Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Little. Tiny. Moths.

No use dallying, equivocating, soft-shoeing, or hiding the truth with high-falutin' phrases...just gonna spill it.
plodia interpunctella in your pantry
Indefatigable: 
Plodia interpunctella.

This summer I had dozens--if not hundreds--of moths living in a camouflaged sleeper-cell in my house.

Daily they alit without fanfare on a low ceiling, patiently waiting for me to grab the nearest fly swatter and smash the living bejesus out of them. Didn't just buzz in from outside...there was obviously an exogenic source, from somewhere in that dark, dank, Hobbit-like lair.

Yes, the food pantry: that self-same breeding portal where unloved soup cans and jars of weird pickled stuff go to expire and die.

I suspected trouble in the grains. Perhaps the randy procreators were fornicating in one of the expensive, gorpy cereals my children tentatively tasted and passed on (Lucky Charms and cereals with similar hauteur were always consumed in less than a day).

Maybe they birthed in our luxurious assortment of exotic nuts, expiration dates spanning geologic eons. Or from the tumultuous assortment of Far East pablum, milled exclusively for people with no teeth—exorbitantly priced pouches of organic couscous, bulgar, quinoa, fair trade lentils, millet and ho-hum sorghum.

The crackers could be guilty…my son's tried-and-true method was to knock off nine-tenths of a sleeve, bequeathing the remaining also-rans to posterity. Quite the selection: multigrains in reassuringly simple, geometric shapes; flavorless standards like Melba toast and water crackers; gluten-less flatbreads, some really old matzohs, carbon dated back to the Dead Sea scrolls. And of course, all the alternative snacks that were a healthy decision to buy, but entirely too boring to eat: rice cakes, veggie/banana chips, dried mango slices…

Perhaps the moths were sugar junkies, sired and bred in the innercity, ghetto section of our cupboard: adolescent bughood in the tawdry glare of powdered Nesquik, oil barrel-sized iced tea mix, talcy brownie mixes, caustic cupcake powders and chemical-laden cake compounds.
big ass ice tea mix
Refreshing, economical and packed with nutritional larvae.

Let's not forget the poorly clasped, colicky bags of seeds and supplements...failed and forgotten saw palmetto, pumpkin and flax to supposedly aid my 50-year-old prostate; scary sesame seeds, stored in plastic bottles that could double as swimming pools for toddlers if sawed in half; suspicious looking black, beedy-eyed celery grit. So many possibilities...our pantry was a virtual Sodom and Gomorrah for licentious, horny anthropods.

Not only moths thrived in this utopian ecosystem. On the pantry floor sat open bins, where aggressively sprouting potatoes busily rooted themselves into the fiber of worn linoleum. White, yellow and red onions merrily formented, with orbiting TTBs (Teeny Tiny Bugs) hovering overhead in fetid clouds. Killing field cloves of garlic tragically imploded in on themselves, recoiling into their own hoary skin, living proof of the horrors of fision--well, maybe not, but still--totally gross. All of these aforementioned alien tuberisms sported an added grace: brownish ooze--a viscous goo possessing the most noxious smelling odor in the known universe.
dispose of sticky ooze promptly
Leaving the scene of pantry waste disposal.

Whatever object that ooze touched was cast out immediately, far from home and hearth. I dumped tasteful, fake-antique crates from Williams-Sonoma; revered nesting bins from Bed, Bath and Beyond; pretty clay bowls snuck past customs agents years ago...

So why not don a fashionable Hazmat suit, employ a mean-ass, contractor-grade garbage bag and throw away absolutely everything? What do you think I am? Some kind of wasteful, ugly consumer/ part of the problem/children are starving somewhere/landfill-loving maniac? Maybe one of those sundry items wasn't infested. Throwing away perfectly good food is a sin. Just ask my mom...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Problem Solver

Everything was gone from my house--all our crap from the first two floors, overflow items from the vacant basement apartment, plus ancient stuff from a 70-year-old attic...even detritus from the backyard shed. But there was one implacable object that wouldn't budge.

The piano....an upright motherfucker that a pro piano tuner had years ago declared untunable and unworthy of further investment. It was my mom's favorite inanimate object of all time, but really--unsentimentally--it was literally the 400-pound beast in the room.  I needed some added muscle to get this sucker out of the house.
<img src="Bronx-piano.jpg" alt="Bronx piano" />
That yellow harp inside can break a man.
When I moved out of the house a month earlier, I hired immigrants standing outside Home Depot; they walked out on me. Two Ecuadorians: one tall, around 30; the other perhaps a little older, short and chubby. They wanted $130 each, but I wouldn't budge...$100 for five hours of labor--two of those hours being travel time. After 10 minutes of haggling, they agreed to take the hundred bucks. They hopped in the 16-foot rental truck, and we were off. I was relieved; I could only afford the truck for one day, had taken a risk on unknown labor and besides, the forecast was for heavy thunderstorms. It looked like it was going to start pouring any second.

I speak pretty decent Spanish, and tried to make conversation on the way to my house, asking where they were from, how long they'd been in America and how they liked the Bronx. They merely looked down, muttering curt responses. Finally, I gave up. After all, I didn't have to be buddies with these guys. That's when they started complaining...

"I don't know, Señor Charlie...not a lot of money...."
Their attitude and overall shitty vibe was starting to irk me.
"We haven't even started yet! Stop complaining, we made a deal."

I showed them the work to be done. After making two trips down the steps with bureaus, the tall one said, "We can't continue for less than $130."

I looked him unflinchingly in the eye; I didn't like these guys at all. "I'll go right back to Home Depot and get two other men. I'm not paying you any more money."

The chubby one handed back the gloves I had lent him. The tall one said, "We want to work tranquilo."

They walked off without another word, leaving my daughter's chests of drawers in the middle of the sidewalk, the heavens about to open. I stood there in absolute shock, watching them disappear down the street. On the drive over, they had been discussing how far we were from the subway...I figured that's where they were heading. There was no easy way to get back to Home Depot...they were going home, probably to watch soccer on satellite tv. They never had any intention of doing real labor on a Sunday.

How I made out the rest of my moving day is an inspiring testament to perseverance, strength and sheer will--in other words, it's boring--so let's revisit the friggin' piano...

<img src="trash-piano.jpg" alt="trash piano" />
Awaiting the grim reaper/NYC sanitation dept...
I wasn't thrilled about another go with immigrants, so I tried the opposite route--hiring not only legal workers, but specialists. I called a piano company in the South Bronx that had a moving department and warehouse for storage and disposal. They wanted $500 to take it away, even though I told them they didn't have to be polite with the instrument, could throw it down the stairs for all I cared. Didn't matter to them. $500, dead or alive...

The next day I was back at Home Depot, but with a different purpose...

I explained to the guy in the rental department about the monster in the living room.

"Know what you need?"
I shook my head. "A guy with muscles bigger than my head?"
"A problem solver. Know what that is?"
"A guy with both brains and muscles bigger than my head?"
"Sledge hammer. No messing around with one of those."

I pictured myself clumsily swinging the  crude tool, launching splintered shards of wood into my calf muscle. However, the chain saws on display were sleek and powerful...

A half-hour later I had the chain saw at the ready, waiting to tear into the tender flesh of polished mahogany. Once I touched saw teeth to piano there was no going back. The instrument would never play Chopin or Chopsticks again. I pushed the thought out of my mind and squeezed the trigger. The deed was simultaneously effortless and brutal--in less than a minute the piano was cleaved in two.

I examined the remains. The upright part of the piano contained a cast iron harp, which held the strings taut. It was machined into the backing with about 30 screws, most of which refused to budge. The sucker was still too awkward and heavy for me, even with the hand truck I had rented. The beast had gotten the best of me.

I was standing outside beside the keyboard half, a defeated look on my face. My neighbor pulled up in his van, asking what was up. He took pity on me, calling his 22-year-old son and bringing over a furniture dolly from his garage. Together the three of us grunted, groaned and coaxed the upright spine down to the street, step by step. When we dropped it on the pavement, it emitted one last, cacophonic crescendo...

The long arm of the memory.
I cried a little on the way home, thinking about how much my mom loved that piano. But I did keep a memento...

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Earth Orbits Around The Sun Every 365 Days Hoax

I 'officially' turn 52 in two weeks, and have decided this has gotta stop, here and now.

Whatever idiot designed this whole 'add one more, every twelve months' system is really pissing me off. I have a feeling one of those credit score agencies dreamt the whole thing up to make money, so I've been following up. I've scoured conspiracy forums on the internet for leads, but haven't found the correct thread, which proves beyond any doubt that a conspiracy exists to hide the conspiracy. Can't fool me...

When I was 29 and 11 months, I tried putting my arm out several times a day--like a crossing guard signalling STOP--yet I turned 30 anyway. Because I was a mealy-mouthed wimp, I put up with the charade. But no longer.

Figure if I can't debunk what I call, "The Earth Orbits Around The Sun Every 365 Days Hoax,"  then there must be a product I can purchase on the internet that will prevent this from happening. Some kind of Scotchguard that I can spray myself with, or maybe the furniture or the dog. Something to stop this infernal, annoying and utterly unnecessary 'year older' nonsense.

Sorry for the rant, but someone had to say it...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

BY ROBERT FROST

Whose woods these are I think I know.  
His house is in the village though;  
He will not see me stopping here  
To watch his woods fill up with snow.  

My little horse must think it queer  
To stop without a farmhouse near  
Between the woods and frozen lake  
The darkest evening of the year.  

He gives his harness bells a shake  
To ask if there is some mistake.  
The only other sound’s the sweep  
Of easy wind and downy flake.  

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.  
But I have promises to keep,  
And miles to go before I sleep,  
And miles to go before I sleep.
______________________

My mind lives in those woods....

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Other Things To Sleep With.

The scenario: Right side of queen-size bed, now vacated by spouse.
bed/storage space
Recently discovered storage space.

Replacements for breathing human being:
  • All blankets/sheets not currently employed
  • 900 page hardcover book I've lost interest in
  • Empty ice cream bowl
  • Laundry, not yet sorted/put away
  • Hammer, still unhung wall picture/clothes peg
  • DVD too lazy to put in player
  • Unread mail/flyers/brochures
  • Glasses, keys, cellphone, wallet, loose change, gum wrappers, other contents of pants pockets
  • Unrealistic To Do list for tomorrow (excerpt: Find new career)
  • Dog...forget it, pal. GET DOWN! Down! Down!
  • Pillows in various shapes and sizes
  • TV remote control to knock off bed while asleep, sending batteries flying

Saturday, August 24, 2013

My Dog Gazes Not Upon The Moon.

My dog gazes not upon the moon
For Blanca...
My dog gazes not upon the moon,
Nor remembers when you left in June.
He pull-pull-pulls and sniffs and pees,
Lifting bandied leg for a merry wee.

Yet we walk as two, we do,
Seeking the trees, thinking of thee.
Abroad, likewise with no thought,
Of Gaia's light, tranquil summer night.

Hi ho! Goes us, Coco and me,
Anointing trash cans, scratching fleas.
Turn up noses to all the roses,
Feeling queer after all our beer.

Damn you, moon! I snap the chain,
Canine tarry, dreams of Spain.
Merely foolish glow, no telepathic spark,
Linking father's gaze, or little dog bark.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

10 Reasons Why I Cannot Renovate A Basement Apartment.

Home repairsMy house in the Bronx currently hosts a ruined basement apartment. The basic plumbing and heat are functional, but everything else--and I mean everything--needs to be ripped out and replaced. Antiquated wiring, cracked plaster walls and ceilings, ancient water damage, mold, along with a total lack of insulation...all beg for a complete tear down. Looked in the Penny Saver, called a contractor...figured I'd start with the bathroom. No problem, said he: $7,000.  Can complete the job in two weeks. I don't make seven grand in two weeks, tell you that...

I have tools...how complicated could it be to do it myself? What if I studiously watch a few This Old House videos and dive in, hands first? My propensity to screw things up is enormous, though. A project typically starts well, until a huge tear appears in the space time continuum; everything subsequently goes straight to hell. All labor and materials get sucked into the great black hole that encompasses my basic incompetence, lack of motor coordination, and paucity of common sense.

Harking back on my Mr. Fix It alter ego throughout the years, I painstakingly quantified each and every blunder. The results are staggering:

1. Bent nails, stripped nuts/bolts/screws: 2,391
I blame my dad. He bought all his rusting, misshapen tools at tag sales. Since he was always working, I was left to my own devices when faced with an implacable quandary--like a flat tire on my bicycle. The quarter inch locking nut has always been my nemesis...axle nut on my bike, oil pan guardian on my beloved Toyota Corona...I prefer to strip them with adjustable pliers, then fall back on a fail-safe combo: locking pliers and a lead pipe for leverage--instantly guaranteeing destruction of any hexagonally-sexed object.

2. Pounds of superfluous/spilled cement: 1,875. Sacks of cement left out in rain: 14
A good friend clued me in to the mystical properties of cement. He spoke in hushed terms of  "the throw"--a carefully selected dollop of wet cement tossed from a trowel into a waiting crevice. Performed with proper aplomb, the cement sticks, fills and spreads, without further manipulation. 20 years later, I'm still waiting for a successful 'throw.' My typical diaspora:
throw/miss
throw/near miss
throw/hit! slowly ooze out again
throw/miss
Repeat.

3. Snapped jigsaw/hacksaw blades, ruined/broken drillbits: 136
drill bit mishap
Misfired bazooka, or drill hole? You decide...
I call this the never-learned lesson of the Smoking Drillbit. While attempting to hang the wife's newly acquired painting that you secretly hate, you randomly drill into the wall, and hit something hard. What the hell could that be? No worries...switch to the masonry bit, dial up the drill speed to maximum...the macho 'hammer' setting. Still not penetrating? Lean on that sucker, put some weight behind it, you little girly-man...Whammo! You bust through whatever interference was present, puncturing a hole in the wall the size of a cannonball. Congratulations, Hercules...

4. Crooked cuts and mismeasures, circular saw/jigsaw: 96
A good carpenter measures twice..correctly. And riddle me this--why own a proper workbench, when you can use the top of your washing machine in the basement? A further admission: I own electric saws; they scare the hell out of me. The rpms and roar from a circular saw rival a Ferrari, while jigsaws possess that strangely frantic, to and fro motion--similar to a dog humping your leg. No thanks...

5. Articles of clothing ruined while performing manual labor: 63
Yes, I own work clothes and shoes, specifically for wear on dirty jobs. They lie catatonically in my bottom dresser drawer, patiently awaiting paint splatter and spackle. Unfortunately, I'm never wearing them when I arrive home from work, to discover the screen door/toilet/dishwasher magically broken, sans culprit. Well, gosh darn it, that can't wait another minute. Lemme grab my toolbox... 
Juiced
I'm smokin'...

6. Broken/busted wooden handles and grips on axes, trowels, screwdrivers, etc: 45
Muddled mottos, #17: "Any tool can be used as a hammer, especially when you can't find one."

7. Blown/tripped fuses, near-electrocutions: 33
Yup...today's the day I replace the old outlets with three-prongs. But wait...The kids are playing video games/watching tv/microwaving popcorn, I can't possibly turn off the juice...I'll just be careful. Sure. Nothing like 120 volts coursing through your body to make you feel alive. I've been shocked so many times, light bulbs glow before I touch them. Let's not forget the thrill of crossing live wires, hearing that loud POP! and being temporarily blinded--think flash powder, Abe Lincoln era photo. Now both my lights and the house lights are out. Sorry, kiddies...

8. Kicked over/spilled gallons of paint, thinner, other extremely corrosive liquids: 16
I really make a point of being neat. The trick is to follow a carefully executed series of steps:
--Lay down drop cloth (usually an old fitted sheet)
--Place paint tray on stepladder shelf
--Climb ladder
--Paint with roller until arm's length reached
--Climb down ladder
--Move ladder, catching leg on fitted sheet
--Tip over paint tray, spill semi gloss everywhere.

9. Burnt out battery packs/tool chargers: 8
That new DeWalt/Mikita tool is on sale for only $50, what a deal...when you forget to unplug it six months later, the $42 replacement battery will be on sale --when shop vacs can fly.

10. Injuries suffered while employing tools, requiring emergency room visits: 6
I've chainsawed my hand, bonked myself on the head with steel pipes, hacked into my thumb with a meat cleaver, blowtorched my fingers, fallen off ladders and roofs, sawz-alled my leg...you can read more about my injury-prone life here.

So who do I write this check out to?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Saran Wrap Lobster

Could he breathe in there?
When I'm out galavanting, trying to make money--namely, doing field work--one of my can't-miss procrastination techniques is to stop at the supermarket.

With the sudden realization that a terrorist attack/natural disaster can occur at any time, there is simply no alternative to an emergency stop to purchase bare necessities like peaches, hand soap, English muffins and more canned tuna. Yesterday I was on Bruckner Boulevard; a huge discount supermarket resides on the service road. A penned off area in front of the store prevents shopping cart theft, with a security guard booth manned 24/7 as well. Sort of a paradox, since paying the security guards is probably more expensive than replacing a  few nicked shopping carts, but who am I to say...

The premium quality canned tuna was not on sale, but the store had live, 'wild caught' lobster at five bucks a pound. I love lobster--better stated, I adore lobster. Not only were they cheap, they were a fairly good size--close to a pound and a half on average. After getting the attention of a fish monger, I picked out an especially large, lively specimen busily clamoring over other more lethargic compatriots.

I used to be a fish monger myself, working in the supermarket near my university. The workers in the deli section teased me, claiming they ate free cold cuts while I labored with smelly fish guts. I never said a word in reply, and for good reason: I ate like a king there. My department had a walk in freezer; it was one of the few areas out of sight of the store manager. There was also a professional steamer and a toaster oven, for some unknown reason. I never stole anything from the store, but felt that whatever I could eat while on duty was fair game. Large sea scallops and breaded oysters were a favorite out of the toaster oven; two pound lobsters were summarily tossed into the steamer. 10 minutes later I'd retire to the freezer to wolf down my prize. Customers would be calling from the counter; I'd emerge with mouth still full, butter dripping down my chin.  Should've just opened a mini restaurant on the spot...

Coming to a theater near you: Killer Trout.
Women would request freshly butchered trout from the large fish tank, then retire to another part of the store while I did the evil deed. I'd knock them out with a large mallet, chop their heads off and clean them. Sometimes they'd still be quivering while I wrapped them up. One night I dreamt that our shower at home filled up with water, and was soon teeming with live trouts that had teeth like piranha, nipping at my legs.

I used to place the live lobsters in paper bags, but yesterday this employee folded the tail under the chest cavity, laid the beast on a styrofoam tray, and ran him under a stretch-wrap machine, slapping the UPC label on top. Now the lobster couldn't budge an inch, or get any air.

The carnivore's hypocritical conundrum had raised i'ts ugly head: I had every intention of boiling this creature alive, then literally ripping him lip from limb for my greedy consumption...yet I was concerned he might be suffering in this styrofoam wrapper. What had I done?

There were still a few stops to make for my work assignment, but I kept thinking about the severely constrained crustacea in my trunk. Was it possible for a lobster to get a charlie horse? As a fellow long-legged creature who had flown coach his entire life, I knew the agony of prolonged constricture.

I arrived home and anxiously freed the lobster from his mummified plastic enclosure. Small bubbles were gurgling from his mouth; a few legs tentatively flexed. I grabbed a butcher knife and plunged it into the gap between carapice and head, killing the creature instantly.

While Mr. Lobster sat steaming on my stove, I melted some butter and lemon, reflecting on my cold, depraved existence. I had taken another small step forward towards my inevitable Karmic undoing, staring into the murderous, bloody abyss of my own carnal cravings.

I retrieved the now pink lobster from its pot, placed it on a large plate, and cracked open the larger of the two claws. Taking that first sumptuous bite, I arrived at a comforting, overly-simplistic conclusion: something that tastes so heavenly cannot possibly send me to the depths of hell. Bon Apetit!