I Could Wear This All Day

It was going to happen.

What it was, was in the fullness of time, my phone and Internet plan came up for renewal, and there was a better and faster and cheaper plan available but, as we used to say, you had to fuck a moose (this was the generic term in my home, back in the day, for direct-mail Free Offers of Wonderful Things that only required you to drive somewhere two hours away, or Sit Through A Short Presentation). Meaning, in this case, that equipment inside and outside the house had to be changed out, which meant blocking out a morning, which is definitely a First World Problem, but in These Our Times it’s also a “someone has to come in my house in the age of plagues” problem.

We do not screw around with this thing. If someone has to cross my threshold, the casement windows get cranked open in any weather that won’t blow out the HVAC, all the Corsi-Rosenthal boxes are always running and we wear N95s. Belt and braces. The wild card is making sure the workpeople who show up wear something better than a dishrag on their faces and keep it on (some people think that “taking breaks” is a thing). It gives me white hairs, more so with time as people continue to kid themselves that Covid is over for some mysterious reason (since people are still catching it, still dying from it in their thousands every week in the US, and still getting permanently ill from it).

So I get the “on my way” call from “Antoine,” who asks if I’m sick (fair enough; I have a husky voice and it’s usually either “Do you have a cold?” or “Sir”). When I say no, but we will all wear masks and will ask you to wear one, he flat out refuses.

To wear a fucking mask. For a half hour service call.

I repeat that we have plenty, and that no one comes in our house without a mask on. Then we’ll have to reschedule the call, he says.

I cannot imagine what makes anyone so brittle that it will break him to put some blown-fiber fabric over his face, but there it was. One conversation with customer service and an hour later, a delightful gentleman showed up with a black surgical mask on — okay, but not really good enough. I handed him a KN95, the kind with a seam and nosepiece so that it fits your face without squashing your nose, and he thanked me and did the job, and when it was done thanked me again. “This is so comfortable! I could wear this all day!” (I kind of heard it in the voice of Steve Rogers, musical version. 2:35.)

I tore the endflap off the box and gave him the Amazon ordering info. A little sad that after three years of a pandemic someone who has to go into people’s houses all day long hasn’t been offered effective PPE by his employer. Glad I could help.

Fridge Or Dare, An Agon

Yeah, I went there. Sue me.

It occurred to me that I had never brought the saga of the fridge to a close. To be fair, this is partly because for a while it appeared that the failed repairs would become a sustained cycle, to be observed eventually with incantations and rituals whose symbolism was lost in time.

When last we saw our heroine, she had been told to wait for a call from the manufacturer of the recreant appliance, which three days after delivery had begun building up frost inside the freezer drawer faster than snow falling in Wisconsin. Unsurprisingly, this did not happen.

What followed was a numbing epic of diagnostic calls by the retailer’s service department (“yup, that gasket’s not sealing, I’ll place an order”), return visits with the replacement part, the dreary routine of setting up air filters, opening windows and asking the repairmen to please wear this fucking face mask, waving bye-bye as one and then another announced it was All Fixed, and eyeballing the new gasket two hours later to find it had pulled away from the freezer door again. My remarks during each successive phone call and visit that there seemed to be something wrong with the way the drawer hung on the rails fell on deaf ears; they just kept replacing gaskets. At one point a stalagmite the size of my fist formed on the roof of the compartment. Along about *checks calendar* August the fourth repairman showed up, exhibited some signs of intellectual curiosity (to wit, he wanted to know all about my Corsi-Rosenthal boxes), and after sizing up the problem said “Hey, it’s the rails! It’s not mounted right. I’ll order a part.”

No shit.

Eventually another repairman appeared, and after a good deal of whirring from a power screwdriver and yet another ceremonial heating of a new rubber gasket on the scorching asphalt out front, the drawer actually moved smoothly on its rails and shut cleanly. It looked as if the long nightmare were over.

Two days later the new gasket was just as deformed as the first three, and clumps of ice had begun to accumulate on the freezer door again.

The salesman didn’t even put up a fight when I asked for a replacement in the same general design and price point from a different manufacturer (“clearly this company does not know how to build an appliance or manufacture a part”). (There’s something to be said for buying from a local retailer small enough to give a damn about your business and large enough to have its own service department.) Along about the beginning of November — remember, I bought this sucker in April — an e-mail informed me that the next day between noon and four, a team would arrive to haul away the carcass and replace it with…

…the identical make and model of refrigerator.

I have never heard a salesperson say “Oh Jesus Christ!” on the phone with a customer before. I have never actually heard the blood rushing out of someone’s face over the phone before.

It took until the week after Thanksgiving. The sky had opened. The air was raw. Lo, the year which had opened with tender buds and passed through the punishing heat of summer to autumn’s bracing breeze was descending towards winter’s sleep, and the long agon of my refrigerator came to a close as the heavens wept.

Saxon alliterative verse, Homeric hexameters or terza rima? I’ll take all suggestions.

Goodbye 2022

And good riddance, I might say (not that I expect 2023 to be much of an improvement, at this point), but I’m trying not to be grumpy.

Just trying to send up a flare that I’m still here and had a typically quirky New Year’s Eve.

That’s the now-traditional New Year’s Eve tapas, strongly influenced by the friendship I formed with azahar here on WordPress in (checks watch) 2008. Little nibbles of this and that seem such a civilized way to celebrate; here we see goat cheese stuffed mushrooms, pate made from the mushroom stems, scallops in parsley and butter, Brussels sprouts pan-roasted with honey and cider vinegar, wasabi deviled eggs, a little French onion soup with Basque cheese, Manchego and Marcona almonds.

Just a light collation.

You will see there both champagne flutes and sherry glasses. What happened was, out of nowhere exactly, I heard from Izzy on Friday. He still tells me how not to screw up my retirement account, and something about my asking him an end-of-year question must have sparked a train of thought, because he sent a picture of a bottle of Chandon bubbly and asked if I would like it for New Year’s. Apparently, in our locked-down existence, he has been reluctant to open it because Mrs. Izzy has no head for alcohol and he had no intention of drinking the whole thing himself.

“It’s been in the wine cellar for decades,” he added, “so I should warn you it might not be any good. Let me know.”

We were game. I got the last of the food on the plates and turned to see the Cute Engineer deploying the pliers. This is not the usual tool for opening wine, but apparently the foil at the neck of the bottle had become one with the wire cage securing the cork, and had to be prised away delicately. (There is a story about why we keep pliers in the kitchen to begin with, but another time.) Shred by shred and twist by twist the disturbingly amalgamated mass of metal came away. The Engineer positioned the bottle and braced his thumbs against the cork.

It snapped like a balsa twig.

I’m really afraid to ask how many decades Izzy meant. We are both a half century out from legal drinking age. Anyway, we’re not sure what to do with this bottle; you can maneuver a broken cork out of still wine, but the projectile potential here is nothing to trifle with. Is there some kind of possibility it might explode during the weekly collection if we put it in the trash bin? Should we take it up to the glass recycling dumpster with all the other household jars and jeroboams, shot-put it inside and duck? Bury it safely on the property?

Izzy was piqued by my neither/nor answer to his question about the quality of the wine (there are apparently some things Mankind was not meant to know) and, generous as he has always been, slipped by while I was doing hill repeats today to leave a bottle of Israeli Cabernet in the porch. “I promise it will not explode,” he said in an explanatory e-mail.

We had a nice Lustau Amontillado (which had been chilled as a backup) with the tapas. Yeah, Az, I know it was supposed to be Palo Cortado. We hosed the shopping list. What can I say? It was still fabulous. Happy New Year.

Altered States

The Engineer’s big doofus Mystery started stumbling last week, and we freaked a bit. He’s almost eighteen and already has old-kitty kidneys, and watching him fall conk onto his side like a tree in the forest was a little alarming.

(He’s not really a doofus. He’s just an uncomplicated, big, yellow cat who has a minimum of settings: “Food?”, “Petting?”, sleeping, grooming his sister Lilly Bast, scarfing catnip, and sloping into your vicinity with an expression that says “whatcha doin’?”)

We were lucky enough to have a cats-only vet move in just up the hill a few years back, a practice I’d already been following on an Instagram account curated by one of the vet techs to show off her special needs rescue kittens, her interesting cases (“CW: surgery pictures”) and Discworld tattoos. The considered diagnosis was probable arthritis. Cats, especially kidney patients, don’t handle the equivalent of Advil et cetera very well, but they had some Chinese herbs for pain that helped immediately, and yesterday he went for his first acupuncture treatment.

My Beezler of blessed memory had miserable arthritis that was completely managed by acupuncture, which also sorted his allergies and slowed down his kidney decline, so I was right behind this. The clinic asked permission to take photos and post them on the main Instagram account, but we got a first look.

(That’s the bottom of his cat carrier he’s sitting in. He resists getting out at the vet’s. He knows.)

Is it just my imagination, or does he look… stoned?

(Acupuncture used to put me in the Twilight Zone. I’d still be doing it as a sort of spa treatment, except that my acupuncturist suffered from a vice common in the alternative health professions, or as my late and ex used to say, “the basic vice of all therapy is the therapist’s need to be considered hot shit.” Her prices I could just manage, but the incessant feeding of her ego was too exhausting. Apparently the veterinary branch of the field suffers less from this.)

He ate for the rest of the evening, which isn’t all that atypical of Mystery, but his appetite’s been less aggressive lately. News as I get it.


This blog, once active almost daily, has been drowsing like a drunken dragon for the last five years, because after the 2016 election there wasn’t much to write about except how depressing things were, and it’s only gotten worse, and I really didn’t have the heart to keep doing that to people.

But. Today I have glitter.

In the Before Times, when it wasn’t as much as your life worth to get on the Metro or go into a place of business, we were habitues of the Ivy City distillery district downtown. If you had out of town guestsm so long as they weren’t teetotal, it was a perfect afternoon: you’d start at Green Hat, where they bottle the first spirits ever to be distilled (legally, anyway) in DC since Prohibition; hang out a little at Republic Restoratives, known for products like Rodham Rye (yes, that Rodham; the first bottle was given in a solemn ceremony to the e-mail lady who ought to be serving her second term right now). You might finish at One-Eight with their single-batch whiskies, or toddle off to Cotton and Reed, who started out making rum that was basically Windex but have an amazing product now.

And then there’s Don Ciccio e Figli, two Italian guys who make something like eleventeen kinds of amaro, the herbal, yea medicinal, often bitter style of aperitif best represented in popular culture by Fernet Branca. (Which I was drinking from the neck of the bottle by the time the polls closed in 2016, but I digress.) They add something to the line a couple of times a year, and like everything else nowadays, you can get it delivered.


Yeah, that’s edible glitter. Product name:

It’s got kind of that Hawaiian Punch thing going on, only classier, and the prickly pear base makes it a nice float in a gin and tonic, which we never mix any more without the distillery’s signature Fico d’India. The glitter is supposed to be mica and fully edible.

At a time when gay and trans people are once again being blamed for the Fall Of Civilization and probably sinkholes and rising gas prices, commercial though it may be, it’s just… cheering. The sort of thing you want to drink while watching Randy Rainbow videos.

Pride this year is going to be lit.

Cold Comfort

So the brand new fridge is still not working. I mean, it works but we are no closer to solving the problem of the freezer gasket that does not seal. I am considering a request for UN mediators and possibly summoning a demon.

The mook who arrived a couple of weeks ago to examine the freezer and say yup, sure nuff, doesn’t shut tight, I’ll put in a parts order, called to say he’d arrive sometime after eight yesterday. This, in Our Times ™, means getting up at seven, putting a Corsi-Rosenthal air filter box in place in the adjacent room (my kitchen is the size of a coat closet), herding the cats and opening all the windows. The weather is mild, but it is allergy season, and if you don’t think it is possible to sneeze till you bleed, I can send you some gross pictures.

Mook arrived, sporting an N95 as he did last time. I tend to infer that this level of masking means someone takes the pandemic seriously, but after a half hour of fucking around in the kitchen while I sat in my office, similarly muzzled, beside another CR box, he called out to me that he was stumped. I walked to the other end of the house to see his mask in the position of a chin diaper.

I can jump backward four feet. I didn’t know that. He flapped and replaced the mask sorry sorry just took it off to breathe and maybe he has allergies too but y’know, the masks help with that. I don’t know how these “hard to breathe” people think health care workers wear the things all day long. Anyway, half an hour and a brand new gasket later, the freezer door still doesn’t seal. He also doesn’t think he should have to “push the French doors shut” on the refrigerator section. I mentioned that they had to take the doors off to deliver the damn thing since no one makes a refrigerator small enough to fit through the doors of a 1940s house any more, unless you want a dorm room countertop model. “That might be it,” he said, but instead of investigating that circumstance, he announced that he would call the manufacturer and they’d call me.

I don’t know how that is supposed to fix it. The manufacturer knows nothing about the bozos who delivered it and their power wrenches. I anticipate a lengthy game of Pass The Shoe.

Definitely a first world problem, but it would be nice if something went right.

A Little Bite Each Day

I have just, a little belatedly, signed up for a thing called “Dracula Daily,” a project which e-mails a little bit of Bram Stoker’s Dracula to you each day, depending on the progress of the action in the novel. It’s as good a thing as any to beguile the slow drip of waiting until someone figures out we need to do something about Covid other than vaccinate about half the population, abandon masking and declare victory.

Everyone knows who Count Dracula is — and, thanks to the classic film, has an image of what he looks like (which is not quite how Stoker describes him) — but not everyone has read the novel, which is a fricking masterpiece of pulp storytelling and hands down the best epistolary novel I have ever read. The different voices, the pacing, the way that the successive letters and diary entries tell us about the characters and their relationships to one another: deft, and so far above the standard of Stoker’s other potboilers that I’m inclined to the theory he co-wrote it with his wife, as some believe. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it, but this is a different idea: issue a (more or less) daily e-mail containing all the entries for that date in the novel, from now to November.

I ran across this on social media and I gather a lot of people are having a ball comparing notes about the unfolding story, some of whom have read it before, some of whom have not. If you are a regular on Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook and suddenly everyone seems to be talking about Jonathan Harker, this is the reason.

You can sign up here. https://draculadaily.substack.com/about


So an amusing feature of the purchase of the refrigerator I bought to replace the one I bought in 2013, to replace the one that had been running 18 years except the door finally fell off, was the number of times I got called Sir.

This is just the latest of a litany of appliance failures. When I moved in, my then plumber opined that the water heater was about 35 years old and still going strong. About seven years later it showed signs of, you should pardon the expression, tanking and we got a new one. Thirteen years later I was told the bottom was on the way to rusting out.

Then there were the washing machines. For all my working life I’ve done something like 25 sets of sheets a week. I beat the crap out of washers. The front loader I bought in 2000 lasted nine years; the next one, barely four; the one after that, two and a half, and one after that croaked just after the end of the two year parts warranty. The repairman I called — a guy with clear anger management problems and indifferent cell phone skills — managed to finally look up the company website on his phone, swearing all the while, and told me it wasn’t worth what I’d pay to fix the washer.

This is what you hear now. By the time he left I had extracted the information that one brand of washer, and only one, made the agitation mechanism the way they used to, when machines didn’t faint if you used them. Only one independent store in the area handled them — the big Sears and Home Depot type dealers sold only the instabreakers — and I paid out the wazoo, whereupon we instantly went into a pandemic and those 25 loads a week were a matter for history.

The 2013 fridge had its first breakdown at 18 months — a fried circuit board which refried again, like beans, a couple of years after the first replacement. Some time after that the onboard defrosting cycle went wonky and the repairman told me it was because the food I had stored in the freezer drawer stuck out a little over the top. You got me. That fix lasted until a couple of weeks ago when the fridge started warming up again.

I said Fuck It and called the fancy dealer again. The fridge appeared two days later (I had all the windows open, forced KN95 masks on the deliverymen, and ran the Corsi-Rosenthal air filter until a half hour after they left, because everyone has gone insane).

This time it only took two days. The freezer is full of frost and the naked eye (at least the Engineer’s, because I am only half blind now rather than nearly blind) can see the gap between the gasket seal and the refrigerator door.

This refrigerator cost more in absolute dollars than my first car. Fucksake. Part is on order.

But there’s always something to make you smile, and for me, it’s the salesman calling me Sir on the phone, and the repairman calling me Sir when he scheduled his visit. I am a light baritone (all my shower arias are parts like Scarpia and Hans Sachs) and this happens a lot. I think it gets me some respect. I’ve gotten it to my face when I’m wearing a jacket and hat. The times being what they are, I’m waiting for someone to try throwing me out of a women’s bathroom, except that for the foreseeable future, I’m not going into any public bathrooms because this friggin thing is not over and in a mask, no one can tell if you’re Sir or Ma’am anyway. It could be the solution to a lot of problems.

My New Best Friend

Meet Herbert.

What happened was, nothing happened. Nothing has really happened for two fucking years. It hasn’t been safe to go to the gym (which is why I now have an adjustable set of weights and a rack arranged next to the piano). The only other place I ever drove was the grocery store, and except for a brief interregnum which I now refer to as the Second Before Times, when we thought this mess was turning around, we’ve been having everything delivered. And since the Engineer got the world’s Most Adorable Electric Car, a red Mini with a dashboard like the Millennium Falcon, he has had no interest in driving Lua-Vanessa Aspasia Himmelblau, the 2011 Fit I keep thinking I just bought yesterday.

Right about the time the shit hit the fan in 2020, Lua’s battery died. I had to reflect that it was nine years old, which is really rather impressive. I called a tow truck and rode along with her to the dealer to have a new one dropped in, and that was my last close contact with anyone outside the household until we had vaccines. There was not much driving of her, but I lent her to the Engineer for road trips until the Falcon came along, when his itch to drive the little red car was so palpable I couldn’t insist he trade out now and then. Since then, outside of an odd trip to the recycling center or the UPS drop box, I’ve just run her in the driveway once a week, if I remember.

I forgot for a couple weeks. Cue the solenoid click.

I owned a battery jump box with cables, which assessed the problem, sighed, and died. It really felt like that thing was new too.

I cannot tell you how much I cringe at this point in history at the idea of interacting with anyone face to face, now that we’re apparently pretending there’s no pandemic any more and everyone is cavorting around without masks and acting as if I’m some sort of obsessive-compulsive weirdo for asking them to wear one. The idea of dealing with even a tow truck driver had me nearly in tears. So I decided to take a chance on Amazon, and a day later Herbert was in my hands. I have to call him something because he has pretty much rescued my week if not my entire month.

Herbert charges via a USB port. He has a lithium battery that can jump a six-liter engine, roughly four times the size of Lua’s. He has USB output that will take care of your phones in an outage. He supposedly has a feature that lets you override his safeties to charge a battery that’s dropped below two volts, but ther are dire warnings about how this could cause him to shoot sparks and the manual is printed in something like Caslon Microscope or Arial Nanoparticle, and if he couldn’t get Lua going in normal mode, I was resigned to the tow truck.

The Engineer hooked up the cables and turned on the power button. Herbert lit up. I turned the ignition. Lua roared.

She’s out there idling now — it’s too fucking cold for a recycling run and I have no place else to go — and I am thinking of getting Herbert his own little special box and possibly one of those dishes you see in front of statuettes of a Bodhisattva, where small devotions of orange slices and so on are left. I love Herbert.

Happy Valentine’s Day

So my unconscious sent me a Valentine.

Since the end of the second Before Times — the halcyon interregnum spanning the period from “everyone with a brain got vaccinated” to “here comes Omicron” — I’ve been waking up from exhausting nightmares. It didn’t happen in the first year of the pandemic; everything was shite, we were washing our groceries (note: apparently this is unhelpful and unnecessary), the shitgibbon was President, I was rehabbing a fricken surgery, but we were hanging on the news of a vaccine and people were taking it all pretty seriously and there was something to work toward.

This time it’s different. There are more cases of the virus than at any time since this crap started, but for some reason — even though a big chunk of those cases end up with blood clots and long-term cardiac symptoms and chronic fatigue and organ damage that no one wants to talk about because we have no strategy for coping — everyone’s supposed to send their kids back to school, take off their masks and party. I’ve shut down business again after six months with no clear idea when it’ll ever be safe to go back into the water, and every day is Groundhog Day. The handy-dandy Fitbit says I’m in better shape than I have been since before it all began — the hills are outside my front door, the weights are in the basement — but I wake up every morning feeling like I’ve been beaten with sticks. The handy-dandy Fitbit also says I spend something like a quarter of my night dreaming, and most of it is like a Guillermo del Toro movie.

This morning I got a little musical offering. Longtime readers will know this happens sometimes, but it’s been ages. There was, in the dream, a blond gentleman in an ornate military uniform seated by the Engineer’s side of the bed — it looked a bit like the medal-encrusted dress greys seen on Field Marshal Zhukov in The Death of Stalin

— delivering a lecture on, unsurprisingly, military history. The same lecture was appearing on three screens of a tablet set up on an adjoining table, obviously recorded in other circumstances, and I spent a few pleasant moments trying to tell whether he was lip-syncing before he announced he would be concluding, and then began to sing us a stanza of an Eastern European sounding ballad. I couldn’t understand the language, presumably it was Romanian or Czech or whatever, but I woke up with the melody. This is why I keep stave paper by the bed.

The dream only gave me the first phrase, which was repeated as music readers will see here, so after dashing that down I thought a moment and added a second line of melody, also to be repeated before a return to the opening phrase. I am sure it is a song about how the woman took the chicken to market and met a man who offered too low a price, or the innkeeper’s daughter spurned her suitor three times before accepting him. Key of A minor, in a deliberate tempo, transcribed here an octave higher than sung like any self respecting tenor line.

I caught myself dancing a grapevine to it with arms upraised, so maybe it’s a shtetl song.

I have no idea how long I’m going to be stuck in here — at any rate, until we get a more powerful vaccine like the Novavax that’s in approval process or the nanoparticle thing that the Defense Department is working on, which I’m sure will be roundly spurned by all the people who think they were injecting microchips with the last one. At least I may get occasional entertainment.

Does anyone else find their brain doing shit like this?