Soak Up The Sun

Maj. Don West: We’re not getting any power. Must be a loose connection in the solar batteries. I’ll go up and see if I can fix ’em.

Lost in Space, “The Hungry Sea” (10/13/65)

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I was saving this story until it had more of an ending, but what the hell.

These guys.I do like being an energy-efficient kind of guy, not just because it keeps the bills down, but because Save the Earth and all that. So when I saw a representative from Solar City standing in Home Depot, I figured it was at least worthwhile to talk to someone about it.

So I chatted for ten minutes with a very pleasant lady, who gave me the basics about how it works and such. She was having a hard time getting the wifi signal on her tablet to work, but she still managed to get enough information across that I decided we needed to hear a little bit more. So she took down my information and that was that for the time being.

A few days later I heard from someone at the company. He wanted to make an appointment with both me and Wife so he could show us the whole thing and make sure all of our questions were answered. We set the date and that was that for the time being.

During the visit, the way the plan was explained to me was this: Solar City puts the panels on the house at no cost to us. Then, for the next 20 years, we’d be buying some of our electricity from our regular supplier, and some of it from Solar City (but at a lower rate). Whatever the panels generate that doesn’t get used, would roll back into the grid, effectively turning the meter backward. Solar City then makes money that way as well, by being the ones who sell the electricity back to the electric company. If the panels need maintenance, we just call them and they make the fix (or, something at our end detects a problem and alerts Solar City). After all, they own the things. If we need roof work, they’d come out and remove the panels until the roof is fixed, and then they’d put them right back on. Our only obligation is to pay for the electricity they generate, and pay for 20 years. If we move or die, the 20 year lease transfers to the new owners (because, who knows: maybe our new place doesn’t get enough sunlight).

So, to break down that deal in bullets:

  • They install and maintain the system.
  • We buy some of our electricity from BGE at the usual rate.
  • We buy the rest of our electricity from Solar City at a lower rate, and this is ALL we pay for.
  • Solar City gets the profit from the electricity flowing back into the grid.
  • The deal is attached to the HOUSE for 20 years total.

This whole thing was acceptable to us, so we agreed to move forward. They set a date for a guy to come out and measure/inspect our roof, and that was that for the time being.

Not Pictured: My daughter's window, you perverted fuck. Awhile later, the guy came out and did his thing. He had a Google Earth photo of the house (the initial salesman did, too), and he had a rough idea of how many panels were going to be put up there. Every jurisdiction has its own rules about this sort of thing, and in Baltimore City, solar panels have to be three feet away from EVERYTHING, including the edge of the roof (including the peak), chimneys and any vent pipes that might be sticking up. So given the size and configuration of our roof, they figured that they could put eight panels up there. In the meantime, the roof itself is in very good shape, so that’s encouraging. He took his measurement notes and such, and the next step is having a formal design drawn up.

After a couple of weeks, I got an email with the design for our panels. This is the document that they’d be sending to Baltimore City as part of the permit process (another step I didn’t have to deal with). You can see part of the image to the left, here. The front of the house (with the dormer) is to the top of the picture, and the rectangle on the bottom is where my kitchen sticks out. Most of the other stuff (the D, M, and AC) are utilities that are actually in the basement. “Inv” is where the inverter would be mounted to the side of the house. “B” is the junction box that would lead from the panels down to the inverter. The inverter is the gizmo that turns the solar power into something that the electrical appliances can actually use. According to the legend (I cropped it out), there are supposed to be lines indicating where the conduits go, but they’re not on this picture. So Solar City took this picture and a bunch of paperwork and submitted it to Baltimore City for the zoning approval, and that was that for the time being.

Several weeks went by, and finally the word came back that Baltimore City had approved the plans. Now, all we needed was an installation date.

Awhile after that, we got an email AND a phone call from Solar City that it was time to schedule the installation. I called them back and got a date. It was a weekday, so I had to take a day off, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Installation Day: I don’t get to sleep in, because they’re coming kind of early. A truck pulls up, and while their crew chief is talking to me, there are guys running all over, carrying equipment and such and getting it ready for the install. Other guys are setting up ladders to get on the house. I show them where everything is, then I pen up the dogs in the kitchen because these guys are going to be all over the inside and outside of my house. Some of them will need to be in the basement fooling with the circuit breakers, one guy will be in a bedroom attaching some gizmo to the internet router, others will be on the roof and side of the house. And the work proceeded apace, until…

…until it wasn’t. At some point in the afternoon, it occurred to me that I wasn’t hearing people running around, nor was I hearing much of anything else. I went to the front door and looked outside. The truck was gone. The crew was gone. Most of the trash generated by their work had been cleaned up; what remained wasn’t a big deal. But that was IT. They’d left without saying anything to me at all. I called Solar City and they were puzzled by this too, but they did say that the next step was to have BGE inspect the installation and install a Net meter. A Net meter is the kind of meter that can run backwards and allow the power from the panels to come through. So we needed an inspection date from BGE, and that was that for the time being.

A little time went by and I called BGE to see what was up. BGE told me that they hadn’t received the completion paperwork from Solar City, and once they got that they could do the inspection and then SCHEDULE the meter installation. Aha. So that’s a separate step, then. So I had to wait for Solar City to set up the inspection and that was that for the time being.

The inspection itself was a relatively brief affair: a guy from Solar City came to the house and waited for the guy from BGE to show up. BGE’s concern was largely related to the interior of the house, but it was brief and largely consisted of the BGE guy nodding sagely at everything the Solar City guy told him and then giving the whole works his personal blessing, which came in the form of a sticker I had to affix to the electrical panel. Can I schedule the Net meter installation now? No. In a few days Solar City will send them some information and THEN I can schedule my Net Meter. And that’s that for the time being.

A week or so later, I was able to set up the Net meter installation. If your meter is outside, no problem: they’ll just go and do it and you’ll never know it happened. If it’s inside, well, I hope you have another day off to spare. And BGE is like so many utilities in that you get that gigantic window of opportunity for their service person to show up. You know how long it takes to change out a meter? About five minutes, and your entire house loses power for maybe thirty seconds. The next step is getting word from Solar City with the directions for actually turning your system on.

So the email came in, but not everything looked quite like the pictures in the email, even though they’d accounted for several different systems. The problem was that I was supposed to turn on a circuit breaker down in the basement. And the problem with that was that there was NO breaker dedicated to the solar system in the panel. There was a breaker that had been identified on the chart as being the Solar breaker, but it actually connects to an outlet in my kitchen. On the panel itself, there was a big red sticker reading SOLAR, but it was over a blank space (i.e., no breaker) on the panel. So I called Solar City and told them that I couldn’t follow the directions as emailed. They said they’d send a technician out, and started to set up yet another weekday for the visit, but I put my foot down. It was several minutes of me complaining before they agreed to send someone out on the weekend.

A few days after the phone call, on Saturday, the technician arrived. First I showed him the display on the inverter and such, then I showed him the electrical panel. He opened the thing up, and sure enough, there was wiring but no breaker in the place indicated by the panel sticker.  So remember how I told you about the inspection and what it entailed? Now you know what I mean. If the BGE guy had taken two minutes to open the panel and see that there was no breaker in place, the inspection would have failed. So the technician installed the breaker and fired everything up. So far as he could tell, everything was running fine.And that was that for the time being.

About a week ago, I got an email and a phone call telling me that the system is registering zero output, and I need to call them. Because I was out all day Saturday, I didn’t get to call them until Sunday. The person on the phone asked me a few questions about what was on the display, then he told me that another technician had to come out. I told them that as
long as they don’t have to come in the house, they can come whenever they like during the week. They set me up for Thursday in the afternoon. They even gave me a courtesy call on Wednesday telling me that the arrival window had changed slightly. I told her, “Frankly, I don’t care because I’m not gonna be there.” On Thursday evening I got home and there was a door-hanger waiting for us: “Sorry we missed you!” and, at the bottom, an hand-written note: “System is off and electrically stable.” Thanks, guys! I didn’t know that stability was going to be an issue! I gave them a call.

According to their system, the tech had reported that some part of the inverter itself had gone bad and needed to be replaced. So they had to order something, which would take 7-10 days to get in, then they’d contact me to discuss coming back to replace it.

So that’s where the story ends for the time being. I have a system on my roof that’s generating zero electricity, and maybe it’ll be working again in a couple of weeks. But let me lay some extra details on you, because I’ve been deliberately obscuring them until now. Here’s the entire timeline (some of this I’m filling in gaps, other stuff I have the emails saved):

  • I met the woman in Home Depot in June 2015.
  • Wife and I met with the salesman in mid-July 2015.
  • The guy who inspected the roof and did the measuring came at the end of July 2015.
  • On August 13, 2015 I got an email that the design had been finished.
  • At the end of August came the approval from BGE to install a system.
  • On November 3 I got the email that it was time to schedule the installation.
  • On November 20, the crew installed the system.
  • In early December the system was “inspected” by BGE.
  • On December 30, BGE still hadn’t received anything from Solar City, so they couldn’t schedule the meter installation.
  • On January 12, BGE let me know that I could finally schedule the meter installation. That got done sometime over the next week or so.
  • On February 10, Solar City told me that they’d gotten the final approval from BGE.
  • On February 18, I tried to start the system and failed because of the missing breaker.
  • On February 20, the technician arrived and fixed it. So
  • The system generated power from February 20 through March 30, then stopped.

imageimage

  • On April 2 I got the “No output” email and phone calls.
  • On April 3 I called them and was told a tech had to come out again.
  • On April 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, according to Solar City’s website, the system was generating power
    image.
  • On April 8 it stopped again, presumably because the system had been shut off.

So counting from an approximate date of June 15 (although it was probably earlier because school was still open) to today, that’s 299 days I’ve been involved with Solar City, during which time I’ve had panels generating power on my roof for a grand total of 45 days. Not an auspicious start, I say.

And that’s that for the time being.

Sink, Sank, Sunk

Roz Doyle: There's a cute new handyman in my building. I thought I'd just go home, slip into a negligée and rip out my faucet.
Frasier Crane: You think she’s kidding, don’t you.

Frasier, “My Coffee With Niles” (5/19/94)

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Several weeks ago, I noticed that the kitchen faucet had a bit of a drip. There were odd little variations: sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, sometimes it got worse when water was running elsewhere in the house, occasionally not at all. It’s a single-handle faucet, so it wasn’t a simple matter of changing out a washer or something. When I tried an Internet search to figure out what it would take to fix the thing, I discovered that, without more specific information, I was going to be in a real world of hit-or-miss.

I have to give this to the previous owners of my house: they saved practically everything when it came to appliances and such. Unfortunately, the kitchen faucet wasn’t among the owner’s manuals they saved. So I decided to bite the bullet and go purchase a new faucet.

Wife and I picked out a nice one a few weeks ago (Attention, Next Owner of My House: It’s a Moen Muirfield CA87520 with chrome finish), and one afternoon after work, I looked under the sink to see how complicated this was going to be. The answer was “not very”, but the supply lines went waaaay up, behind the bowl of the sink. I’d be working in a relatively tight space. I also realized that I didn’t have an adjustable wrench that was large enough to do the job. I decided to put it off until a weekend, when I had a little more time (and patience).

Magic, I tells ya...Magic!This past Saturday was the big day. My first stop was to the Home Depot, which is (as the crow flies) about a half-mile from my house. It’s the one on Perring Parkway and it’s usually not especially busy, which gives it the advantage over the Joppa Road location. I went into the tool area and looked about, and decided I was going to ask a pro. So I went to the plumbing area and described my issue with the small space to work in. He told me, “You need a basin wrench. Wait here.” He ran away and came back a minute later with the basin wrench. I was skeptical, but realized that the offset that it offers could get the job done. I paid out the twelve bucks and went home.

This wrench, let me tell you, is just plain magic. The head bends to one side or the other to give you not only an offset approach to whatever hardware you’re trying to get to, but it’s spring-loaded so it has a kind of ratchet effect so you don’t have to re-set it after each turn. And the handle is nearly a foot long, so you get a boatload of torque with each turn. It’s not often that I get jazzed about having a new tool in my box, so there you go. I turned off the water supply valves, got up behind the sink and opened up the lines with my groovy new tool, lickety-split. Then I removed the nut holding the side sprayer in place and the nuts that attached the old faucet to the sink.

One of the supply lines wasn’t 100% closed, but I figured I’d put up with the drip, since I wasn’t going to be much longer anyway.

(Ha, Ha! How young and naïve I was back then!)

NOT a feat of strength, unfortunately. When I was a kid, "corroded" was an epithet we'd use to describe stuff, the way kids use "nasty" today: "Ew, that's corroded." Once I undid the nuts that held the faucet down, I got out from under the sink and gave the old faucet a tug to get it off the sink. That’s when I discovered that the old faucet was in much worse shape than I originally thought. The faucet base actually came away in two pieces, leaving me with a spout, handle and two connector lines in my hand. I had a lot of crud and whatever else to clean off the sink itself before I could put the new unit in place. This, incidentally, is tough when your source of water has just been removed, but I managed to get it done somehow. And now, to connect the new faucet to the lines.

This, of course, is the point where I realized that there weren’t any flexible connectors between the supply line and the faucet, nor were there any in the box that came with the faucet. When I first opened the box, I was all “Cool! Connectors!” but I didn’t realize that the “connectors” were really the hose for the new sprayer. So back I went to the Home Depot, to get me some connectors. Because the supply lines went so far up, I reckoned that I didn’t need long connectors, so I opted for the twelve-inch jobbies. Even at that length, I’d have to connect them in a loop between the faucet and the supply line. I had to guess at the size of the connector, but fortunately I guessed right in that arena. All right! Back to the house and let’s get this job done!

Back into the kitchen I go and this is where I have my next “What the hell was the previous owner thinking?” moment. If you look at the ends of the lines in the old faucet in the picture above, you’ll see that the connectors are what the plumbers call “male” ends. Totally not the sexy kind. The flexible connector has two “female” ends, because the supply line coming from the valve is also typically “male”. In my kitchen, however, the supply lines were “female”. We can’t have a lesbian sink going on—that just doesn’t work—so I found myself at the Home Depot for the third time. As it happened, I got the same guy helping me this time as I had the first time, so I was able to thank him profusely for the basin wrench. Then I explained my problem and he told me that I needed a “nipple”. Plumbing is so sexy, isn’t it? He led me over to a bin and handed me a pair of nipples. Heh. Back to the house.

Now, one thing I learned long ago is that when you’re putting threaded pipe together, the smart thing to do is to put Teflon tape on the threads, for ease of threading and to help reduce leakage. I put the Teflon tape on the faucet threads, then I screwed on the connector hoses, then I put Teflon on the nipples, screwed the other end of the connector to one nipple, then screwed the other connector to the other nip—

—I screwed the other connector to the other—

—I screwed the other—

The connector didn’t fit. I re-checked the labeling and it was marked as the same size at both ends. I took everything apart and tried a different configuration, but no dice. I wasn’t making a mistake; one of the connector hoses had two different ends.

It may have been at this point that I seriously considered suicide as an alternative to having a working kitchen sink. I had to go back to Home Depot for a fourth time.

I went to the Returns desk and told the clerk I had to exchange the connector hose.  The clerk asked me if I had my receipt. I reached into my pocket and pulled out three of them, all from that day, and looked through them to find the right one. She scanned it and credited my card for the bad hose. This meant that I had to get the good hose and, instead of saying “Here, I swapped it out!” I essentially had to buy it again. Being reasonably smart, I brought one of the nipples along with me to ensure a fit.I walked back into Plumbing, found a replacement hose, checked it with the nipple, paid for my new hose and high-tailed it out of there.

Remember when I said that Home Depot was about a half-mile from my house? I put eight miles on my car just from trips to Home Depot on Saturday.

But here’s the good news: once I got the new connector back to the house, I connected them to the faucet, the connectors to the nipples, the nipples to the supply lines, did a quick test, found a leak or two, re-checked the connections and all was well. I swear the water pressure is better, the water tastes better, the dishes are cleaner and the sun shone a little brighter for the rest of the weekend.

And this half-hour home improvement project took me only four hours.

Doggonit.

Jason O'Day: I've got no patience for kids, especially runaways!

Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)

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My morning routine usually involves taking Wee One to school, then coming back home for a few minutes of relaxation and perhaps a cup of tea before heading out to my own job.

As I said, “usually”. Today was the exception.

This is the evil dog. This morning was also Trash Day in my neighborhood, and for whatever reason we had more than the usual complement of refuse this week. The bags were full of dry, relatively light materials, so we kept them indoors so they wouldn’t blow away with all the winds we’d had lately. So this morning I grabbed up the bags and pushed out through the front door. And right behind me, one of the dogs, the small white one, boogied outside and up the street toward Harford Road.

This dog has a habit of doing this sort of thing, and frankly I’m tired of it. My attitude toward most of the pets is: “My job is to pet the animal”, so training and chasing ain’t in that job description, thank you very much. And the hell of it is, in almost any other situation he’ll come when you call him. But when he gets out the front door, he’s Gone, Baby, Gone.

I simply turned to Wee One and told her, “He went thataway.” She ran outside to find him. A few minutes later she came back crying; she couldn’t find him. Sigh. Get in the car, kid.

Thirty minutes later, we gave up. I dropped Wee One off at school, a half-hour late. Fortunately, the principal was also getting to school late and walked her into the building. I still had something to pick up from home, so I stopped back in and called one of my co-workers to let her know what had happened, and to tell everyone that I was on my way to the meeting.

So naturally, as soon as I hung up and opened the front door to leave, there he was sitting on the porch, the little rat bastard.

The Marital Bed!

Liz Lemon: Who’s gonna go with me to cooking class next weekend?
Guy at Bar: Well if by ‘cooking class’ you mean ‘your bed’ and by ‘next weekend’ you mean ‘tonight’…
Liz Lemon: Oh, shut up. I can see your wedding ring. Idiot.

30 Rock, “Blind Date” (10/25/06)

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In another day or so, Wife and I will be taking delivery of the first new bed we’ve purchased together.

Our old mattress isn't quite as nice as this one. In our first foray into the world once the snow settled down, the two of us went bed shopping. Our current mattress is older than Wee One and, when the springs start poking out the sides of the mattress and tearing at the sheets, your clothing and occasionally your flesh, you know it’s time for a new one. On the other hand, we got a little mileage out of: “How did you get that scratch?” “Oh…in bed.” (Okay, maybe that was just me.)

So we went to a few different places to shop for beds, and Guys, if you feel dopey being out with your Significant Other while she’s shopping for clothes, you ain’t seen nothing yet. At least when you’re doing that, you’re kind of the Innocent Bystander, standing there patiently while she’s looking through the racks and running in and out of the fitting room. When you’re bed shopping together, you become part of the theater.

See, when you’re buying a bed, you have to try the thing out at some point. You can’t just point to a bed and hope for the best; this is a commitment. This means that you can’t help it: you have to break down and actually lie on the thing. Wife would usually lie down on the bed and stare at the ceiling of the store for awhile, then she’d call me over. “Come on, honey. Lie down with me.” So now I have to go over and there we are, side by side on a bare mattress, fully clothed, just like we sleep at home.  Then it’s, “Turn on your side, honey, ‘cause that’s how you sleep.” For whatever reason, she felt no need to change position, even though she doesn’t sleep on her back.

The first place we went to was staffed solely by a guy named Frank. I remember this because he told me his name five thousand times. Frank was also pretty fond of telling us that he was very “low-pressure.” He was so low pressure that it began to rain in the store. Heh. But he did answer our questions and managed to give us a couple of decent offers. However, since it was the first place we’d been to, we didn’t want to commit right away.

Our next stop was the White Marsh Mall. We had a baseline to work from, and our first stop was in Sears. If you feel dumb lying on the bed in the mattress store, try it in Sears. Wife didn’t much like anything there, so that was blissfully brief.

From there we popped in to the Sleep Number store. This is the one that The Bionic Woman is often seen whoring out on television. The beds were pretty neat, but A) they’re really pricey, even on sale, and B) while they contour nicely to your body, they don’t re-adjust very quickly at all when you change position. The salesman’s angle was that, when you’re in the Sleep Number bed, you won’t change position nearly as often because you’ll be sleeping so much better. I suppose this is fine for while you’re sleeping, but when you’re reading or watching TV or (face it) boinking first, and then you switch into Sleep Position, that’s when it’s a problem. The other issue is that Wife and I are I’m what the medical community clinically refers to as a “fatass”, and the two of us on what’s essentially an air mattress made us both a little nervous. So, Sleep Number was out.

back brace As we made our way back home, we spotted yet another mattress place, so we popped in there. There, we were assisted by an older guy who wore a back brace much like the one to the right, except that it wasn’t closed in front. He was a guy who’d been in the business forever, though, and was able to tell us in great detail why one bed cost more than another, how this bed was good for one thing and another bed for another, exactly why we didn’t like the Memory Foam jobbies, and so on. Oddly enough, we stayed far, far away from the one he noted he had at home. Ultimately he passed us on to one of his colleagues, who talked to us a bit more. For an amount comparable to what we would have spent at the first place, we got what we decided was a better bed.

So with any luck, before much longer we’ll be sleeping on our brand-new Simmons Beautyrest bed. Which is good, since this is me before I’ve had my beauty sleep:

creatureblacklagoon

And this is me after I’ve had my beauty sleep:

beauty sleep after 

Naturally, I’m going to need a HELL of a lot of sleep.

Enough, Already.

Jack: How is it that you didn’t know about the crash? About us?
Desmond: I push this button every 108 minutes. I don’t get out much.

Lost, “Orientation” (10/5/05)

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igorVovkovinskiy Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, Snowgasm, Snowtorious B.I.G….call it whatever you want, it’s a lot of snow. Statistically, as of February 11 Baltimore is THE snowiest city in the US this year, with a total of 79.9 inches. That’s just enough to bury the guy to the left, here. (His name is Igor Vovkovinsky, and he lives in Rochester, NY, which is now #5 on the list with a mere 63.9 inches.) As a means of contrast, Michelle Obama is 5 feet, 11 inches tall; she only has to go to Philadelphia, PA (#4) to be buried in snow.  I’d have to go to Erie, PA (#3). My next-door neighbor B would probably go to Syracuse, NY (#2).

And—AND! We’re not done. There’s more snow coming on Monday evening.

But, whatever. You can read all about the snow in a million other places, you can see pictures in the news and on Facebook (“Winter Snowstorm 2010”), everyone has a story of how they were snowed in away from the rest of the world and they had to SHOVEL THEIR WAY OUT, the horror…the horror.

The positive side to all of this is that you’re also seeing a lot of stories about neighbors getting together and digging each other out. Sometimes this means that they’re meeting for the first time. In our case, this wasn’t the situation (meeting each other, that is), but there was a pile of camaraderie going on this week. Everyone took some time to dig out one or more of the neighbors.

The last time it snowed a lot, our neighbor from across the street, who is a locksmith, was taking his work van through the neighborhood and he got bogged down in the snow. B from next door, his son and I all helped to dig him out and get the van about 200 feet up the slight incline to Harford Road, which was at least reasonably clear. A passing big honkin’ pickup truck coming up Harford spotted us and offered to pull him out the last 15-20 feet, which he did and then went merrily on his way. Locksmith and his wife said that they’d have us all for dinner as a “Thank You” once B’s wife, S, got home from China. (She’s studying International Business Law there for a year, but was due home for the intersession break. So if you need a lawyer who can speak fluent Chinese, drop me a line and I’ll put you in touch.) (Oh, and don’t blame me if she doesn’t update; go yell at her.)

So this past week, we had everyone over at my place for the Super Bowl, which means all kinds of food, including S & B from next door, Mr. & Mrs. Locksmith, and the engaged couple across the street (who now need a moniker…give me a minute). A day or two later, it was brunch at S & B’s place. Shortly after that was the Thank You dinner at Mr. & Mrs. Locksmith’s house. And the next night we had dinner at the Engaged household (still working on it). And in the middle of all this, when we finally got one of the bigger vehicles to break free, everyone rode in the Shopping Expedition (Big Ford-related pun!) that afternoon. (Ooh, there you go: they’ll be the Ford Twins, since it was their car.)

As a result, between all the shoveling, and the meals at the neighbors, and the Nobody Goes Nowhere situation engendered by the snow, I’ve about had it with the togetherness. It’s not that I’m an anti-social person, but I definitely enjoy being social on my own terms. I don’t want to spend any more time with the neighbors, I don’t want to spend any more time with my family (Valentine’s Day be damned), I need some honest-to-god “me” time. I do realize that it sounds kind of asshole-ish of me, but I do need frequent periods of solitude or my anxiety levels go way up. And let me tell you what: they’re up. I need to get back to work so I can calm down. Especially since that’s where the BuSpar is, dammit.

This morning, Wife asked me if I’d take Wee One to her cheerleading practice this afternoon and I was only too happy, because I could work on this post and the other parents generally leave me alone. My luck: Ultimate Gymnastics is staging a kid’s birthday party this afternoon, which means that the normally-quiet waiting area has dozens of people in it, including a bunch of hyperactive seven-year-olds, plus the tables are all occupied, so my computer is a laptop in the literal sense just now, and I’m boxed in with all these other folks. I’m not claustrophobic, exactly, but I’m definitely an aisle-seat kind of guy.

So if you see a headline coming out of the Baltimore area about a murder-suicide in Parkville, that would be me.

Road Trip Prep

Maya: So, how was Jamaica?
Dennis: Just like Florida, except everyone speaks English.


Just Shoot Me, “The Withholder” (11/17/98)


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Today was one of those days where I did a lot of stuff and didn’t feel like I’d accomplished much when I got to the end.


Ipod-classicYesterday I picked up the iPod I ordered from Circuit City. I got a 160 GB model, since I have over 2500 tracks ripped and thousands more yet to do. (This is what happens when you were once a mobile DJ.) Since I’m not too much into the bells ‘n’ whistles, I got a Classic model (6th generation, I believe), in black. Not that it matters, since they both have the chrome backside. Much like my Uncle Arthur, who got his ass shot off in Vietnam. Heh.


If you look carefully at my specific iPod, you’ll notice that Marissa Miller’s crotch is nowhere near it. What a gyp.


The iPod is pretty easy to use but it’s not 100% intuitive. Some things you have to figure out, and the documentation that comes with the unit is rather thin. However, when you log into iTunes (which you need to have if you’re gonna use this thing), the help files are pretty good.


So I got my music files organized in the iTunes software, then I had to move them over to the iPod. This took a little doing, since it’s not obvious how it’s done. In fact, once I thought I’d done it, I was a bit surprised to discover that there was nothing in the iPod and I had to try again.


In the meantime, I worked on getting laundry done. I did about six loads (hey, it adds up when there are two adults and a nine year old who likes to play dress-up; plus there was still some residual laundry from their road trip), and there’s still one more to be done. Meanwhile GF is bounding back and forth between ironing some of the finished laundry and priming the walls in the upstairs hallway and the stairwell. Apparently there will be several rooms looking quite different when I get home.


Pj3 So in the morning (it’s 2:00 AM already? Ecch) I have to go to work and dismantle my computer so that I can set it up again…oh yeah, nowhere. Actually, I do have a place in mind but I’m not going to worry about it till I get back. Then it’s back home and throw some clothes into a carry-on-size bag. Into the car and I have to buzz through Polock Johnny’s to get a package of 20 Polish sausages for my brother the Recent Convert to the PJ’s. Aaaand…it’s off to the Sunshine State!


Where, naturally, my mother reports it’s rained like hell for days.

Downhill From Here

Dave: I want you to look around. Here we have Lisa, who today very nearly gave up a career in journalism for a life in the fast food industry. Over here we have Beth, who dresses like a barmaid from “Blade Runner.” Mr. James, a millionaire who has spent the entire day eating food he knows for a fact to be spoiled. Joe, who has earned upwards of 11 dollars working as an amateur surveillance expert, albeit half of that is Monopoly money.


Newsradio, “Lucky Burger” (10/14/98)


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I can’t tell if this day has been disastrous or just plain bad. You be the judge:


My court date for the guy who stole stuff out of my garage was today. I checked the state’s website just to be sure I’m going to the right building and there’s a note that there’s parking adjacent to the building. Really!


So I get down there and nearly every space in the lot is Permit Only. There are three hundred and seventy-five thousand cars trying to get into 100 parking spaces. The nearby steers are no help, either, as they’re permit-only as well. Finally I decided to cut my losses and park in the Harford Heights Elementary/Middle lot. At worst, I can argue that I’m a BCPSS employee, so that counts, right?


Cross the street, up the hill and follow a sign that points me to the District Court. I go in through the doors and the person there asked me if I was there for Court. When I replied in the affirmative, she told me I was in the wrong entrance. “Out, around the side, down the stairs and in the front door.”


In the courtroom. I check in with the DA and have a seat. Thank god I have my Kindle with me because while some of the proceedings are interesting, most of them are not. The Kindle, incidentally, got some attention from a few of the lawyers walking around. Amazon may owe me a few bucks for the referral. It was two-and-a-half hours from that point before “State of Maryland v. Keith Joines” was called. I was a little nervous because I didn’t see him in the courtroom and I thought they were going to have to issue a bench warrant. Turns out that Keith Joines wasn’t in the courtroom because he was in the holding cell, in cuffs and ankle chains. I can’t say I feel very badly about that.


His attorney (the Public Defender, of course) noted that there were a few cases against him and that he wanted them all tried at once. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this tactic, but whatever. The State attorney offered a year in jail for a guilty plea, which was rejected. Then he offered eight months if Joines would be willing to reimburse me for my losses. This, apparently was also rejected. In short, for whatever reason this guy wants to go to a trial. My guess is, based on a Maryland Judiciary Case Search I did, looking up the name “Keith Joines”, this is someone who’s gotten good at gaming the system. He’s hoping for a verdict that ends with “time served” at worst. He’s also probably enjoying the idea of using up a lot of time and resources. (Why am I using this Keith Joines’ name a lot, you ask? It’s sort of a baby Googlewhack.)


Since I got out before noon, I decided to go back to work. There was a student I was interested in observing, so I headed down to that school to see what was going on. Apparently there’d been a bit of trouble with Mom’s reliability in getting him to the school for testing (he’s a preschool-age student), so plans were made with the mother’s caseworker and all of the assessors descended on the school at the same time. This poor kid is SO autistic that he reminds me of my days working in the nonpublic school on Long Island. He’s going to be tough to place but I’m confident that we’ll do well by him.


A while later I got home and noticed that the package from Kansas hadn’t arrived yet. I checked the UPS website and noticed that it passed THROUGH Baltimore early yesterday morning, then went to Philadelphia, where it was scanned at about 7:30 AM. So I gave UPS a call and asked them what was up. They said that they had one more scan just outside the Philadelphia area around 12:30 PM but that was all they knew. However, the package could still arrive anywhere between now (almost 7:00 PM) and midnight.


Just for the giggles I checked again to see if there was a new scan. Now there was a new notation with a 7:58 PM timestamp for today: THE PACKAGE WAS DAMAGED IN TRANSIT. UPS WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH THE DETAILS / ALL MERCHANDISE DISCARDED. UPS WILL NOTIFY THE SENDER WITH DETAILS OF THE DAMAGE


And, of course, GF neither declared a value for the package nor did she insure it. Let me do that sentence again: GF, and her mother the postmaster, didn’t insure the package or declare a value for the 35 pounds of meat inside it, when they handed it over to UPS. GF’s excuse was that she didn’t pay full price for it so she didn’t know what to say. Hm. 35 lbs of beef times about $5 a pound makes for a rough value of $175. So the most we’re likely to recover at this point is the original shipping fee.


You know, a more cynical mind would suspect that the package was “damaged” in transit, and that the merchandise was discarded by throwing it on a Weber full of hot coals. But I’m a trusting soul.

Move Along

Dr. Frasier Crane: I’ll tell you Woody, the psychiatric profession can really get rough sometimes. I think if I hear one more person telling me about one more problem, I’ll explode.
Woody Boyd: I know just how you feel, Dr. Crane. 
Frasier: Actually, I suppose you do. Our professions are really very much alike. We both have to listen patiently while people unload their grief and suffering. Sometimes it’s just more than I can bear.
Woody: I know just how you feel, Dr. Crane. 
Frasier: If only I had your ability to listen to a person’s problem, sympathize with them, and yet still go on about my business calmly and happily. How to do you it, Wood?
Woody: I know just how you feel, Dr. Crane. 
Frasier: You’re not listening to me, are you?
Woody: I know just how you feel, Dr. Crane.


Cheers, “The Book of Samuel” (12/11/86)


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A genuine conversation I had with GF shortly before she left for Kansas (this is the part where your screen goes all wavy and you hear harp music running up and down the scale):


GF: Don’t forget to water the plants on the porch every other day.


Me: You got it, Honey.


GF: I know it’s been raining a lot lately, but the ones on the porch don’t get rained on.


Me: I understand. I’ve got it covered.


GF: And if they don’t get watered at least every other day, they’re going to die.


Me: (finally losing patience) So you want them watered? Is that daily or will every other day do?  


GF: (not necessarily getting it) They need it every other day. Why are you getting an attitude with me?


Me: Because I’ve already agreed to take care of it. I understand the situation. I can handle it. So stop trying to convince me that it’s important. I’m not getting an attitude, but I can’t figure out if you’re ignoring me or if you think I’m not able to do this job.  


To be fair about this, this conversation is not unique to GF. I think I’ve gone through this sort of conversation with every woman with whom I’ve had a long-term relationship. What is it with these people who feel compelled to keep convincing you to do something you’ve already agreed to do? It really pisses me off when they Just. Keep. Explaining. after I’ve already said Yes. A couple of times I’ve told them Yes, then had to stop them by saying “I’ve already said ‘yes’. Stop now before I change my mind.” 


I have a coworker who can’t let stuff go. She’ll call the office and I’ll make the mistake of asking politely, “How are you?” This sets her off on a twenty-minute diatribe of her health, how much time she spends doing her job, and any of a multitude of complaints. FINALLY she’ll get to her question. I’ll give her this: she doesn’t usually call with knucklehead questions. I answer as best as I can but onward she plows, telling me how she needs this answer and giving me another ten minutes about the discussion she got into with this person and that person and the other guy and I have no recourse but to break in and say, “HEY. Did you get the answer? Yes? Good, then stop burning up my cellphone’s daytime minutes.” I hang up before she realizes she’s called the land line.


Because this clearly isn’t a unique situation to GF, I’m sure that other guys are with me in this boat. What do you do to stop the madness besides threaten to blow your brains out?

In the O Zone

Cal Shanley: A transformer’s out, something fell on a power line.
Danny Tripp: Are they fixing it?
Cal Shanley: In a manner of speaking.
Danny Tripp: What does that mean?
Cal Shanley: They don’t know how to fix it.
Danny Tripp: [pause] How much do I want to know about this?
Cal Shanley: As little as possible.


Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, “The Focus Group” (10/1/06)


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One of the things I’ve been working on while GF is on her road trip (tonight she checked in from St. Louis) is cleaning things that I haven’t been able to take care of. The refrigerator is an excellent example, because it always feels like I’m shoveling against the tide on that one. For me, the fridge is a place to store fresh food and keep it that way until it’s cooked and eaten; alternatively it’s where the beer (except this week, alas) and condiments live. For GF it’s the Leftovers Graveyard. I usually make just enough for us when I cook, but when we get take-out or go to a restaurant there’s usually something left over. More often than not this gets put in the refrigerator. On paper, this is for lunch the next day or some such, but the more common outcome is that I discover that there are numerous science experiments going on in my icebox.


So Monday night I went through and got rid of all that. I didn’t even really care how old it was; if it was from a previous meal it was gone. Personally I’m impressed by the number of plastic containers I’ve recovered just from that effort.


I’ve also started on eating stuff that’s in the freezer, just to see if I can find the back of that space. Last night I pulled out a bit of lasagna I’d frozen a couple of months back, so I figured I’d eat that for dinner. Put it in a bowl and stuck it in the microwave, set it for five minutes just to get started.


When I came back, the microwave was off but the food was still frozen solid. The hell? This microwave is new; it was a Christmas gift from my mother. That’s when I realize that A) the microwave’s display is dark; and B) the lights are out in the kitchen. The breaker tripped. I go downstairs and reset the switch. Turn the microwave back on and sit with it through the first minute or so. No problem. I leave the kitchen; when I come back it’s all off again. Hm. This could take awhile.


Now, I could just reheat the lasagna in the regular oven, but that doesn’t really solve the problem. Why would the microwave suddenly be creating a problem? This didn’t happen a few weeks ago when the house still had fuses…


Aha.


I go back downstairs and remove the cover panel from the circuit breaker box. Sure enough, I can see that one of the wires going into the affected breaker isn’t connected correctly. In fact, when I give it a nudge to see if it’s connected at all, it rewards me with a lovely shower of sparks. Mmmm…individual Oxygen atoms; don’t they smell nice?


Since fixing it for me means shutting off all the house’s power, it’s too late to work on this at that point using only the natural light coming through my east-facing basement window. I leave everything the way it is and go back upstairs, rigging an extension cord to a working outlet for the microwave.


This afternoon, after I got home, I went downstairs and cut the main power breakers. (I know this doesn’t kill everything in the box, but it gives me a little extra security. And you’re looking at a guy who usually changes outlets and switches without bothering to cut the power to the junction box, working with hot wires.) Popped the breaker out of place, re-attached the wire and, just for the giggles, took a minute to check all the other wires. They all appeared to be placed correctly, but I did find a couple of screws that weren’t socked down all the way.


I don’t think I’ll be calling that electrician to do any more work for me.

Slow Response, Quick Action

[Pee-wee is offering a $10,000 reward to whoever finds his bike]
Dottie: Pee-wee, how are you ever going to pay a reward like that?
Pee-wee: It's simple. Whoever returns the bike is obviously the person who stole it. So they don't deserve any reward!

Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)

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This morning I had an electrician to the house to finally take out the old fuses and put in circuit breakers. As a result of this, the power was out in the house. The good news is that we're in the 21st century around here, so I have a cell phone with unlimited weekend minutes.

So I'm on the cell phone with my mother and as we're chitchatting, I look out my back window. Across the alley out back I see someone in my garage. At first, I thought it was B from next door, but as the guy steps out I realize it's not him. Some guy is taking stuff out of my garage!

He's a thin, older white man; appears to be in his sixties, unless time hasn't been especially kind to him. He's balding on top and has a salt & pepper fringe around the sides and back. He's wearing a white tank top, jeans and dirty work boots. He's got a bit of a limp, but behaves as though he's had it forever and has adapted to it by now.

Still chatting with mom, I step outside and start crossing the yard. Finally I get to the gate, ask my mother to hold and say to the guy, "Excuse me, where are you going with that?"

He tells me that he's taking it up to the corner, the guy in the black truck told him to take it to the corner. I tell him he's got the wrong garage. The guy insists: "He told me he'd give me $15 to bring this stuff up there." I say, "This is my garage. You need to put that stuff back, now." Finally I remember my mother and tell her there's someone stealing stuff from my garage and I have to call her back. I immediately dial 911. By now, of course, the guy is taking off, of course. The 911 operator is asking me all kinds of questions that the cops are going to ask anyway, so it's not like I'm able to run this guy down and talk to her at the same time. I'm walking with the phone in my hand up after him toward Harford Road (my place is a few doors down from Harford), but by the time I get there he's nowhere to be seen.

Then I get the bad feeling that this wasn't his first trip into the garage. I open the door and discover that I'm unfortunately right. The lawn mower is gone, my new bike is gone, a few other items are missing. Son of a bitch.

Despite calling in what is bascially a B&E in progress, the police take over a half-hour to get to the house. I go through the description again, catalog what's missing and so forth. While we're waiting for the report number to come back from the precinct, the officer gets a call that they may have caught the guy, and would I be willing to go identify the guy? Why, yes. Yes, I would.

So I get into the back of the police car and we ride away a few blocks and sure enough, it's the same fossilized piece of shit I saw outside the garage. Different shirt but the same guy. Now I have to go down to the police station and make a statement for the detective, which basically involves telling the entire story yet again. By now I've got it pretty solidly nailed.

Back to the house and the electrician is still working on the breaker box. There was a little hassle because he used to live in this neighborhood and he was pretty sure that our stove was gas, which unfShortly after he left, though, we discovered a problem with the power upstairs. I called him up and he came back and worked at the problem for a couple of hours. He's kind of baffled by what the specific problem might be, which is probably rooted in the fact that the wiring in this house was probably installed by Thomas Edison. Only time will tell, as they say.

So the bottom line is that my stuff is still gone at this point, but really, it's just STUFF, ya know? Although my yard is starting to look like a wheat field, so I guess I'm buying another lawn mower Monday evening.