Thursday, October 02, 2014

Strict Construction of the First Amendment

"There's nothing like freedom of speech to help you identify the people who should be avoided like the plague."
  ~ Liz Braun

Sears sent a very nice young man out this morning to fix the broken icemaker in my refrigerator. I have been enduring a living nightmare for almost 3 weeks: no ice for my martinis. When I called to make the appointment and explained my problem, the hilarious woman in the call center said she’d put a Code Red on this request because of the hardship I was undergoing. My faith in humanity was restored.

They sent the part they assumed was most likely to be the problem.  It took the guy 2 minutes to determine that wasn’t the problem. He looked like he’d escaped from the Village People: tool belt, Hispanic name on pocket of blue work shirt, hella cool tool box that was more like a lady’s carry-on luggage designer purse-shaped thing, and haircut by a blind man suffering from some serious drug withdrawal problems. But the repairman made the haircut work for him.

He removed several cans of chocolate worm cakes from the fridge as well as several jars of pickles in order to remove the icemaker shroud that the ice container drawer goes into. (You can’t have too many half-empty jars of pickles in your fridge. I think he judged me wrt/pickles, but it was silent so maybe I’m just exhibiting paranoia. Frankly, I am afraid of strangers coming into my house and stealing my open pickle jars. I just hope they don’t find the unopened jars in the cupboard too. Otherwise, the two times a year I want to eat pickles I might find myself pickleless, and I’ll have to go out and stock up.)

Meanwhile, I’m on the phone with an insurance company trying to get a quote for combined home and auto insurance so I can tell Farmer’s Insurance to bite my shiny metal ass. First, of course, I had to scan the Declarations page from the Farmer’s homeowner’s policy so other insurance companies could give me a quote on comparable coverage.

That meant I had to engage with my HP Printer, which I have named in my applications folder as HP Shit Printer for reasons that will be obvious to anybody who has had an HP printer; or been remotely related to someone who has; or who has lived next door to someone who has during the summer when windows are open. It couldn’t find the computer sitting within clear sight of it on the next shelf, and to which it’s wireless ass is connected directly by a wire. Then. I couldn’t make an alias to put on the desktop from my “remote” hard drive (How remote? Two inches from my laptop. Might as well be the moon.) Or, I could, but the printer still couldn’t find the computer, meaning the alias didn’t work either – possibly because I no longer called it HP Shit Printer but simply Shit Printer. (I though the point of an alias was to take on a secret identity, so you naturally used a different name. Another point on which the printer and I have agreed to disagree.)

My faith in computer hardware, never very strong to begin with, has bled to death from the slings and arrows of outrageous pop-up windows saying pointless things like “Honestly, I’ve looked everywhere on this shelf and can’t find the computer, so I’m just going to sit here until you press ok, then I’m going back to the basic menu from which I’ll repeat this unhelpful message if you dare to try again.” Of course I tried again – it didn’t give me any choice except to click on “ok, continue to mess with me”.

Keep in mind that the Village People Refrigerator Repairperson is working within hearing distance of my computer and printer, and that was my problem. At one point, he explained the icemaker problem wasn’t the funky part Sears had mailed but simply a gasket on the back that was soggy and warped and instead of directing drips down into the evaporating pan under the fridge melting ice went straight into the shelf where my pickles are stored. He replaced the gasket. There will be ice!

Meanwhile however, I was unable to discuss the matter of scanning calmly and reasonably with the printer while trying to troubleshoot the problem. I already know the problem: I don’t have a comfortable relationship with inanimate objects, and the more moving parts they have, especially electronic so-called wireless parts, the more fraught our interactions are. Also, HP printers are worthless pieces of the stuff you try to scrape off the bottom of your shoe after you walk through a cow pasture, and my printer is self-aware and has a particularly vicious streak.

So, my efforts to get an insurance quote were hampered considerably as I tackled the challenge of interacting with my computer hardware under the disadvantage of not being able to exercise my unbridled freedom of speech. I have found exercising the First Amendment to its fullest extent to be very effective in the face of such challenges, and was thus reduced to negotiating by muttering under my breath to the printer about what a miserable worthless piece of crap it is using only PG-rated words instead of my considerable skills in creative profanity. 

In fact, I think I may have discovered another superpower: creative profanity as applied to insulting people or objects that displease me. I’m sure the prescient Founding Fathers had that situation precisely in mind when they wrote the First Amendment so many years before HP printers were invented. Once Village People Repairman left, I concluded negotiations with the printer in a more serious and profane vein and sure enough, it came around.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Time to Make Donuts

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana."
  – Groucho Marx

What kind of post could evolve from this epigram? The consolidated wisdom in those two sentences has the density of a black hole, and nothing clever can escape the event horizon.

So, instead of giving into my feelings of philosophical inadequacy, I’ve been thinking I need to renew my lawyer’s ticket. The state where I live requires that to practice law you have to be a member of the bar association. I stopped paying my dues circa ten years ago when I retired, so there're some back dues and late fees to consider. And what about continuing legal education requirements? The definition of privacy has certainly changed from the good old days.

I know folks with marriage problems, and with landlord-tenant problems that, to be modest, I could hardly make worse.

I’m hearing horror stories from my relative about her attempts to get a divorce and how the respondent has yet to appear and meanwhile she’s trapped in an expensive limbo while the interlocutory order is waiting for a hearing about a disputed issue regarding how long the couple has been living together as a married couple and that’s waiting on a hearing to schedule the hearing and that’s waiting for either the respondent or his lawyer to show up. Meanwhile, petitioner’s attorney is evidently asleep at the wheel, leaving the petitioner… 

Upon consideration, who cares? There should be some minimum requirement for the party with the most to lose to make at least a halfhearted attempt to understand the process and know wtf is going on. But there isn’t. And while stupid isn’t against the law, it’s against the commandments of my religion. Specifically: god don’t help them what don’t help theirselves. 

Besides, time flies. On the scale of the universe, our lifespans are as long as fruit flies. So, to say life is too short to own problems created and/or exacerbated by other people, is, well to embrace loquacity over brevity. More better to say: Time to make donuts.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Sun Going South

In late sunshine I wander troubled.
Restless I walk in autumn sunlight.

To many changes, partings, and deaths.
Doors have closed that were always open.
Trees that held they sky up are cut down.
So much that I alone remember.

This creek runs dry among its stones
Souls of the dead, come drink this water!

Come into this side valley with me,
A restless old woman, unseemly,
Troubled, walking on dry grass, dry stones.".

 - Ursula K. LeGuin, Always Coming Home

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My Great Leap Sideways

"The time I’ve lost in wooing,
In watching and pursuing
The light that lies
In woman’s eyes,
Has been my heart’s undoing.
Though Wisdom oft has sought me,
I scorned the lore she brought me,
My only books
Were woman’s looks,
And folly’s all they’ve taught me."

 - Thomas Moore  (1779–1852), The time I’ve lost in wooing

You know how people keep saying we have to have The Conversation? Mostly about race, but sometimes about beating women down or posting their naked pictures on the internets if they speak up. So bring it, boys. Oh, wait. You already have: every two minutes in America.

Assuming I had naked pictures, and that I was dumb enough to upload them to the cloud, posting my naked pictures would bring that trend to the kind of halt a schoolbus full of orphans would make being rammed into a bridge abutment at 90 miles per hour by an 18-wheeler with “Grim Reaper” spray-painted on the side.

My own story of sexual assault is actually three, including one about which I cannot speak and therefore about which I shall remain silent.

There was the time a neighbor fixed me up with her brother, a cop from Riverside, who took me to a cheap dinner and then called me a cunt because I wouldn’t fuck him in the front seat of his muscle car. He dropped me off at his sister’s house before peeling out to accurately demonstrate the actual size of his penis. She was babysitting for my toddler, who I then had to carry two blocks home in her sleep.

One out of five women are likely to be raped, gentlemen. Some would say the rape epidemic is a fiction. I couldn’t agree more that it would be nice if fewer women were being assaulted today than yesterday.

As to Mr. Number Two, I’m quite sure he is limping around right now trying to remember where he got that scar next to his penis. Or maybe he’s dead because some other woman managed to actually hit his femoral artery with her metal nail file – what I was going for when he hit me so hard on the side of the head that I saw stars. At least I drew more blood than he did: a victory of sorts. And I didn’t get raped that night either, although I had to pay a cab because it was too far to walk home.

In both cases, I was a full grown woman, and I was wearing lipstick. In retrospect, I was probably was asking for it because I had, you know, a pulse.

But here’s where I want to depart from the hegemonic discourse about how great things are going, and leap sideways. I submit that… wait for it….  it would be even better if women didn’t get assaulted at all. No kidding. Even better: how about if women didn’t always have to worry about being disrespected, raped, assaulted, paid less, and knocked out in elevators?

More importantly: it’s not women’s looks that are the problem here. It’s the aggressor who is at fault. If women’s looks are your only books, you’re fools. Time to wise up.

So because men no longer find me rapable – because I’m old enough to join AARP and because my dress size is two digits – I feel safe going on record and saying if good men don’t stand up on the side of good women, we’re headed down that slippery slope that leads to covering our heads and FGM and honor killings here in this land of the free and home of the brave dickheads who call ladies cunts.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

My Personal Opinion of Farmers Insurance

“The mere narcotizing effect of which cosmic forces have on a shallow and brittle personality is attested in the relation of such a person to one of the highest and most genial manifestations of these forces: the weather. Nothing is more characteristic than that precisely this most intimate and mysterious affair, the working of the weather on humans, should have become the theme of their emptiest chatter. Nothing bores the ordinary man more than the cosmos. Hence, for him, the deepest connection between weather and boredom.
 - Walter Benjamin, The Arcade Project

It’s been hot lately. I talked about the weather for 15 minutes the other night with a complete stranger. Did you know it’s been hot lately? Enough narcotizing.

I recently filed the second homeowners insurance claim I have ever filed with Farmer’s Insurance in >25 years.  They more recently denied it, just like they did when I found mold from a slow leak  under my kitchen dishwasher that hadn’t been used in 20 years, and refused to even give me a copy of the hazmat report that it was black mold I should have noticed sooner. Because, apparently we should all be checking beneath un-used and un-movable kitchen appliances regularly, rather than discovering the mold when it spreads to the adjacent cabinet beneath the sink. Due diligence.

Tiffany, my good neighbor claims adjustor from Kansas, at first said the fallen tree branch must have fallen (and badly damaged a guest’s vehicle) because I must have been negligent in not removing a dead branch that was clearly threatening to fall in my driveway.

When I produced a 3-page detailed invoice and cancelled check for $5,000 worth of tree work less than 90 days ago, it gave Tiffany pause. But only briefly. Tiffany then said it must have been an act of god.

Well then, I said. Since I had the burden of proof that I wasn’t negligent, she’d have to prove it was an act of god, beginning with proving that there is a god. Tiffany said that act-of-god is a legal term of art. I said I’d been a lawyer longer than she’d been inhaling air, and term of art or not, she had the burden of proof. 

Unless, I suggested in my best good neighbor voice, there was a policy exception for “shit happens”. Tiffany reminded me that the call was being recorded. I reminded Tiffany that shit happens is a legal term of art, and was in no way directed at her or intended to impugn the reputation of Farmers so-called Insurance.

As the claim was denied – to my great lack of surprise – as an act of nature, I felt it not worth my trouble to file another claim for removal of the branches that were knocked down by the hurricane remnant that blasted through my backyard even more recently. Tiffany can't afford to waste any more air denying any more claims from now until I replace this worthless company with someone who won't at least disrespect my atheism. 

Tiffany did mention that Farmers insurance has a good neighbor clause that will pay up to the amount of my deductible but that if I invoked it, she couldn’t guarantee that my rates wouldn’t increase. I told Tiffany that is my exact definition of bad neighbor, but then again being a good neighbor wasn’t my job, so what do I know.

I do know that good neighbor is a meaningless term of art used by Farmers Insurance. And now, so do you.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Don’t Apologize

“A recipe is not as precise as a chemical formula, since ingredients vary slightly, as do cooking utensils and stoves. But a little difference is sometimes refreshing, and so it will not matter if there is a slight change in the finished product. For example, a sauce or a pudding may be thicker or thinner without being a failure. Don’t apologize! Just present it differently – the softer pudding in dessert glasses instead of on a serving dish as you had planned.”
-       Fannie Farmer, The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Eleventh Edition (original copyright 1896)

I was in a bad mood: I’d been reading the news after breaking up (again) with my mercurial quilting machine. Cooking when in a bad mood can lead one of two outcomes. When it works, cooking can lead to sublime transcendental enlightenment. The risk however, is that as they slowly go bad, failed cooking experiments can generate a gradual accumulation of nameless dread that eventually coalesces so thickly in the kitchen that it triggers the smoke alarm. So cooking while angry is always a risky undertaking - but one I was willing to take on in my dark mood.

Fortunately, I have the key, to escape the nameless dread. Garlic can make all the difference, and I’m not talking about scaring away werewolves. There’s something about the smell of roasting garlic that dispels the dread and summons the sublime. Thus, my challenge was to make something with garlic. Then, there were the other ingredients to assemble like an offering to the gods of anger: I needed comfort food, aka gluten. And obviously, cheese.

I found this cool spicy hot chili oil and I always have fresh basil on the windowsill although these days, my pot is looking a bit tired. So, why not something in the bread machine that will infuse the kitchen with aromas of mental wellbeing and carbohydrates to accompany my postprandial bourbon. So I made the dough in the bread machine, then kneaded it and let it rise on my counter and baked it on the pizza stone in the oven.

Now, I could follow a recipe. But the entire instigation for this cooking effort was the bad mood. And if there's one thing I hate (and there are many more than one thing) I don’t like things bossing me around – especially non-sentient things like signs and recipes.

It was Fannie Farmer who (I think my grandma told me when she gave me the cookbook for a wedding present) first applied the idea of precise measurements to cooking to make the experience more repeatable – like a scientific experiment – and less fraught with pinches of this and handsful of that. Betty Crocker (not to mention Keith Richards) had nothing on Fannie, my friends, when it came to cooking recipes with precise measurements requiring tiny spoons.

So, I consider a recipe to be a place to start cooking, not and exercise in proving a scientific theory about the thickness of a pudding: one that can be repeated with perfect consistency thereby proving the perfect pudding theory.  If I ever write a cookbook, it will be entitled Cooking While Pissed. Unless Julia Child already named one of her books that because it seemed to me that when she cooked with wine she, you know, got baked too. The fact that I was listening to a playlist heavy on the bagpipes had little to do with either the cause of my bad mood or the outcome of my cooking exercise (or with this post, for that matter).

Which was delicious bread, a bit heavy because I may have added too much cheese, thereby proving the scientific theory that yeast doesn’t make cheese rise. So I presented it as transcendently thinly sliced doughy lumps of garlicy cheese instead of bread, and it paired perfectly with my Sunday evening PBS mystery shows. So I’ve got nothing to apologize for. 

And also, by my second bourbon it occurred to me that my paternal grandmother may have given me a cookbook for a wedding present (thereby dramatically foreshadowing the failure of that marriage) but she might have been ahead of her time, slipping in the rather subversive message that a girl shouldn't have to apologize for her cooking. Thanks, Gram!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Lost and Found

I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.
 - Narihira, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

I have a car with a programmable audible navigation system and a map.  In theory, I should never get lost. In fact, I do get lost. Here. In this town where I’ve lived most of my life.

Not hopelessly lost where I’d starve to death and be found in ten years by hikers; or even tragically lost where I’d be found slightly decomposed within days - like the bodies at the beginning of an episode of CSI. But I tend to turn left when my final destination is on the right and I should know this by now dammit.

I could make the excuse about the main highway that runs through my valley is Route 8 – an east-west road that goes from Arizona to the Pacific Ocean. When Route 8 goes through my valley however, it is actually going north to south, making a big zig-zag to take advantage of passes leading into and out of the valley. That also means that the dozens of secondary roads that criss-cross the valley also tend to veer from their primary north/south path to east/west in some places. Or I could admit that I’m directionally challenged, which is why I was such a failure as a professional feng-shui consultant that my clients’ homes were being possessed by evil spirits and demons. 

But now with my navigation system, whose voice is named Louella, by the way, I no longer need to fear this lack of directional ability - as long as I can program in the address of my destination.

At any rate, I got lost coming home the other night after I dropped a friend off in a part of town I rarely visit. We used Louella to get us there, but I figured I’d find my own way home without her guidance. Which I did, eventually. I was weak with hunger and dizzy from low blood sugar, and I seriously had to pee. But I found a new scenic route that covered 35 miles to return from a destination 20 miles from home.

Instead of worrying about getting lost, I can now work on developing my latest superpower: using power tools. I promise to only use my power tools for good, never to do evil, or trepanning, or to slice body parts small enough to fit in my compost bin. At least not until I get a bone saw blade for my reciprocating saw. Sadly, Home Depot does not stock them. But I bet Amazon does.