, worse, my friends. Since I am busy driving, I can't monitor what the kids are doing in the back seat and where they have stowed the trash from the sticky snacks they spilled and didn't ask permission for and the toys that don't belong there. I have almost solved this one. I made them spend a few hours one weekend day cleaning out my car. They actually took it in shifts, divided the tasks, did an excellent job, and haven't made a bit of mess since! The law of cause and effect might have sunk in after all.
  16. Lego, Lego, Lego. Deliver me from Lego. In future years I will know that I am an empty nester only once the Lego finally stop appearing on every square inch of every floor in every room. I saw a cartoon a couple of years ago with a father in an emergency room and the doctor saying, "No, no, Mr. Smith, the Lego-ectomy is our most common surgery." We have a stone floor in the open-floorplan part of our home, and it has nice little gutters between the slate tiles, just the right size for little Lego and K'nex to lodge and hide from the vacuum but not from vulnerable feet.
  17. The boys' bathroom. Ugh. Absolutely toxic. Thing #1 had a bad case of strep (not as though there's such a thing as a good case) for ten days, and I am convinced he contracted the bug from his own sink. At the moment, there is a huge patch of unidentifiable black crud in the sink. Honestly. I gave up cleaning in there a long time ago, and though they are coerced to clean it, their definition of "clean" leaves much to be desired. I will not go near the tub and shower enclosure. The glass, after six months of not being cleaned, is nearly opaque. Good; that means I can't see the brown crud on the frame and fixtures.
  18. Waking up, stark, sit-up-straight awake, a few hours before real wake-up time and seeing the clock announcing boldly that I have only a little time left to fall back asleep, otherwise I will completely miss the window of opportunity fo ra good night's rest. I positively refuse to get up and use the insomnia to get productive things done. I have heard from sleep doctors that this only "rewards" the insomnia and makes it more likely to recur. I then lie back down obsessing about whether I will be able to fall back asleep, which worry invariably keeps me awake until the alarms go and I indeed have missed the window of opportunity. I have intentionally bought a clock that came equipped with several light settings, and keep it on the lowest one; many times I have resorted to tossing a little black guest towel over the clock so I can't see it in the middle of the night at all. Of courses, if some morning light has begun to creep in, I'm not fooled.
  19. Deer, because they eat all the beautiful flowers in the garden, including my favorite giant Casablanca lilies. Deer are nothing but oversized rodents. Vermin. Also, I hate the garden. There's a fantastic, huge perennial garden on this property, courtesy of the previous owner, who spent (so neighbors tell) twelve years becoming a certified Master Gardener and designing and nurturing the garden. When there are flowers, that's wonderful. You'd think it would be great for an inveterate lover of botanical beauty such as myself. Unfortunately, nearly all of the garden is on a very steep hill and in the shade as well, and impossible to weed. And putting pre-emergent weed preventer on it has no effect except, it seems, to encourage the weeds instead. Also, I am lazy about yard work. People who try to weed there--and I have occasionally been one of them--slide down the soft soil and all the way down the hill into the corral below. Actually, people get some momentum going and slam into the corral fence. All the "stepping stones" just come dislodged and roll down with you. It is simply a no-win situation. The garden's creator herself told me that before the fence was there she rolled all the way down the hill and into the yard of the neighbors below us. That's a loooonnnnnnnngggg way, folks. Hmmm, maybe it was a sign? Does anyone get this? WHY is there a garden on a cliffside in the shade in the first place? She told me, "When I first owned the house, I just couldn't stand looking at all that boring groundcover on the hill. All just plain green." And I wanted to scream, "Why didn't you just leave the friggin' groundcover???"
  20. A number of comics whom I find simply unfunny, and not even funny because stupid. For example, Adam Sandler. Not funny. Just no-account pathetic.
  21. People who put leftovers into containers that aren't the right size, then shove them into the refrigerator in such a way that the container tips and the lid falls open and the food comes out all over the fridge shelf, and they just leave it there. This only happens withreallly messy things like pesto or a nice smooth spinach soup. Never with dishes that have distinct chunks, like chicken drumsticks.
  22. Writers who use parentheses as much as I do. As a professional writer and former university English instructor, I know how to avoid using parentheses. I should just restructure what I'm saying.
I guess that's enough of a rant for today. By tomorrow, I'll have a whole other list.

And now for a complete non-sequitur (this is the post-non-sequitur, and here she goes again with the damned parentheses).

(I'd swear you used to be able to put a caption on these. What happened to that feature?) The image above is Lucas, a.k.a. Luke, our surrogate dog. He thinks he's at the spa when he comes to our house. His current spa sentence ends October 2, at which point his real owners will return from Nova Scotia. In this scene, Luke has appropriated my knitting spot and is guarding one of two squares I am knitting for the Crazy Aunt Purl Grandma Blanket Project.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

. . . and I'm Not Even a Dumb Blonde

This is a sad birthday story. This family is, and always has been, completely birthday challenged. Last night, we celebrated the Tyke's 10th birthday. He was excited all day and I felt horrible, without showing it, all day because I have been ill for a couple of weeks with the usual severe asthma and had not only failed entirely to keep up with tidying the house, but also had failed entirely to get anything done on the birthday gift front. I had thought a couple of weeks ago that I had plenty of time, but then I got sick and didn't get over it and the expected window of opportunity slammed shut.

As soon as I finally got appropriate treatment and started getting over my attack, I had to spend most of my days in doctors' offices for followups, monitoring, breathing treatments, spirometry, peak flow readings, allergy testing, blood draws, and yadda yadda yadda. Add to that the fact that Thing #1 came down with a severe case of strep, so I was also shuttling him to his doctors and pharmacies and waiting on him the rest of the time. For Tyke, I managed the cake, ice cream and candles, but nothing else. No prezzies. BAD MOM.

Worst of all, when asked, Tyke couldn't come up with a list of things he wanted except a Pirates of the Caribbean II game for the Gameboy DS. If it's a game, Dad, who hates anything that isn't purely educational, nixes it immediately. The other thing Tyke wanted was a trip to Yankee Stadium or a game or a tour, which Dad said would be logistically impossible. So the kid was out of presents. Fortunately, we had already purchased a Yankees keychain in the shape of a bat. Whoopee. And it was already wrapped. Overly wrapped, really, in order to overcompensate for the tawdriness of the "gift."

Dad calls yesterday afternoon to see if he could "pick anything up on the way home from work" regarding the birthday. As if I have any brilliant ideas or any energy to generate some. The kid himself doesn't know what he wants. Dad decides he will stop to look for biking- and baseball- related items; Tyke has come into his own as an accomplished mountain biker, and could use some things.

When Dad gets home, he takes the bag of stuff up to the master bedroom. I am busy making Tyke's favorite and requested meal (it's something that takes a long time, so I know I won't be doing anything else for a while). Dad reminds me cryptically that the gifts are still upstairs needing to be wrapped. He doesn't wrap anything. So I use a ruse, sneak scissors and tape into my pocket, and go upstairs.

Inside the bag were sadder gifts than I expected: a few packages of baseball cards, a mini "glow-in-the-dark" basketball hoop to hook over the bedroom door, and the wrapping paper, which had a Yankees theme. I thought the paper was a brilliant touch. Well done on that score, Dad!

I got to work and quickly wrapped the presents.

In the process of wrapping, I noticed that the paper was of the best quality, but didn't go very far. Fortunately, however, it just covered everything. I came trotting down the stairs with the spoils, Dad gave me an odd look, and the present-opening ceremony began.

Just before Tyke took the first item in hand, Dad jumped up and pulled me into the dark kitchen. He whispered, "It was a poster."

I had heard his words, but didn't understand them. "WHATT?" I whispered loudly.

"It was a poster. It wasn't wrapping paper."

Without falling on the floor, I managed to whisper back calmly, "Okay. Well, that can be fixed."

After Tyke had finished opening the gifts--with which he seemed sufficiently pleased even though they were pathetic--I got an uncontrollable fit of laughter, like library laughter . I had to remove myself from the room, but luckily ailing Thing #1 had a Monty Python DVD going and there was an obvious excuse for my giggling.

This morning the paper was still on the kitchen counter. Apparently Dad didn't understand what I had said, either; I didn't mean that I was going to fix the paper by taping it back together again. I was going to fix the problem by replacing the poster.

Happy Brithday, Tyke. Born into an incorrigibly birthday challenged family.

Oh, yeah. We also forgot to tell Dad's sister "happy birthday," because her day is one day before Tyke's, and we are always in such a crisis for Tyke's that we never remember her. Ever.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Why a Duck?

Get it? You will soon. In the meantime, if you haven't seen all the Marx Brothers movies, go rent them. If you can, start with "A Night at the Opera," and wait patiently for the stateroom scene. Then watch the other movies and find out which one the Why a Duck joke is in; I can't remember just now.

So. Back to the duck I intended to talk about. We recently returned from a great vacation in Wellfleet, our favorite village in Cape Cod. I was going through our receipts and found one from my favorite fun stuff and fun kitsch shop. (I am a kitsch ho. But most of it isn't displayed because it makes my friends nervous.) One receipt, unlike any others, had been handwritten. The items I bought are already displayed at home. But when I read the list, I was shocked to find: "Wooden duck hook."

Here is the "wooden duck hook":

Yeah, it's a duck, all right. The cashiers live and work in Wellfleet, a FISHING VILLAGE on CAPE COD. And they must get strafed by ducks and duck doo and ducks dropping clams and crabs on rocks and duck cries along the beach. Well, guess what, girls? I was born in Long Beach, CA and grew up near Huntington Beach, CA and even despite all the years I spent on the beach with my head baking in the sun, I managed to learn the difference between this kind of bird and ducks.

Here's the receipt, just for proof (see item #3, for $7.00):

And, yeah, I also got two excellent early-print etchings of whales and sea turtles. But at least those were listed by the appropriate name of the artist. Glad the cashier didn't try to identify the animals depicted.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Addendum to Strange Phenomena (below)

Sorry, in previous post I forgot a detail. In reference to the car locking and re-locking, the problem was also coincidental. The seat belt on the driver's side had gotten slightly caught in the door, and that's why DH had to try to lock so many times. It wasn't anything to do with being threatened by the Jump Guy. Just one more thing to throw into the mix that looked so strange among parties concerned.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Strange Phenomena

Many years ago, a petite, eccentric British singer named Kate Bush had an album on which there was a song that went, "We raise our hands to the strange phenomena . . ." (Forgive me if it's really "we raise our hats"; she has a very odd, keening voice, the word is hard to understand, and I don't have the album liner with lyrics anymore. The song talks about coincidences, awesome natural occurrences, and seemingly mystical things that we don't understand.

A couple of weeks ago we were returning from vacation after stopping on the way at the Connecticut shore to visit friends. Just before leaving the beach town to get on the highway, we stopped at a Shell station for gas.

Immediately something looked wrong to me. There were cars all around. We were second in line at a pump; we had pulled in behind a guy in a late-model silver Volvo. Somehow the guy didn't look as though he went with the Volvo, though. Of course I'm typecasting, and he might have just come from boating or something, but he looked very scruffy and too young for that kind of Volvo, unless it was his parents'. Anyway, he was standing outside the back of his car and the trunk was wide open, revealing three HUGE gas cans which he had just filled up. (For a really big yacht? Otherwise, what was that about?)

The minute DH got out of the car to pump our gas, the guy started talking to him. There was nearly an altercation so I rolled down the window to ask DH what was up. Apparently the guy was asking him for a jump. Uh, excuse me? You have three huge gas tanks and you're at a gas station right next to the pumps and you want to get a real good spark going, blowing the whole place and all the people in it sky-high? What, are you nuts??? He asked again, but DH ran into the convenience store to talk to the clerk.

The kids were asking me questions about what was going on and I felt uncomfortable. Besides, the guy was within earshot and I didn't want him to hear me talking about him because intuition was telling me he was creepy, so I hushed the kids and told them to wait for further instructions.

Now I have to tell this a bit out of order in order for it to make sense. Just when he was getting ready to pump, DH locked the car remotely but the locking mechanism was working funny and he had to do it a few times to get it to go. He usually locks the car when he leave the family in it at a gas station because I have told him it makes me feel safer while we're waiting. It's a courtesy thing he does for me. It appeared that DH ran into the shop as soon as he turned Mr. Jump Man down, but that wasn't the cause. DH later reported that when he had lifted the pump, at least a cup of gasoline spewed out all over his sandaled foot (yuck), and he wanted to alert the clerk that the pump was in some way defective.

DH came back, finished the transaction and went back into the shop to pay. While he was momentarily back, Jump Man harrassed him about not helping. He said something like, "What's wrong with you, man? You locked your car a bunch of times and ran away, and you won't give me a jump."

Anyhoo, just as DH was walking back out of the shop, a car pulled up next to Jump Man. The car had been parked somewhere else across the station, and I did not see Jump Man motion to the car or go over to it; it seemed to just appear. This made me extremely nervous. Not only did I not understand how the car appeared, but it had parked in such a way as to completely block us in. I didn't have my car key and DH was not quite back yet to back out of there. The jumper cables came out and the moment DH came back the guys were connecting them to their batteries. I jumped out of the car to see whether there was room behind us, and what did I find but some guy at the pump behind us. We were utterly blocked from behind as well. Not only that, but this asshat was SMOKING while he pumped! Another big red flag.

I was just about to tell the kids to get out of the car and run when DH convinced the guys not to do the jump there. Somehow the car that came up to "help" drove either away enough to let us out, or completely drove off. Whew. We took off out of there like greased lightning.

Maybe everyone will think it is we who are crazy. And because of a traumatic teenage experience, I am an avowed fearer of gas stations and have written about that before.

We were all shook up and soon as we got on the highway, the onramp of which is immediately adjacent to the station, DH and I started talking about how weird it was and both of us suspected it might have been some sort of perfect setup for a robbery. It just didn't look right, and the coincidences of timing, the convenience to the expressway onramp, the spillage, the mysterious car that appeared out of nowhere, the juxtapositions of opportunities for terror (robbery? a guy picking a fight? danger to kids? blowing up everything for a mile around?) , and the boob with the cigarette naturally blocking us in were strange. Thing #2, Tyke, piped up from the back seat, "You should have gotten his license plate number. That's what Officer Kavedon [the school's police community relations officer] says to do." (Pretty smart Tyke.)

I said, "I thought about that, but his trunk was up the whole time, and I couldn't see the license plate."

We talked about it off and on the whole way home. And we sure were happy to get there.

I am NOT a conspiracy theorist. Much. I only play one at home. But this event sure reminded me of the "Strange Phenomena" song, and I had to go play it.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Certainty (a school bus rant)

It's heartening to know that some things around our "rich" little, but increasingly "effed up" town are absolutely predictable. In addition to the steady rise of our ridiculous property taxes (which include a side of ridiculously high extra bonus prize taxes just for owning a car, especially a new car, which is one of the reasons I refuse to give up my fall-apart 10-year-old Toyota), we in our little town can utterly depend upon

screwed-up school bus schedules and actual transport (or lack thereof) for at least the first three weeks of school.

(P.S. Just for the record, do not start thinking you can discount me among that inveterate group known as "Mommy bloggers." I'm not one, although much of the material I get for my blog comes from the two younger family members. I consider myself just a friendly-fire casualty of my children's existence, not a militant advocate for it. The two stances are mutually exclusive. No militant momism here, I promise. Just a healthy concern for bus safety.)

Anyway. For the first time in the life of our delightfully dysfunctional family--and we do put the diss in dysfunctional--we have FINALLY lived in one town for more than three years, meaning we are getting to know what it's really like, not just what it seems to be like on the surface. Before that, we moved, nomadlike, from tent to tent all over the country and even the world every six months to one year. Therefore, it's the first time I've had an opportunity to gather enough data from a place to know what was actually "usual" for any particular locale. So, coming into this interesting long-term tenancy situation, I naively thought:

Q:Hmm. The buses seem screwed up today, kinda like last year. Oh, and the year before. And it's soon to be four years now, so part of the year before that. [BTW, shouldn't buses be spelled busses? This has always bothered me, but I insist on spelling "cancelled" with two ls, also.] But, I continued to think, Alfred E. Newmanlike, "What? Me worry?" How screwed-up can the bus(s)es get?

A: Way screwed up.

One interesting bit of "long-term town" trivia is that on Wednesdays the public schools are dismissed early. This goofs up everything for everyone. Someone has to be home for the kids at a silly time in the afternoon only on Wednesdays, such as 1:15 for [sometimes irresponsible] high schoolers and 2:30 for elementary students. This has been going on for years, but I find it difficult to have a wrench thrown into my schedule midweek, and with kids moving up the ranks to different school-level schedules, I still make mistakes. Many's the time I've been out running errands on a Wednesday, found myself in a clogged grocery line, looked at my watch and said, "#@$$ !!! I have to be home in three minutes or the kids are stranded!" and had to high-tail it home. Worst case, on several occasions I've left the elder, Thing #1, waiting and sweating outside the door for ten or fifteen minutes.

[Please do not tell me
just to give them keys. It's not like I haven't thought of that. But Thing #1 is 100% item-challenged and either loses or breaks everything he is given, touches, or sees, so something as critical and security-laden as a key is out of the question. The neighbors can help in emergencies--that is, if they're home.]

Anyhoo, I'm getting off topic. The point is that it's still the first week of school and it's the first goofy Wednesday. I am shaking in my boots, in anticipation of the kids' arrival or non-arrival on the doorstep. The younger one (let's call him Thing #2, since we do) has a trumpet lesson at 3:15. I look at the school schedules and calculate the arrival time of each kid. If Thing #2 comes home on schedule, he'll have plenty of time to get to his lesson. Time comes and goes . . . neither bus shows up on time. Or even half an hour late. It becomes clear that just enough time has passed that we could not possibly get to the uni in time for the trumpet lesson.

The elementary school calls me to inform me that Thing #2's #2 route bus had been involved in a minor accident on its middle-school route, meaning a glitch in the bus's arrival at the elementary school (they rotate the same buses for all three school levels). It dawns on me that this has happened before--with the same bus driver, on the same route, last year. That turned out to be a trumped-up acident. Maybe there are con artists who specialize in this sort of thing.

I accept that elementary kid's bus is going to be late, but it's a problem because this is the day he is to start his new session of private trumpet lessons with a Broadway orchestra pro at chez chic University, and there are few behaviors more heinous than standing up a professional music teacher. I call up the lesson division at the uni, giving a message and being assured that the message will be delivered. Shortly after it's time for the trumpet lesson to begin, Thing #2 shows up.

A quick check of the school district's master calendar confirms that, unlike the other school levels, the high schools occasionally, but sporadically, have what's known as a "full Wednesday." Just to keep us on our toes, you know. The full day dismissal time as well as the normal bus arrival time have both passed. Then I call the high school. Where is the #39 bus? "Well, they have been running late in general. But today we also had full Wednesday, which means that the bus routes are competing for the same time slots, so they are later than ever." Brilliant.

Sure. I shoulda known. And I'm supposed to think that's fine?

Phone then rings immediately after I hang up. It's the trumpet instructor. "Where are you guys?" she asks. I then tell her I had called and left a message and the receptionist had assured me that she would take the message right down to Room 141 along with my apologies. I'm mortified, embarrassed, the receptionist was a liar (naaahh, just too busy during the first week of term), and we have stood the instructor up for the second time in 11 weeks.

While waiting for the buses to maybe arrive, I called Thing #1's best friend's mom to find out if best friend had gotten home. No answer.

All told, despite "short Wednesday" and "full Wednesday," the kids show up somewhat later than regular time.

Immediately after Thing #1 arrives, the phone rings. It's Thing #1's best friend's mom asking me if Thing #1 has arrived. I tell her I had called her earlier, then tell her what I know.

This is not all. Thing #1 is still listed on the #39 route, which this year for high school shows no morning bus stop anywhere near our house. There's a stop in the afternoon fairly close to our house that used to have a morning run and which he used to take in the morning a couple of years ago. So, all told, this year's schedule means he can't go to school using this stop, but he can come home by it. So I sat right down and wrote those folks a letter (for the fourth year in a row).

In fact, Thing #1''s only morning options involve walking on a winding, tree-lined, hilly, narrow, sidewalkless, shoulderless road for miles. The school starts at 7:30 a.m., so he'd have to start walking at, oh, 6:30 a.m. to get there in time to not miss the bus. In the winter, this road is also dark, and snow plows rapidly course down it. That in itself is very hazardous, but when the plows go by, they make a tunnnel with snow walls. Motorists drive very fast on this road, and cannot possibly see a pedestrian before it is too late. (In fact, joggers have been killed on this road in the best of weather.) The pedestrians have nowhere to go--they can't jump over an ice wall to get out of the way.

The school district and bus company expect us to sacrifice our children, even kindergarteners, to such a system.

Consulting the convoluted transportation division documentation, re-spouted out by the school district, yields the following brilliance per the state Department of Education, office of Legal & Governmental Affairs:
The more students are in a particular area, the closer together the stops will be in order to prevent large numbers of students from waiting on one corner. Students can walk up to the same mileage to a bus stop as to school--Elementary including kindergarten, up to 1 mile, Middle school students up to 1&1/2 miles, High school students up to 2 miles. Children in town who are not eligible for bus transportation must walk up to one mile to the elementary schools, one and one-half miles to the middle schools, and two miles to the high schools per the *** State Department of Education, office of Legal & Governmental Affairs.
So what this means is: there is no point in having buses at all, since both "eligible" and "ineligible" students may be required to walk as far to the bus as they would have to walk to school. Shades of "Catch-22." So all students might as well just walk to school, since they "may be required to walk" that far anyway. I also like the inconsistent capitalization and numbering in this governmental text, but again I digress. My point is:

Finally it dawns on me: Instead of choosing a different day, I just should have done my errands and forgotten about short Wednesday.

Where is our tax money going? And why does the town continue to contract with this bus company, when all they do is screw up?*

*I want to blatantly express my appreciation for the bus drivers. It is almost always not their fault that transport gets way out of whack. The chaos factor works against them, and I'm sure they're caught in the middle among dealing with the cacophany of ill-behaved children on the buses, their employers' policies, the district's guidelines and expectations, and myriad nutcase parents. In my book, they get kudos.

More small contributions to our wonderful language

G (the elder kid, of snobbish people at school, and of celebrities with similar behavior): You know, they are the kind of people who have their noses stuck up in the air so high they can't see through their own boogers.

Tyke: Mom, what's a "junior agitant"?

Me: You are. (Going to the white board in our dinette area and writing on it) And by the way, it's "junior adjutant," spelled like this . . .