While My Wallet Gently Weeps

money pit

Image credit: Universal Pictures

So I’ve been crunching the numbers and I think I’m finally getting a handle on why the budget for the home renovation project has come off the rails…

Bathroom lighting:  $175

Basement heating:  $400

Basement doors:  $150

Miscellaneous door knobs:  $120

Exterior lighting:  $165

Kitchen update:  $750

Laminate flooring /stair treads/pad:  $980

Interior doors:  $750

Garage firedoor:  $290

Front storm door:  $280

Closet doors:  $410

Trim/molding/transitions:  $550

Floor registers:  $45

Paint:  $375

Painting (labor, front room, stairs, landing):  $575

Toilets:  $430

Gas Fireplace:  $3800

Fireplace stone/adhesive:  $225

Patio Door:  $850

Master bath tile/adhesive/grout:  $140

Upstairs carpet:  $3000

Tools:  $295 (tile cutter, miter saw blade, finish nailer)

Tool rental:  $40

Gas (17 gozillion trips to Lowe’s and Home Depot):  $37,950

 

The Promise of Spring

reaper

Image credit: pinterest.com

I spent a good part of the day Sunday fiddling with the sprinkler system. This heralds the annual ritual of prepping for the long, hot summer ahead, adjusting spray patterns and replacing various parts that didn’t survive the winter (or the lawn mower). Just in time for the growing season. Which in my case begs the question, “Why bother?” For if the past can teach us anything, it’s that Curt plants and God laughs.

longgone

This is all that remains of…well, I honestly don’t even remember what the hell it was I planted here last year. All I know is that it preferred death over a second season in my care. So be it. Via con Dios. Next up, an Asiatic Lily, which beckoned with a cheerful, vibrant yellow/orange bloom at the store. At least one gardening website calls it a “hardy” flower that requires little care. That description notwithstanding, the betting line amongst my neighbors is offering 12 to 1 odds that it won’t make it to October.

The euonymus in the backyard has fought a valiant, if hopeless, battle since I first planted it half a decade ago, growing at a glacial pace. But now it is somehow even smaller than it was last year, leading me to believe that it may have begun some strange reverse aging process, in the manner of Benjamin Button.

two eunys

I sent an email to the horticultural specialists at Colorado University offering them an opportunity to observe this unprecedented phenomenon, but received only a terse reply assuring me that Mulder and Scully would be out shortly to investigate.

I have no answers, nor am I looking for them any more. This power I wield simply is, like Superman’s laser-vision. And as with any true superhero, I even have my own costume. But do you have any idea how difficult it can be to mow the grass while draped in that long black robe and dragging that scythe around?

Technology’s Finest Hour

tp roll

Image credit: chooseaninspiredlife.com

Alright, I’m calling it – the machines have won. The unraveling of Western Civilization is at hand. And it didn’t take Skynet with its implacable Austrian cyborgs from the future to bring our demise, or even self-driving cars for that matter. Nope, our end has come quietly, on the mechanized hum of a toilet paper dispenser.

Don’t get me wrong – technology can be a wonderful thing. Contact lenses can now monitor a person’s blood sugar levels. Drones will soon deliver my Amazon purchases right to my door. I can peek into my fridge from my smartphone (though I can’t for the life of me figure out why I would want to). Yet for every yin, there is a yang. In this case, it is facial recognition capabilities that have run amuck. Trumpeted as a tool of law enforcement meant to help catch bad guys, bean-counters have already found a way to turn it against us. A firm in China (not surprisingly) has come up with a machine that uses the technology to dole out toilet paper in public restrooms. You stand in front of the dispenser and look into a screen for three seconds in order to receive your ration of bum-wipe – all 27 inches of it. If you’re a ‘square-counter,’ that’s a little less than seven sections.

One can only wonder how many sadists/executives seated around the boardroom conference table it took to arrive at that amount.

So it has come to this – the measure of humanity has been reduced to 27 inches of starched bathroom ‘tissue’ with the consistency of 80-grit sandpaper. And the machines will show no mercy, even when we might be at our most vulnerable. Once you’ve presented yourself and been issued the allotted amount – meager though it may be – the dispenser knows who you are and will lock you out, shutting down any further attempts to procure additional toilet paper. So if it’s an emergency, you’ll need to recruit a cadre of friends, co-workers, even passers-by to parade past the viewer in order to keep the supply coming. And if it’s spitting out that gossamer one-ply stuff that disintegrates when you so much as look at it, well, you should probably be prepared to sacrifice an article or two of clothing.

They claim this was instituted as a money-saving measure. That the tried and true ‘honor system’ was no longer working, that people were stealing toilet paper. But rather than set a few rolls of what is obviously the cheapest paper on the planet aside for those who might be in need, the restroom Nazis upped the ante (and no doubt the cost) by choosing a different solution. So now the machines, these collections of circuitry and gears that never contracted the flu or ate bad Thai food or were caught unawares by a rouge shart, have become the arbiters of hygiene. Look, all living things share a certain commonality, embodied by the phrase “I poop, therefore I am.” Wiping, however, is what separates us from the animals (except, of course, for dogs, who insist on butt-dragging on the Persian rug). And what separates us from the machines is knowing when the paperwork is truly done.

From now it looks like I’ll be doing my business at home. While waiting for the barbarians at the gate.

My Motorcycle – Ride the (not so) Wild Wind

gs1100

While the rest of the blogging world tackles the A to Z challenge, Almost Iowa has thrown down one of his own. Here, then, is my entry in his My Stuff Challenge… 

Spring has arrived on the Front Range, and with temps in the 70s it’s time to pull the cover off my motorcycle and see if I can still shift gears and chew gum at the same time.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m another old guy with a crotch-rocket. Don’t look now, but it appears the Hell’s Angels were the victims of a hostile takeover by the AARP. These days Bike Week in Sturgis more closely resembles an episode of the Golden Girls than it does Sons of Anarchy. You know it’s bad when the biggest drug problem at the event is trafficking in unprescribed Flomax.

Chalk it up to brilliant marketing. They tell us the cure for a spreading paunch and receding hairline is sixteen-hundred cubic centimeters of thundering metal between our legs. And judging by the number of sixty-somethings walking around in ass-less chaps and American flag dew-rags, we believe them. Once stricken by what is referred to as ‘Peter Fonda syndrome,’ former bankers and insurance salesmen are transformed into geriatric rebels without a cause, straddling twenty-thousand dollar cruisers, their silver locks fluttering in the wind. If you buy into the Harley-Davidson mystique, an overpriced motorcycle (along with thousands of dollars worth of logo-splashed accessories) is nothing short of the modern-day fountain of youth, making it so that even dentally-challenged guys with moobs and hairy backs can get laid. A couple of dagger tattoos, a leather vest, and you’re ready to roll. Don’t get too excited, though – it turns out having your taint in such close proximity to all that pulsating horsepower still may not be enough to raise the dead so don’t forget to pack the Viagra.

Now, I’m not simply jumping on the bandwagon here…I’ve actually done this before. I owned a Honda 350 back in the days before designer saddle-bags and fairings with 6-speaker sound systems, but it may as well have been a Moped compared to these modern-day behemoths. Bikers used to travel in packs for the protection that came with having a few buddies around who knew how to swing a crow bar when things got dicey, but now it’s more for road service…if one of them drops their bike, it will take five grown men and a gorilla to get it upright again.

And, no, I don’t own a Harley…I figure the extra money I’m saving will come in handy when my next of kin are picking out a casket for me, after I lose control of my “steed” on a mountain road because of my reduced eye-to-hand coordination and go sailing off a switchback into oblivion.

At the moment I ride an old-school Suzuki…very old school, as in circa 1984. As a point of reference, they were assembling this bike while listening to Cyndi Lauper’s ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and Wham’s ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ (at least the Japanese versions of those tunes). It still has plenty of pep but admittedly lacks a little in the ‘cool’ department. Still, if I’m ever in the market for a new bike, I plan to avoid anything that looks like the space shuttle or, say, a praying mantis. I’m simply having a mid-life crisis, okay, not auditioning for a role in the next Batman movie.

No, it should be tastefully low-key…just a few flames painted on the gas tank. On second thought, maybe a pair of muscle-laden women – draped only in bandoleers and chains – throwing lightning bolts from their freakishly large breasts, standing on either side of a giant human skull that has a bloody snake emerging from either eye socket. But that’s all.

The thing is, it’s really not about the bike. Hell, Marlon Brando could have been riding a Big Wheel in The Wild One – it didn’t matter. He was a bad-ass, even with that “Captain and Tennille” sailor hat. But your grandpa gliding along on his chrome-bedecked hog replete with pavement lights, a luggage trailer and Garth Brooks blaring from the stereo, not so much.

Of course, there’s an easy fix for the problem – just get the manufacturers to stop including electric starters as standard equipment. There’s no way grandpa will be able to kick-start that GoldWing after his hip-replacement surgery.

Airbnb and Me

boom

Image credit: Calvin and Hobbes

Here we go…gettin’ with the 21st century. Gonna book a few rooms on airbnb ‘cause it’s our anniversary and we’ve decided to celebrate with a little trip up in the mountains. ‘Springtime in the Rockies’ and all that stuff. Nothing too wild – just over to Granby for a night, then out to Steamboat Springs and back home. Hey, we’re old – don’t want to throw out a hip or anything. Looks like there are plenty of nice places to choose from here on the site. Do we want a pool, a hot tub, a room with a view, all of the above?

So there’s a nice one – fireplace, picture windows looking out over the lake, and not terribly expensive, either. Let’s book that one. I’ll just plug in the credit card info and – no, wait, my request got kicked back because I didn’t include a message to the owner? Really? Didn’t realize we had that sort of relationship. Okay, here’s a friendly greeting for them, even though we’re complete strangers. Now what? No, I don’t have an airbnb account. So let’s create one. Here’s my email address and my phone number. And here are the verification codes you just sent to make sure I’m not bullshitting anyone. Hey, it’s cool – no one wants to find bodies in the closet after they’ve rented to some rando off the interwebs. I get it. What’s this? Now you want a photo ID? Hmm. You people are starting to test not only my limits of patience but internet privacy, which basically state that ‘the less you put out there, the better.’ But since there’s no one here to argue with except my computer (and I’m being counted on to handle this task), I guess I’ll comply just this once.

So, I’ve snapped a picture of my driver’s license with my phone, sent it to my computer and downloaded it, and now I’ll upload it to the faceless drones at airbnb. Done. Hold on – you want to see the reverse side, too? I think that eye twitch is starting to act up again, but fine, here’s a lovely shot of the back of my driver’s license as well. And now my phone is dead – I hope you’re happy. But wait, there’s more? You’re still worried that I might be a sociopath, so now you want access to my facebook profile?!? WTF? Holiday Inn never feels the need to crawl this far up my ass with a microscope!

Deep breaths. It’s just your profile – information that’s already out there. So quit fuming and click on the big blue button. *click* By agreeing to this, you’ll be sharing your profile information, friends list, birthday, education and work history, previous addresses, sexual preferences, waist and shoe size, which hand you wipe with, voting records, tax returns from the last 7 years, and lineage dating back to the stone age. Urg! As the expletives begin to tumble from my lips, I see it – a link that allows me to edit what I’m sharing. YES! I’ll give up my profile in the name of safety, but the rest of these categories are no one’s damned business but mine, so I quickly uncheck everything else. A small victory, perhaps, but it’s what I need to cling to. Now I don’t feel so exposed as I click the ‘submit’ button.

I get that spinning circle for a moment followed by a rejection message in red letters – You don’t have enough activity on facebook for us to verify your identity. Would you like to upload a brief introductory video of yourself instead? Yeah, I’ll probably get started on that just as soon as I locate and reassemble all the pieces of my head now scattered hither and yon.

Happy anniversary! And ‘hello’ booking dot com, where an overnight stay requires no DNA.

The Meaning of Life

cane

These days, Michigan in winter seems to be nothing but gloom and gray. As a kid, my memories were decidedly cheerier – I recall more snow and less melancholy. Now the leaden clouds hang overhead for weeks at a time, sapping the barren world beneath of any vibrancy. What I imagine living in a black and white movie would be like.

So maybe it’s appropriate that I have left sunny Colorado to be here in February, in the ‘ancestral’ abode, sitting with my 94-year old mother as her life ever so slowly comes to a close. To make sure she doesn’t fall or otherwise injure herself, to make sure she gets three meals a day, to make sure she doesn’t forget to change her diaper.

Her house is equally gloomy. A tiny, 60s-era ranch, it has been neglected for years. Paint is peeling from the walls, thanks to her attempts to save money by closing off the heat registers in unused rooms. Those rooms are also crowded with the flotsam of her life – though she probably doesn’t qualify as a hoarder, she’s damned close. Stacks of books, old clothes, framed family pictures and accumulated bric-a-brac teeter precariously on dressers and fill every available corner. It feels nothing like the house where I grew up.

Her short-term memory has become just that – a memory. Patches, the dog, is the biggest beneficiary of this development, as mom tosses another scoop of food into the bowl every time she passes it. Of course, Patches can barely get around anymore because of her burgeoning weight. And there’s a cat, practically feral, that won’t come out of the basement if anyone other than my mother is in the house. Both animals shed copiously, and cleaning has never been mom’s strong suit. On a related note, you learn to check expiration dates on everything.

Knee and hip replacements, one each, didn’t provide the desired results and consequently she has been dealing with low-grade pain and decreasing stability for years. She also bristles at using a walker, so we have taken to hiding her canes in the hopes of forcing the issue. But despite our best efforts, she falls. A lot. A face-first tumble in the neighbor’s driveway a few months ago is what started this vigil. Her nose and lip required stitches, and we kids knew the time had come. My step-sister took the first month-long shift, then my brother, and now it’s my turn.

There is this thing she does with the TV remote control where she taps randomly (or at least it seems random) on the number buttons, causing the channels to change erratically every few seconds. She looks up on occasion to see the results of this frenetic activity before returning to her incessant pounding on the remote. When you ask her what in the hell she’s doing, she’ll tell you it’s a ‘game,’ though that is the extent of her explanation. And this goes on for hours. At first I found it maddening, but now I view it as a bit of a blessing, because when she isn’t thusly distracted she spends her days obsessing on a thousand other things – turning off lights, moving the milk from one side of the refrigerator to the other (and, later, back again), rearranging caches of outdated coupons, querying me about the origin of pens that have resided on her kitchen counters for decades.

A few years ago we intercepted a letter she was sending to the “lottery officials” in Jamaica that contained her $3,000 “deposit” required to claim her “prize.” There’s no telling how much went out the door prior to that. Despite having changed her number several times since then, it appears the word is out again. She can be talked into anything, and so the phone rings constantly, and at all hours. Magazine hucksters are the most common, as the piles of unread publications can attest. Better Homes and Gardens, Reader’s Digest, Good Housekeeping, Sierra, Woman’s Day, Popular Science, Shape, Hola (no, my mother is not bilingual). Do these people not have parents of their own?

Running a close second are the bean-counters at said publishing firms, trying to secure payment on what their sales scumbags have so shamelessly foisted on her. By the look of the statements from the collection agencies, the standard contract comes with a minimum five-year subscription, putting her on the hook for – as near as we can figure – somewhere north of $2,000. Another leech got her to purchase a pair of hearing aids, to the tune of about $1,700. What else may be lurking out there we can only guess at. One morning, the Medical Alert people called six times in the span of 45 minutes. It’s amazing how quickly the conversation ends when I identify myself as mom’s guardian, and then politely ask what the fuck I can do for them.

I know the woman who raised me is in there somewhere. Now and then, amidst the repeated questions about when I arrived or where the chili in the fridge came from (leftovers from the evening before), she will offer some obscure tidbit from the long-distant past, a happy recollection of better times. Or she will have a moment of searing self-awareness, where she’ll curse and bemoan how she wouldn’t wish her predicament on a dog. I can’t argue with her – this is not a life. On more than one occasion she has said that she is ready to go. Sadly, her body simply refuses to cooperate. And for those who tell me every breath is a precious gift from God, I would suggest that a compassionate God would not wish this on a dog either.