30 October 2007

Skank It Up, Ladies!

So Teen Demon calls the other day from Value Village. For those shoppers not acquainted with funky chic, Value Village is a huge thrift store. Halloween is the one time of year when they also get new items in - costumes, tights, masks, hair paint, crowns, capes, sabers, you name it. They are Halloween Central for the bargain shopper.

Teen Demon went to procure a suitable Halloween costume to fest things up at her place of employment. She slings fish part time at a local fast food seafood joint.

Anyway, my phone rings:

Annoying T-Mobile jingle!

Me: Hello?

Teen Demon: So, I'm here at Value Village, and I can't find a costume.

Me: How can you possibly not find a costume at Value Village? They're the holy grail of costume outlets.

Teen Demon: Yeah, if you're a guy. The costumes for girls are either slutty or Goth. Or both. Yeah. It's like, I can be a French Maid, a nurse, or witch that basically looks like a prostitute. They're really skanky.

Me: Oh, that.

Teen Demon: They should just go ahead and make a costume called "Skank Ho".

Me: 'Tis the season to be skanky.

Teen Demon: Pretty much. The guys get all the cool costumes, and they can even stay warm in theirs. They have cool masks and hello, the costumes actually cover their arms and legs. This is stupid.

Me: Maybe get a guy costume?

Teen Demon: Yeah right, like I want to be Frankenstein. I just want a normal cute costume that's not a slutty. Maybe I'll just get a little kid's pumpkin or Raggedy Ann costume.
Photo from Post Secret, discovered by Teen Demon

She ended up getting a pirate costume, which was very cute. Still a bit alarming for her mother, but yes, I'm fully aware that's my issue, due to the fact that she's flippin' gorgeous and a burlap sack would still look too good on her in her mother's opinion. Yeah, whatever, shut up -- you try having a daughter who looks like Teen Demon and see how long you hold onto that progressive and open-minded attitude. Those nasty boys circle around like jackals eyeing a kill. What's good for the goose is definitely not good for the gosling here, people. Not until she's 30.

Her costume was good though, very piratey. Her pseudo-Aunt, (previously referred to here as either My Bitch or that cynical Sicilian lurker) lent her some above-the-knee lace up leather boots that went perfectly with it - she looked great.

Of course, those boots have seen more stories than you'll ever find out about on this blog. I am not even joking. But that's another story. (Start a blog, you lurker.)

So it got me thinking about Halloween costumes and the whole gender thing. That's right, kids! We're hopping back on board the gender train! Halloween costumes are very different for men and women. It's like the costume makers are saying, "Hey gals, now that inner slutty girl we you secretly want you to be can come out with no repercussions!"

And actually ... there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not here to get all Taliban about sexy costumes. Nothing wrong with feeling hot. I think a lot of women appreciate the occasional excuse to indulge in slutting it up a bit. Yours truly included. What's more fun than Halloween in a mini skirt, knee-high black boots, and a cat tail? Meow.

What's not OK is when it becomes an expectation rather than an option.

It's not so fun when 9 out of 10 "girl costumes" at the costume mega-store involve you displaying your wares, when you're not about displaying them. Especially when the "guy costumes" actually show some creativity and imagination. And keep them warm.

Some of the names, too, just scream MALE FANTASY! Like Fallen Angel just above, with the black Goth wings. And hot boots. The witch up at the top of the page? Candy Corn Witch. Yummy! And this little lady to your right is not a Pirate, oh no, not even a Lady Pirate. No sir, this here's the Captain's Wench, maties. Ruffled, for his pleasure.
Oh, and who do we have here? Why, it's the Heavenly Devil! Madonna-Whore, anyone? *Yawn* Some imagination please, guys.
As a mother of teenaged girls, I must admit that Sexy Scholar down there causes me to morph into a downright prude. And Cowbell is not usually about the prudery. Come on guys, don't you have nieces or daughters? I don't know why the school girl fantasy is such a big one. Grown women too intimidating? The lure of flesh unspoiled by rivals too appealing? Or is your ego loving the fact that - since she doesn't know what she's doing - she'll think you're a sex god? If it's that whole Daddy figure thing, seriously, go get therapy, dude. Yes, 15 is a child.

And I won't even go into how all the models here are young skinny blonde white chicks. Oh, I take that back - Heavenly Devil is a young skinny brunette white chick. My bad. You can bet that my ass is not squeezing into one of those costumes, that's for damn sure. Somehow I doubt that the Candy Corn Witch costume has the same effect in a one-size-fits-all version.

I was talking to the Radical Bohemian about it on the phone, and she brought up an excellent point: guy costumes are about anonymity. Guy costumes mask the wearer, literally.

Guy costumes are also largely about power or fear. Monsters, psychos, superheroes, prisoners, muscle men, biker dudes, pirates, wizards ... characters that allow men to feel powerful or to inspire fear or respect in others. Anonymously.
Women's costumes, by contrast, are not anonymous, they are about revealing us. They are not about power, they are about availability and packaging us up in a way that appeals to typical male fantasies.

Sexy costumes and scary costumes are both fun, in different ways. So why not spread the love?

Costume manufacturers: more imaginitive - and warm - costumes for women that do not revolve around your fantasies, please. And try to not to be too disappointed when I want a scary costume that covers me from head to toe. And more sexy costumes for the mens, please. Can we get just some options and equity when tricking and treating? Is that so much to ask?

28 October 2007

Tonka: Built for Boyhood!

I've got toys on my mind. No, not toys for grown-up ladies, you naughty freaks. Toys for kids. Specifically, girl toys and boy toys.

Gender-specific toys.

Our favorite Big Ass Belle recently posted about "girl toys" by PLAYSKOOL. Meaning, of course, pink and flowery toys that revolve around, what else?


Lynette's Girl Toys post brought to mind a Tonka commercial I saw recently, advertising their toys which are "built for boyhood". Yep, Tonka is Celebrating 60 Years of Boyhood! It turns out Hasbro is the parent company of both Tonka and PLAYSKOOL.

That's right, PLAYSKOOL, of Rose Petal fame, and Tonka, built for boyhood, wedded together to helpfully model gender-appropriate play. How precious. The commercials for PLAYSKOOL's Rose Petal Cottage include this sugary sweet melody:

I love when my laundry gets so clean,
Taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream!
In Rose Petal Cottage, my home,
A place of my very own!

So "taking care of my home" is the dream, dream, dream PLAYSKOOL wants for Teen Demon and the Bohemian? Because they're girls? I'm sorry, but washing socks and mopping crusty bits off the floor isn't exactly what I dreamed of for them while watching them sleep in their cribs.

It's sure as hell not what they're dreaming of for themselves. I know this because of the dirty socks and crusty bits on their floors.  No interest.  They could a Rose Petal attitude adjustment, come to think of it ...

At Hasbro.com, we learn that the Rose Petal Cottage
empowers preschool girls to use their imagination inside and around their very own play space, featuring everything they need to role-play alone or with friends.

From baking muffins to washing clothes to caring for their dolls, girls now have a place where they can set their imaginations free.
"Everything" a girl needs to set her imagination free? Is there no one in their marketing department without a penis? See, this is what happens when there's no diversity in hiring, people.  Maybe a toy kitchen is one thing to set imagination free.  And guess what, Tonka, my son loved the hell out of his toy kitchen.

And Tonka. Here's what their current commercial has to say about our future heads of households:

Boys! What can you say? They're just built different.
And now ... they can play their way!
It's built around what he does naturally. It's a shape sorter - or not!
Then, it helps him learn to walk. And chase!
Then [it's] his own sweet ride - from baby to big boy. All in one toy.
Let's face it; boys are built different.
And Tonka's got the blueprint.

Built different?  (Also, differently*, Tonka.  Adverb.)

So ... boys "naturally" exercise their minds and bodies by sorting shapes, running and chasing, while girls need nothing more than a pink playhouse to serve as "an entire world where your little girl can play, discover and explore."

Entire world?

Trouble with that is, the world they want my little girl to discover and explore is comprised of only a laundry room, nursery and kitchen. Probably she'll be expected to clean up after Tonka-boy, since he's shown tracking mud all through the house in his commercial, while mom smiles indulgently.

I find this purposeful gender-based marketing very disturbing. The unspoken gender expectations are ingrained so deeply within our society, it's virtually impossible to avoid them. So when toy companies purposefully SAY things like "boys are built different" and "taking care of my home is a dream, dream, dream", it leaves no doubt in kids' minds as to what's expected of them. What is "normal".

When toy companies purposely perpetuate gender roles, that pisses me off, because they're making my job harder as a parent.

If my little boy believes certain activities are more suited for him, likewise he will develop the belief that other activities and expectations are more suited for the girls and women in his life. Not only will he feel comfortable playing with trucks or light sabers, he'll also feel comfortable expecting the girls in his life not to do those things.

Tonka has told him that trucks are "built for boys". If I do nothing to balance the messages Tonka and PLAYSKOOL are sending him, he may one day feel comfortable with his mother, sisters, or wife in their Rose Petal kitchens, making that sandwich for him while he's out in the living room watching the game.

Um, no.

Male Offspring knows that females are all about watching the game. He would no sooner expect me to hit the kitchen before half-time than he would expect me to sprout wings and fly.

So, what about little Suzy, careening her Tonka truck around the living room? What about the little boy who loves playhouse tea parties and hates mud? How do they feel after seeing these commercials? Especially little Johnny. Society can deal with a tomboy, but a girlieman? Not so much. Chances are, Johnny will soon learn to keep that shit under wraps and play with the damn truck. At least when people are watching.

Both of them are getting a clear message about what it means to be a "normal" girl or boy.

My kids had gender-specific toys, sure.

Teen Demon was a wild hellion in her day. She loved her Little Tykes kitchen, and her pink doll stroller -- pink is still her favorite color -- and the girl bakes like, well, a demon. But, she also rode her Tonka truck like demolition derby time. She personally brought out my appreciation for that whole Tonka Tough thing, before Male Offspring ever came on the scene. She had a toy tool belt that she wore everywhere. With pink hiking boots. She didn't take any guff from little boys.

Yes, Male Offspring loved him some trucks and 'dozers. Tonka would've loved to have his rough-and-tumble boy-behind in their commercials. He was all about the boy toys. They probably would've cut scene, though, when he came clacking onto the set in his sisters' dress up clothes, sporting a pink tutu, white gloves and pearls with a purple straw hat. He adored the pastel pink Little Tykes Cottage. Especially talking on the toy phone, which should've given me some warning as to the boy's future cell phone addiction.

So yeah, my kids loved their girl toys and boy toys. Not like you can really avoid it. Nevertheless, according to Tonka & PLAYSKOOL, my kids were a bit confused as as to proper play for their respective genders.

Well, fear not - no more fretting over ambiguous gender behavior! Tonka, in order to help you navigate the gender divide, has helpfully provided Parenting Advice for Boys.

(Hey, Tonka, I'm pretty sure you meant to give parenting advice to parents of boys, not the little tykes themselves, right? How much do you pay your editor?)
Anyway, if your little darling sports a penis, don't worry, Mom, help is on the way:

Little boys can seem like alien creatures, especially to Moms who were raised as little girls! So to help you speak "boy language," here are some tips from Lawrence Cohen, PhD, Playskool Advisor and author of Playful Parenting.
Heavens! How did I ever manage to raise Male Offspring without learning to speak "boy language"? No worries - Doc Lawrence has tips to help clueless moms decipher their little boys:

(Yes, this shit is actually up at the Tonka site )
9-18 months: During this stage, your son will be learning all about himself, including what it means to be a boy... you can keep the emotional connection going by having your own truck that rolls alongside his (or sometimes gently crashes into his!).
My own truck? Are you sure, Lawrence, because ... I'm a girl. I'm "built different".

2-3 yrs: This is also the stage where "boy humor" begins; this type of humor--filled with jokes about body parts and bodily functions ... seems to be a product of some combination of boy biology and boy social training.
So fart jokes come from "boy biology"? What does that even mean? Is there a gene for fart jokes?

3-5 yrs: Some mothers try to eliminate every expression of aggression from boys’ play, but that doesn’t work--and besides, if we got rid of all aggressive stories, we’d have to exclude stories from Shakespeare, the Bible, and even history books!
The Bible? How'd that get slipped into a toy site?

And get this:
All Ages & Stages: Recognize that your son is absorbing all sorts of information from TV and movies, including many messages about what is expected from boys and men. The media -- and our own expectations -- can give boys the wrong idea that there is only one very narrow definition of masculinity.
No shit, Lawrence! Media like ... Tonka commercials and this website, asshat! How did they not catch that?

I call bullshit, Tonka. This guy should not be giving parenting advice. You should not be paying him.

So ...

---What if ... all types of play were presented as a choice for all kids? Without the frilly pink or tough blue packaging.

---What if nobody thought a thing about Johnny having tea party with his teddy bears, or playing with playhouse dolls?

---What if Suzy could play Pop Warner football or collect model cars instead of Barbies ... without being called a tomboy, without folks assuring her mom she'll "grow out of it"?

---Maybe then, Johnny grows up to be a sous chef in some fancyass restaurant. Or an awesome stay at home dad who knows how to fix a furnace and connect with his kids. Maybe Suzy fixes cars or runs a corporation.

---And maybe, if that were the case, taking care of a home might truly be seen as an option for both genders, not an expectation for one. In which case, it would probably be valued a lot more than it is now. Then role models - and advertising - for kids would be a whole lot different.

Maybe then Suzy feels OK being a cheerleader ...
... and a football player.
And maybe her brother grows up thinking his sister is pretty cool, and not necessarily girlie ...

...because he remembers
carrying that cheerleader's
football pads.

Yes, as a matter of fact, that was a shameless excuse to post cute pics of Teen Demon and Male Offspring. But there is a related point:

Teen Demon recently found out that her school no longer allows male cheerleaders. What? Apparently, there used to be guys on the football/basketball cheer squad. (Teen Demon cheers for wrestling - because the football/b'ball squad is a bunch of Barbie-bitches. According to her.) But the advisor - an adult - decided she didn't want guys on the squad about three years back.

What's sad is Teen Demon actually knows a couple of guys who would like to cheer. And, she said, it would actually make a better cheer squad, on account of the awesome stunts they'd be able to do with guys in the mix.

Male Offspring was in the room during this conversation, and he didn't snicker or make faces. What he said was, "That sucks. If girls can do wrestling and football, it's not fair that guys can't cheer. That's just dumb."

No, son, it's not fair, and it is dumb. I'm glad the kids were bothered by this, rather than thinking "cheerleading's for girls". If it were up to Hasbro, however, that would've been a different conversation.

And that's what's pissing me off about these commercials.

25 October 2007

Shock Value

So, as far as the burning outlet fiasco, the electricity is working fine. [hastily pounds wood]

Wait ... that didn't sound right, but I'm leaving it because y'all are a bunch of freaks.

I know this because in my last post, the thing that apparently resonated in your heads was my one flip comment about my ass. Bring up the subject of assage, and you all are on it.

And in response, yes, my ass has been known to cause many a man (and a few of the ladies) to swoon. Someone once called it Helen of Troy. Unfortunately, within the last couple of years, my ass has moved beyond healthy, corn-fed, thick, bodacious, and other euphamisms, right on out the other side. In fact, these days it's more like just Troy. It did have its glory days, though...

Anyway, the dryer outlet has been replaced, and is holding steady. It was just the outlet, not the wiring. Yesss. I had asked the head of maintenance at my workplace to recommend a cheap/honest electrician. He offered to come take a look himself, since I live right up the road from my place of employment. Or maybe because there are no cheap/honest electricians. So, no more laundromat, no more stringing clothes around the house, like before I moved back to the States. How quickly we get spoiled! We will no longer be drying clothes when no one is home, however, because I'm mean and paranoid like that. We narrowly averted a wall-fire, and we have dogs.

I'm considering building a shrine to the home improvement gods, and making periodic sacrifices. If knocking on wood doesn't work.

20 October 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode III

Episode III: The Smoking Outlet

In Episode I, Colder Than A Witch's Tit, we watched Cowbell tackle home heating issues in the crawlspace.

Episode II, Snakes in a Drain, found the Cowbell family in a race against nature while battling blocked pipes.

Tonight, watch Cowbell scramble for the breaker box in today's shocking conclusion, The Smoking Outlet.

You know that old saying about bad things coming in threes? Yeah. But first, an update on that furnace bullshit from episode one.

So I spent an entire day on the furnace problem. The special order filters arrived. I measured, cut, wrapped, clamped, and dragged the whole maddening mess down to that coldass bitch called a furnace. The hammock didn't want to slide back in exactly right. Turns out I had the clamps on backward. The door didn't want to screw back on. I used a lot of duct tape on the door. There was cursing involved, and yes, some kicking. Not hard -- couldn't really draw back for a big wind up, given the limited space.

Also, I got that hole in the duct work repaired, which was a real bitch. It took hours and involved using a metal thing shaped like a Popsicle stick to reach the areas my fingers couldn't. You try getting duct tape into a space that small without it sticking in the wrong place, while achieving an airtight seal, and see how cheery your ass stays. I tried to pry off part of the wall to give me more room to work, only to find my insulation is not the modern-day, pink fiberglass style with a cartoon character on the back. My insulation is old school. As in sawdust. Prying off the wall would mean losing my insulation. Thus the Popsicle-stick method.

But it was done. I was sore, my hands were torn up, and I was pissy as hell, but it was done. And I didn't have to pay the furnace guy. Score! We were more than ready for some heat.

Ten minutes later, the power went out.

Seattle does not weather wind storms well. The power did not come back on until the next day. Our house, of course, had not even built up any residual heat to hold onto. All that work, for naught.

Remembering last year's big wind storm, I dragged Teen Demon back under the house with me to wrap the water heater in the special water-heater blanket, so we could at least hold onto the hot water for a while. That was another hour and a half, more cursing, more duct tape. No kicking. You try custom cutting fiberglass shit hunched over in a dark crawl space with a neurotic dog pacing and howling overhead, and see how foul-mouthed you get.

Anyway. That's how the heating thing went down. The drains are steady and holding.

Which brings us to Episode III in this little DIY saga. So last week, I smell this plasticky, icky smell in my room. It's 4am, Teen Demon is waking my disoriented ass up to take her to the airport for a college visit. (They flew her out, trying to recruit her ass. Score, Teen Demon.) I noticed the smell, but forgot about it. A couple of days after, I go up to bed, same smell, but stronger. Like burning plastic. I narrow it down to my electrical outlet. Being no fool, I immediately unplug the lamp and go for my flashlight. (After the furnace and water heater fun, I'm surprised it has any juice left, but it does.) In the narrow beam of the flashlight, I see smoke coming out of my outlet.

Great. Fucking great.

So all that money I saved not calling the plumber and the furnace guy will now be added to even more money to call an electrician, the most powerful of all the Home Improvement Cadre.

Using my powers of observation and deduction, I realize that both episodes happened when the dryer was running. The dryer is in the garage, directly below my outlet. It's supposed to be a dedicated 220v outlet. (pleaseplease tell me some past homeowner didn't try splice into that line to create the outlet in my room...) The burning smell and the smoke were rising up through the wall and coming through my outlet. Now, I can replace a regular outlet -- I put in a GFCI outlet in the kitchen last year -- but that's regular 110v. electricity. Ain't no way in hell I'm messing with the 220v. electricity on that dryer. I got shocked by 220 once in Germany. Don't want to relive that.


So we've been hanging out at the laundromat. In all our spare time. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion of ... This Old Motherfucking House. Actually, don't even let me tell that lie. The conclusion won't be until I sell this bitch. So stay tuned for further updates and comic relief. Yeah. Fun times.

08 October 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode II

Episode II: Snakes in a Drain

I was just saying the other day, in the midst of my furnace frenzy, that I'd make a great reality show: some chick living in a tiny, old house she can barely afford and doesn't know how to fix. I was thinking This Old Shithole of a House, but I actually like this better. It's snappy. If anyone can hook me up with a producer, let me know.

Screw that, if any of you can hook me up with a friggin' handyman, let me know. And I do mean hookup in every sense of the word. Including the biblical sense.  But that whole plumber's butt thing is a definite no-go, people. Just so you know.

Anyway, after I wrote about my furnace woes, my drains backed up. Not just the sink, no, we're talking toilet and shower here, baby. When my house gets rebellious, it doesn't screw around.

Did I mention I only have one bathroom?

While in the process of purchasing this "cozy" one bathroom house, I foolishly thought that the scheduling of the shower was the main thing to consider. Yeah. I know. I did, to my credit, also consider those occasions where the toilet might be in high demand. My family, however, is not prone to gastric distress -- go vegetarian, people -- so I dismissed that worry. I figured, work out the shower schedule, we're home free. While my house appreciated wildly, thanks to the booming housing market.

Yeah, I'm a regular friggin' Pollyanna.

For any of you who have not foolishly traipsed down this road before, let me save you the trouble: the main consideration when moving into a one-bathroom home, is not "how will we work out the shower schedule?" No. It's "what the hell will we do when there's a problem with the shower?"  Better yet, (you know where I'm going here) the toilet?


Here are some snippets of family talk at Cowbell's house over the weekend:

Teen Demon: So, is the toilet okay yet?

Me: Ummm...

Teen Demon: Did that clog remover stuff work?

Me: Can't you wait a while longer? It said to wait six hours.

Teen Demon: It said 30 minutes.

Me: That was for the super-max power clog-remover gel. This is some enzyme stuff to degrade all organic material.

Teen Demon: Eew. So, like ... when?

Me: Aren't you working today? What time do you go to work?

Teen Demon went to work in a bit of a rush. I went to Lowe's, again, for more supplies and a trip to their lovely restroom. Male Offspring doesn't have a job, and it wasn't a school day. I don't know why I didn't take him to Lowe's with me.

Male Offspring: So, can I use the bathroom?

Me: Ummm.... to do what?

Male Offspring: Are you kidding me right now?

Me: It's dark. Come on, you're a guy ... can't you just go outside?

Male Offspring: (gawking) Are you kidding me?!?

Then there was the shower. In the process of trying to clear the drains, we attacked both tub and toilet with the plunger. One of the offspring plunged the tub. You know who got stuck with the toilet. I came in later to find rust, black flakes, hair, and something that looked like The Blob in the bathtub.

Well, what were we supposed to do with it? It's not like we can rinse it down the drain!

Kids are always helpless when it comes to crap like that, but remarkably ingenious when coming up with logistical arrangements for going to the dance or to see Superbad for the fifth time.

It's been 96 hours since my last shower, folks. Good thing I'm single. Even after 96 hours, though, it was no relief. Turn the water on, get wet, turn it off. Shampoo with the water off. Rinse, fast. Shampoo again, because my hair was a friggin' oil slick by this time. Rinse, fast. Soap up, condition hair. Rinse, faster.

That would've been bad enough, but to add to the frivolity, it was a frigid 58* in my house this morning, because ... oh yeah, I can't turn my heat on yet. You've heard that saying, colder than a witch's tit? I'm pretty sure I know how cold that is.

Yeah, my shower did not resemble those steamy relaxing commercials where some smiling, skinny chick massages her sudsy tresses with her eyes closed, while virtual flowers float around her. Not even a little bit.

06 October 2007

This Old MotherFucking House: Episode I

Episode I: Colder Than a Witch's Tit

Welcome to the TOMFH Series. Coming soon to the DIY channel.

It's cold. And I can't turn my heat on. Actually, I don't want to turn my heat on, because it is madcrazy expensive to heat my house, despite these facts:
1) my house is tiny
2) my house has newer, double-pane, vinyl windows
3) my house has a programmable thermostat, which goes down to 57* at night and while we're at work/school
4) this is Seattle, not Minnesota or Siberia. It only gets so cold, people.

Regardless, I can't turn my heat on yet, even if I wanted to start pulling gold doubloons out of my ass to hand over to the the local Public Utility District. Yes, its acronym is PUD. Those of you from my generation and/or with Midwestern roots, go ahead and have yourself a good snicker at that.

My house was built in '55. It was owned by a little old lady with an incontinent little dog for ages. Before I moved in, it was owned by a single dad who put everything he had down and bought the house as an investment. He had it two years and made $100K. Thus was the housing market in Seattle. I borrowed money from my dad, thinking to get in on this lucrative deal, live tight for a few years, and possibly retire before I am 93.

The first weekend in the house, the newspaper headline screamed HOUSING CRASH! Fuck. See, this stuff never works for me. Houses in my neighborhood now sit on the market for months with "Price Reduced!" signs on the lawn. Retirement is still on schedule for sometime mid twenty-first century. But I digress.

We did rip up the carpets, by the way. That was one nastyass little dog. At some point, I need to learn how to refinish wood floors, and replace the trim. I also have to redo the the single "cozy" bathroom if I ever hope to sell. I've already replaced the toilet (don't ask), but the 80s cheap wood fixtures remain, along with the linoleum, cracked sink bowl, and peach paint. The brown & olive laminate kitchen countertops will have to go too, along with the oft-painted kitchen cabinets and their coats of many colors.

Again, I digress. This house is just one bigass digression.

In order to change the furnace filter, one must first descend through the Portal to the Unknown at the back of the garage:

Once through the Portal, look left to see the water heater, also conveniently located sub-daylight. The passageway to the furnace is just beyond the water heater, another left:
The photo, cheerily illuminated by camera flash, is misleading. In reality, the crawlspace has more of a horror movie ambiance. You know, where the ditzy blond cheerleader goes down into the creepy cellar alone? Like that.

So, head on down past the water heater, and hang a left into this creepy passageway:
At this point, I am in full-on crawl mode. No crouching in the furnace passageway, no chance of a fast get-away. Luckily, I have yet to see any rats, possums, or the Undead. It's dark as fuck back in the furnace passageway. A flashlight is not a luxury in the bowels of my house's underworld, folks.

Finally I reach my objective. The furnace. Seen here in all its glory, innards exposed:

That cage, wrapped in blue, surrounding the motor is the "hammock". The blue is the actual filter. Right. Those framed rectangular filters that slide into a slot on the side of your furnace? The one conveniently located in your utility closet? Yeah, I can't use those. My furnace requires a specialty filter, called a "hammock filter". Of course it does. These usually come in rolls and, I learned, must be special ordered.

This most definitely is your father's furnace filter.

Here's how it works: cut a length from the filter roll, wrap it around the hammock, attach both ends to said hammock by screwing on the special "hammock clamps", and slide the whole shebang back around the motor.

Here is a photo from last fall, when I first discovered all of this. Behold, the previous owner's disgusting hammock filter:

The filter is actually a green-blue shade. That grey fluff? Dust. Filth. All manner of allergens, carcinogens, and all around funk. Nasty! How many decades was dude working that filter?! Actually, the previous owner rarely used the heat, so I suspect Nastyass Little Dog's owner wasn't one for crawling through the Portal of the Unknown. She probably died of Lung Funk. Which could, actually, explain the state of the carpets; who knows how long Fifi had to wait to be rescued.

Here is a picture of the hammock with the filter I had rigged up last year. This was taken yesterday. After a year of use:
Yeah, big difference. "But Cowbell," you may ask, "Why is one of the hammock clamps right smack in the center of the hammock? Aren't they supposed to be on the ends?" Why yes, and they would be, if this were an actual "hammock filter". Which it isn't.

See, last year, I didn't know shit about hammock filters. I didn't even know they were called hammock filters, let alone that they came on rolls, so when I went to Home Depot and Lowe's, no one knew what the hell I was talking about. They looked at me like I was crazy. Or stupid. One asshat even suggested I "have my husband take a look at it." Bastard. Fuck you, Mr. Macho, Middle-Aged, Home Depot guy. You probably still live at home with your mom. Why don't you have her take a look at it? Orange-apron-wearing assclown.

I tried the Internet, but, didn't turn up anything with search terms like furnace cage, wrap-around filter, extra large furnace filter, metal filter holder, filter cage, stupid motherfucking non-existent Methuselah-assed furnace filter ...

I came up blank.

Anyway, we had to have heat, so I bought the two biggest filters I could find (not from Apron Guy), used one of the hammock clamps to connect them in the middle, cleverly fastened the end corners with two of Teen Demon's hair clips, and called it a day, as shown in the photo above.

This year, I have hammock filters on order. I should've ordered them sooner. It doesn't matter though, because I couldn't turn on my heat even if I had them in hand. That's because I discovered this: It's a hole. In one of the heating air ducts. It seems someone in my house's past decided heat was needed in the garage. They cut through the wall of the garage, directly into the furnace ductwork, and put that vent in. When dude sold the house to me, however, he didn't repair it. He just closed the vent, covered that shit right up with some wood, foil, and duct tape, and called it a day.

Now I know why my heating bills were so high.

I can't get to the hole from under the house, so I'll have to tear off the wall panel (which may involve moving the workbench, which I believe is bolted to the wall), attach a piece of sheet metal with a specific type of screw (being careful not to collapse the duct), seal it with some heat-safe crap, insulate it, and replace the wall panel. I just love doing that stuff when it's grey and cold.

Also, my rain gutter is hanging off of the house at one corner. The one corner of the house that is about 18 feet up. Of course.