25 December 2007

The Children Are Nestled All Snug in Their Beds

I hope those visions of sugarplums are still dancing in their heads.

The house is quiet, only the Christmas lights and candles glowing, pine and cinnamon wafting through the air -- yeah, it's Yankee Candle, so what? I'm trying to trick my brain into falling asleep with some herbal tea. I think I overdid the cookies or something, as I seem to be on some sort of jittery sugar high.

This year I finished my wrapping early: 3:00am. The Christmas Eve wrapfest is the one thing I still miss, as far as the ex. Every year, after the kids went to bed, we'd stay up late wrapping presents and talking, Christmas tunes playing, eggnog heavy on the rum. Even after we split, once I moved back overseas, he still came over every Christmas Eve and we kept the tradition up, which was nice. We'd reminisce about Christmases past and get our eggnog on as we fought with wrapping paper and curling ribbons.

Wrapping by one's self is a real pain, because by the time it's finished, the kids are at the door, executing a flanking movement to invade my bed. They send in the dogs as reinforcements to wake me up at some ungodly hour, oblivious to the fact that my eyes are slits and I've clearly lost a battle with scotch tape and the blasted curling ribbons. Dogs and kids are always perky at an ungodly hour on Christmas morning. Dogs are pretty much perky at any given ungodly hour, as they can go from snoring to leaping and bouncing in about .05 seconds, Christmas or not. And kids, you'd think that by the time they're all between the ages of 15 and almost-20, the early morning wake up call would be a thing of the past. Um, no. Which, truth be told, is a good thing.

Well, speaking of ungodly hours, my tea has had the desired effect, and it's time for Santa's helper to hit the sheets for my allotted slumber.

Wishing you all very happy merriment and happy warm connections with your loved ones today and this season.

23 December 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode V

Episode V: Half Baked

My oven is broken. We nearly had an oven fire. There were no cinnamon rolls this morning, which was a damn shame, as we came in soaking wet from the park, and really could've used those cinnamon rolls with some hot coffee. My house still smells like wet dog.

The element broke. Completely. It's in two pieces, thanks to the white hot phosphorous explosion before I hit the circuit breaker. What the hell is it with me and Christmas? That sewer explosion in '05 should've covered me for life. And you all haven't even read the draft I started, which very nearly resulted in ginormous vet bills and/or a dead dog right before Christmas. Again. And I haven't even told you about the discrepancy with the plumbers bill. Oh, yes, their actual bill was quite a bit higher than Chuck's written "estimate". Fuck you, Chuck.

I'm on my way out to get the part. Not exactly the Christmas gift I would've bought myself, but whatever. Our oven is older than Methuselah's ass, so it will require much unscrewing and fastening of wires. No Plug-n-Play element here, not in the house of Cowbell.

GE does not post online repair manuals; they prefer that you order their manuals online for $17.95. I'm sorry, General Effing-Electric, but tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I don't have time to wait for your goddamn manual to arrive. We need macaroni and cheese tomorrow. Fuckers. Just tell me how to fix your oldass, brokeass oven.

I hope I can fix this POS. If not, I am going to be highly irate at ordering Pizza Hut for Christmas dinner. They'll probably be closed too. Bastards.

In other news:

Batman learned a new trick today, which I guess makes up for him almost dying with his foolish Ibuprofen-eating ass. Yeah. More on that later, but he can now sail over the net at the tennis court to retrieve his ball.

The Male Offspring learned how to ride the ripstick he got for his birthday. We'd been waiting since the end of November for a day without rain, so he could try it. This morning we just said screw it and went to the park. Welcome to winter in the PNW, people.

Oh, wait ------- BREAKING NEWS ------- Teen Demon just told me that the tub isn't draining.

15 December 2007

Pay No Mind to That Earlier Unpleasantness.

Why hello, darlings. Feeling much better now, thank you. It's a wonder what that extra three hours of sleep can do for a body! Of course, three hours of exercise and housecleaning would've done it more good, but then I'd still be bitchy. It's a trade off.

I wrote about wrestling here last season, the son's first season ever, how brave these kids are to grapple around in shiny, spandex suits in public while in the throes of puberty, the intricacies of wrestling a female opponent, and how much I respect these young people. It ain't for sissies, and I don't mean just physically either. There's something about the way team connects and looks out for each other, too.

Looking for the link, I realized I missed my first blogiversary, or whatever you call it, which was this insightful, erudite post:

So, this is my fancy blog. Testing, 1 2 3...

Not even kidding. Lame.

Anyway, this is the son's first year of high school wrestling. There are two other guys in his weight class. They challenge each other for the right to wrestle in the one varsity slot for each weight class. There's an older guy who's pretty good, and if the son does manage to get past him, guess who he ultimately has to challenge for that varsity slot?

That would be the team captain. He's a senior.

The son, no fool, said, "Well, I'll just challenge for the experience then," Smart kid. I would not want to be a freshman on varsity anyway. You'd get your ass kicked all the damn time.

Last week, Mr. Team Captain couldn't wrestle for some reason. I get this phone call:

Annoying Ring! Annoying Ring!

Me: Hello?

Male Offspring: Um, Anyu? I have some news that's going to sound good, but ... it's really not.

Me: [bracing myself] Okay, buddy, what's up?

MO: So, apparently, I'm wrestling varsity tonight. Michael can't wrestle.

Me: That's great! Good for you, buddy!

MO: Um, not really. All the older guys know my opponent. He's like, a beast or something!

Me: Well, okay, this is high school, you expect that, right? Besides, wasn't your nickname The Beast last year?

MO: That was middle school. This guy is seriously a beast. I think he has a beard. All the guys look sorry for me. They told me my goal is just to try not to get pinned. What the heck does that mean?

Me: Oh.

MO: This guy went to State last year! He's like a senior.

Me: Oh!

MO: .........

Me: Well ... okay then, honey! Try not to get pinned, then! See you tonight! Good luck!

Poor kid. Okay, in wrestling, your team scores higher if you win by pinning your opponent instead of just getting more points than your opponent. That's why the son's teammates were asking him not to get pinned -- they're basically telling him, he's going to beat you, but don't give up that pin. Even though you're wrestling a beast in spandex. With a beard.

The son was right. This guy WAS a beast. I mean, like a 152-pound Tasmanian devil. But the son held on for his six minutes. He was tired as hell by the end, staggering a bit, but the guy could not pin him. I told the son that he may have just experienced his most respectable loss ever. His team mates cheered pretty loud for him. Hell, yeah.

The son, getting ready to throw Beast Boy
(That's Teen Demon cheering on the left, the one w/ the hair ribbon)

And he throws him!
(This pretty much set Beast Boy off. He went into Tasmanian Devil mode after that.)

But today is a new day. The son sent me a text message that he won his first match of the day -- got a pin in 47 seconds! Hell. yeah. I'm sure he's feeling pretty beastly about that.

12 December 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: STILL Episode IV

STILL Episode IV: Pipe Dreams

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Mason, checking out my plumbing tools,
including $40 worth of new ones.
Which didn't work.

My version of those modern bowl-shaped sinks. Stainless steel, too!
Only the latest plumbing fashions in the house of Cowbell.
The bathroom's version. Yes, that paper to the left is the note I left to the offspring, 
instructing them to hold in any "number two" jobs until they get to school.
The new toilet.
And that's all I've got to say about that.
I've got your thousand words right here.

So I folded. I've called in the professionals. Shit. (Yeah, pun intended, wiseasses. Har-fucking-har.) I did not call Roto-Rooter. I called around and was getting nothing but bullshit from "telephone service representatives" who couldn't give me any real any information, not being "service technicians" themselves. They were, however, happy to send out a service technician who would, in turn, be happy to charge me a "service call" ranging from $71 to $99, which I'd have to pay whether I went with that company or not. Of course, the service call is rolled into your price if you go with them. But the telephone service representatives can't give you a ballpark price for what it will cost to actually get the work done -- for that, you pay the service charge, cross your fingers, and hope the estimate isn't too bad, and that you don't have to start over with someone else.

In other words, once they're standing in your yard, service charge in hand, they've pretty much got you bent over like a porn star. You can either pay whatever they ask, most likely getting a slow, uncomfortable screw, or you can pay up and then pay someone else, too, thus negating any savings you may have found with someone else.

They were all also happy to inform me that it was "very unusual" for Roto-Rooter to give free estimates! They gravely warned me that with Roto-Rooter's system, why, I could easily end up paying $800 or $1000! Better to go with their company instead. In other words, "Just pay our service charge, bitch. Bend over and say my name."  None of them gave a flying fuck about the whole single mom with Christmas looming thing. Fuck you very much, Ebenezer. Why are there never any plumbing Christmas sales?

I know these guys work with shit, and they should get paid good money for doing what no one else wants to do. I get that. Would it be so much to ask though, to maybe have sliding scales for necessary services, like heat, plumbing, electricity? I mean, it's not like I'm asking for a complete kitchen remodel or a face lift or a pool, for crying out loud. I just want to use my own damn toilet and wash my pits.

I called Zan, the Rad Dyke Plumber. I knew she was farther south than where I live, but what the hell, I've heard she's a straight shooter. Well, so to speak. My very cynical dear friend, who is, no doubt, lurking at this very moment, apparently used to know her, along with all kinds of other handy types. Anyway, I've heard good things about her, I love her web site, and figured I'd rather give my money to her than these asshats, so I called. She sounded just like I imagined she would, which was refreshingly like a real person, not some jerk preying on my wallet.

My joy, however, was short lived. Zan doesn't do snakes. Big surprise there, right? Damn. What about my needs, Zan? But she was very nice, and pointed me in the direction of Jerry's Sewer & Drain service. "But if you ever have any other type of plumbing problems, you just give me call now, OK?"

Okay, Zan. Fine. [sniff]

Jerry's pricing was better than the other places, and they specialize in sewer pipes, but unfortunately, I have to pay $70-$90 travel fee for them, as my city is out of their area. They get you coming or going. It pretty much evens out though, and since they were recommended, I guess I'm going with Jerry.

Until today, I was unaware that plumbers have different specialties. Like doctors. And they make about as much, without all that school debt.

Anyway, I begged the telephone service representative, who was very nice, to please send someone today. I haven't had a shower in three days, I need clean clothes, and I'm tired of peeing in a bucket. Don't judge. They were starting to look at me weird in the coffee shop.

Chuck just left, with his big cable and tools. Get your minds out of the sewer, people, I haven't showered in three days - not happening. Everything is once again flowing freely. Apparently, they charged me just half the travel fee. Jerry himself will follow up in a couple of days, and Chuck assures me that if "that baby clogs up within the next thirty days, I'll come out here and blast it myself, you won't pay a thing." Because that's how Jerry's place rolls when they're "trying to build a little history with you, here".
  • Total Bill, Having My Pipe Snaked: $195.93
  • No Longer Pissing in a Bucket: Priceless.

Oh, and Roto-Rooter? As Zan would say, "Get Wrenched!"

11 December 2007

This Old Motherfucking House: Episode IV

Episode IV: Roto-Rooted

I am not at work this morning. Oh, I'm still connected to my work files and email, via the wonders of modern technology, lest you think I'm here with my stockinged feet up, quaffing caffeine and stalking you.

I'm home because I'm expecting a visit from the Roto-Rooter man. No, you freaks, the plumbing and sewage company. If it were any other type of Roto-Rooting, I sure as hell wouldn't be sitting at my keyboard.

The drains are backing up again. Since this just happened in October, and seeing as we have since installed a high tech "hair catcher" that sits atop the bathtub drain, I'm thinking my problem may be worse than Teen Demon's prodigious hair donations. I suspect every homeowner's nightmare: tree roots.

My last house, a rental, came complete with a cheap and petulant property manager: a small, elderly, British dame named Doreen. Doreen was, to borrow a phrase from my father, "Tighter than a crab's ass ... and that's waterproof."
The homeowners had moved to Georgia, on a mission to translate the Bible into Georgian or something. Yes, I mean the U.S. Georgia. My rent covered the owners' mortgage in Georgia, the monthly payment to Doreen's property management company, and left them some profit to play with. Bitterness over that arrangement is what got me into my current situation, having thought that I, too, could finally catch a break by getting in on the formerly-profitable Seattle housing market.

We all know how that turned out.

Anyway, one time our drains clogged up. Doreen came by, all a-flutter, and said, with a pinched face, "Well, you have two teenage girls in the house; they can't be flushing those feminine products down the drains! Children use too much toilet paper! Now they don't know any better, but as the tenant, you are responsible for the cost of clearing drains due to negligence!"

First of all, unless you've drilled peep-holes into the walls, Doreen, you have no idea what we're flushing down the drain. We lived in a country where you could barely flush toilet paper down the drains before moving here; we're not stupid enough to flush tampons.

Second of all, you're a bitch.

Anyway, this being beyond Jay's abilities, she called out the plumbing crew. She imperiously informed me that they would run a camera down the drain - at extra expense - because "the owner" wanted to know the cause of the blockage. She had apparently briefed the plumber on our irresponsible flushing habits, because he told her, "Well, your problem is bigger than a clog, ma'am. It's not bathroom products after all," [Ha!] "You've got tree roots! Got nothing to do with the tenants -- you need to start regular root maintenance. I can schedule you out for every 6 months." He then pronounced, "Good thing you had us run that camera down there, ma'am!", with a sidelong wink to me.

By the look on Doreen's face, you'd have thought the plumber gave that stick up her ass an extra good twist.

Anyway, Doreen grudgingly paid the bill, the guys cut out the roots, and we were flushing freely once more. She informed me that the plumbers would be coming by annually to clear the roots. "Didn't he say every six months?" I asked. "This visit cost enough," she replied. "I've spoken with the owner, and annual service will be fine. Those plumbers always try to sell you more than you need. The owner isn't made of money, you know!"

Fast Forward: Christmas Eve, 2004: Cowbell is draining boiling water off the potatoes in preparation to mash them up into yummy deliciousness. The water doesn't go anywhere. I foolishly flip the disposal switch. Boiling potato-water erupts. Somehow I don't get burned.

I won't detail the rest of the story, mainly because I enjoy low blood pressure. It was a sad and sordid tale, starting with me borrowing a plumbing snake from my boss on Christmas Eve, and ending with a porta-potty in the front yard for two weeks during 20-degree weather, bulldozers in the back, a large scale pipe replacement and intensive sewage cleanup. Guess what, it wasn't the potatoes, too much food in the drain, or wayward feminine products, much too Doreen's surprise. It was the tree roots. Seems the annual maintenance schedule wasn't quite enough to keep those pesky tubers out, and the entire pipe collapsed.

The owner ended up with a bill for about $10,000. This included a new sewer pipe, the porta-potty rental, replacing carpet and walls on our lower level, and paying for COIT to clean up, sanitize, and dry the place. Yes, the sewage pipe backed up into our ground floor. Nasty doesn't even begin to cover it. At one point during this whole Charlie-Fox, Doreen came by to check the progress. She handed me a Glade plug-in air freshener. "I thought this might help," she announced. I stood there staring at the thing, wondering how that was possibly going to make a dent in the situation.

I bet she billed the owners for it.

The bill did not cover our ruined Christmas dinner, or the fact that a dear friend visiting from the East Coast could not bring herself to stay in our house, so I didn't see as much of her as I'd have liked. It didn't cover my frostbitten ass, or the humiliation of using a porta-potty in my FRONT YARD. One of the neighbors actually waved to me as I was heading in there one time. I only paid 1/3 of my rent that month, which twisted the stick up Doreen's ass even harder, but after reading my all legal-like letter, she sucked it up. "Well," she huffed, "I certainly don't know how the owner will take this ... the bill was so expensive, he's really going to need that rent money,"

Not my problem. Hope he has enough left over to pay your fee.

Anyway, that experience was pretty much imprinted on my brain, so tree roots were the first thing that entered my mind this morning. Oh what I wouldn't give for a simple grease clog, or a load of flushed tampons.

The Roto-Rooter people refused to give me a ballpark estimate over the phone, but they cheerily informed me that their Free Estimate was absolutely free of charge! (Yeah, I know what "free" means, lady)

This guy better get here soon. I've got to pay a visit to my friend John, and it's not going to be a quickie.


So I pretty much hate Roto-Rooter. First off, the lady on the phone this morning told me twice, very specifically, that they charge by the job, not by the hour. Okay, fine. Second, I'm in the wrong business, folks. Should've been a plumber. The guy, once he gets here, tells me his rates are $170 for the first half hour. They charge in 15-minute increments after that. When I relayed Phone Lady's info, he looked puzzled and said maybe she was new. Right. Whatever, asshat, you think I don't recognize your company's sneaky sales tactics? Please.

He estimated it would be between "$211 at the low end, to about $350 on the high end. Before tax," That's assuming it's not a bigger problem than he can ascertain before getting in there with his snake. He was nice enough to go get his bigass wrench and take the cap off of the clean-out access in the yard for me, once I told him that his price is not an option for a single mom before Christmas. He also gave me some DIY tips. Y'all know how I love DIY projects! Why let him have all the fun? So anyway, I'm getting ready to play with my snake now. I've only got a 25-footer, with no cutting blades on the end, but who knows, maybe it will be a giant hairball after all. Or maybe someone's been secretly flushing tampons. If only.

Oh, by the way, I went to coffee shop and bought a chai latte. The real reason for the latte was so I could surreptitiously utilize the latrine.


The bad news: it looks like roots are involved. I pulled up a small but very nasty mass of TP and what I thought might be a tangle of hair. Whoo, was I happy to see that disgusting mess. Upon closer inspection, however, it was actually a tangle of very fine, dark, baby roots. Crap. The good news: it looks like they're only about five or six feet into the pipe. Worse news: my snake is too puny to handle it. It bent in several places.

I'm headed to Lowe's now, to get a more substantial snake, one that can actually handle my needs.

Also, if you ever go to a coffee shop, specifically to use the restroom, but you buy something to make it look like you're not just there to use the restroom, don't buy something with caffeine. I have to pee already.