Coffee heat rising

Unbundled! Qwest strikes again

So, I’m reading my Qwest bill and notice some long-distance calls to Austin, where I know exactly no one. I also want to find out what they want me to do with the useless modem the Filipinos sent and to cancel the $3.99/month roadside assistance plan that recently proved to be ludicrously useless. After dialing the customer service number printed on the bill, I again make the acquaintance of Qwest’s damnable robot, which eventually puts me through to one “Josh.”

Amazingly, this “Josh” speaks English. Yea, verily: he’s a native speaker. In the course of probably 40 minutes spent gabbing and wasting time on hold, I learn he grew up in Las Vegas and presently is living in Logan, Utah, where he works in Qworst’s call center to support his lifestyle as a ski bum.

The Josh brushes me off about the unidentifiable long-distance calls but agrees to discontinue the laughable roadside assistance disservice. Along the way, he remarks that he can save me money on the phone bill. Figuring he wants to sell me something (he does, but not till later), I rise to this bait. How, I ask, does he propose to do this?

“Well,” says he, “I see you have DSL, cell phone, and a land line. I can bundle them together, and it will save you $10 a month.”

“They are bundled,” say I.

“No, they’re not,” says he.

“The only reason I got the DSL was because Qwest sent an ad touting its cut-rate bundling. I called your company and specifically ordered the bundled service, and I was told that was what I got.”

“Look at your bill,” says the Josh. “If it doesn’t say ‘bundled service’ on the front page, then you don’t have bundled service.”

“The bill is unintelligible,” I observe. “None of it makes any sense at all. It is a document designed to confuse the customer.”

The Josh does not deny this. He proceeds to do the bundling thing, and now magically my bill drops by ten bucks a month. Not wanting this lucre to burn a hole in my pocket, he suggests I upgrade my cell phone service. I say I never use the cell phone and the only reason I got it is that pay phones have pretty much disappeared and I have to drive an aging car across a freeway to get to work; the cell is only for emergencies and I don’t need an upgrade. He then proposes I get their TV service. I say I don’t watch TV.

He is incredulous.

You don’t watch television?” he squawks.

“No.”

Never?”

“Never.” This is a slight exaggeration, but the Josh need not know it.

Discouraged, he now suggests I replace the old, perfectly functional modem with the new one, which I haven’t yet shipped back to Qworst. I say I’m not looking forward to fiddling with a CD and the connection, which invariably gets screwed up, and I can’t afford to be offline over the weekend because I have to do a blog carnival.

“What’s a blog?” the Josh inquires.

Beginning to suspect the man smokes something that doesn’t have nicotine in it, I ask him if he’s serious. He insists he doesn’t know what a blog is. I try to define blogging in one sentence.

He says for nine bucks, they’ll send a service guy over to install the modem. I say “sold!”

Now—get this!—he tells me I must immediately ship the free modem the Filipino staffer has ordered back to Qworst, so that the service dude can replace it with another modem, which will cost me $100. But lucky me! Qworst will be sending me a $50 rebate coupon!

Oh, thank you, honored phone company!

Not until I get off the phone do I realize that the Josh has figured out, during the course of conversation, that the modem in the box is the same kind of modem the service person will install, that at one point he subtly backpedaled to maneuver me into letting him replace it with one I have to pay for, and that the Josh probably gets paid by the amount of junk he can sell to the customer.

So here’s what we have:

In August 2006 I ordered what was presented to me as a bundled set of services. This “bundling” never happened. The result was that for the past two full years I have been overcharged $10 a month for a service that was misrepresented to me. That adds up to a $240 overcharge. More recently, I was made to jump through an hour’s worth of hoops while two marginally English-speaking technicians tried to figure out, over the telephone from their stations half-a-globe away, what was wrong with my DSL connection. Their assessment was wrong. Incorrectly thinking my modem was on the fritz (in fact, Qworst’s serviceapparentlywas down, something the company had not bothered to share with its men and women in Manila), they sent me a new modem, telling me it would be free of charge providing I shipped the old one back. This device is a newer model. A stateside Qworst customer service person smoothly switches out this free modem for an identical one, to the tune of $100, promising a $50 rebate. So, all told I’m out $290 in fraudulent and questionable charges.

Charming, eh?

If there was any question whether the robot voice expresses the disdain with which this corporation’s leadership views the Great Unwashed, interaction with Qworst’s live voices quickly dispels that.

Insurance: Never a dull moment

Just got a notice from the Great Desert University that my health insurance plan–the only one that covers my doctor–will be dropped this August. Thank you so much, beloved employer.

Well, I knew it was too good to last. After a long series of health insurance fiascos (including one year when the only provider they offered was so awful that none of my doctors would accept it-one doctor refused to see me at all, even after I offered to pay him out of pocket), the state started self-insuring a couple of years ago. They’ve had an EPO plan run by Schaller-Anderson, which, incredibly, covered all my doctors, including the Mayo Clinic, for a monthly premium of $24. This was a huge improvement over the $220 I was paying for the PPO, which sorta allowed you to go to your choice of doctors but two years ago quit covering the Mayo.

When Aetna acquired Schaller-Anderson a few months back, I thought “Okay…say goodbye to that!” Right on.

So now I’ll either have to find another doctor (which I do not want to do) or once again buy incredibly pricey insurance on the open market. The last time I bought my own insurance, I ended up with an MSA (medical savings account) plan. Though it offered total flexibility and generous coverage, it was very expensive–premiums were about $250 a month, and you had to deposit $1500 a year to a savings account with piratical fees. It’s probably moot, though. At this point in my life, I’d be surprised if I could get health insurance outside a group plan at all.

Other than the Mayo, healthcare providers in this state leave a lot to be desired. When I had acute appendicitis, I almost died while sitting fruitlessly in the waiting room of a much-touted major regional medical center. After sitting there over four hours in exquisite agony without even so much as a triage, I left and got some friends to drive me to the Mayo Clinic’s ER-the EMTs would not take me there, even though it’s no further from my home than the Third-World hospital that offered no medical care. By then the infection was very advanced and my appendix was about to burst. The Mayo’s physicians performed emergency surgery, and the care I received was excellent from beginning to end. And “end” could have been the operative word: for older adults, a burst appendix is a life-threatening event with a much higher mortality rate than for younger victims.

I want my choice of doctors, and I want to be able to see the doctor I’ve been seeing for the past 40 years, who happens to practice at the Mayo. When HMOs first started to take over the healthcare industry in this country, he saw the proverbial handwriting on the wall. Coincidentally, the Mayo opened its Scottsdale clinic about then. He had been trained at the Mayo, and as soon as he could he rejoined that organization. It’s a hellacious long drive for me to get to his office (the hospital is much closer), but I must say that the care I’ve received by and large has been worth it.

he state, of course, would like to herd us all into HMOs. I will pay out of pocket before I go into one of those things.

My mother died hideously in the “care” (a term best used ironically) of the first HMO organized in Arizona. As it developed, the doctors had a financial interest in the operation: if it made money, so did they; if it lost money, they lost money. So, it ran powerfully contrary to their personal interest to diagnose a patient with an expensive terminal illness. They simply refused to admit the obvious–that she had cancer. And it was so obvious, my cat could have diagnosed it. But the problem was, if they allowed that she had cancer, they would have had to treat her, and that would have cost the HMO a ton of money. So they denied she was sick at all-the day before they were forced by my father’s demands and the implicit threat of a lawsuit to open her up for an exploratory, her doctor told me and my father that that my eminently sane and practical mother needed a psychiatrist. When he did find her (predictably) full of cancer, he dropped her cold. They stopped providing doctors to see her or to advise my father and me on her care. I had to openly threaten them with my lawyers–repeatedly!–to get even the most basic nursing care for her.

She would have died anyway, but she didn’t have to suffer the way she did. Thirty years ago, there wasn’t much they could do for cancer, but they did have pain-killers. Even had they refused to treat her, they could at least have given her morphine, so she didn’t lie in bed suffering the tortures of the damned through the last weeks and months of her life.

After that and some other amazing experiences in the American healthcare system, I’m very picky about the kind of insurance coverage I get. I’m willing to pay to the max to get coverage that will allow me to go to any doctor I choose and that will pick up the tab for the astronomical bills presented by the kinds of illnesses one is prone to later in life.

So, this time around I’m going to look at concierge practices, where you pay a fee upfront in exchange for getting a doctor’s attention. In theory, you can get appointments promptly and the doctor schedules more than 10 or 15 minutes to talk to you. You still have to keep your insurance, but you might be able to get a lower-cost plan or even just a major medical plan. The annual fee is usually around $1,500…but that’s a far cry from the $2,640 a year I was paying for the PPO that canceled my doctor.

There are a number of drawbacks to concierge medicine, one of which is the obvious social issue: it pushes the practice of medicine even further toward elitism. The rich get care; the rest of us take what we can scrounge up, which often ain’t much. In my part of the country, precious few doctors subscribe to this system, and it’s hard to know what their qualifications might be. Or disqualifications. In the MDVIP network, for example, most of the physician members in my area practice at John C. Lincoln hospital, a scary affair whose Dickensian ER is…well, overworked, shall we say. That’s where a doctor decided, after a cursory exam and no tests, that the appendicitis just starting to make itself known must be inflammatory bowel syndrome and prescribed a drug whose manufacturer’s label said, loud and clear, that it was contraindicated for women with my symptoms. I can hardly wait to go back there!

Do I demand “Cadillac care”? You bet. It’s my life and my health we’re talking about here. And in America today, “competent” care is defined as “Cadillac care.”

By and large the offerings are abysmal. In Arizona, for example, only one hospital has been rated by HealthGrades as truly excellent: the Mayo. John and Cindy McCain go to the Mayo. You and I don’t, because our insurance won’t cover it. Three hospitals were rated as “distinguished” (a cut below “excellent”) for their clinical practice: the Mayo, Scottsdale Healthcare-Osborn, and Del E. Webb in Sun City. Only one of those is even remotely within driving distance of the central part of the city, where I live. In the entire state, just three landed “distinguished” ratings for patient safety: the Mayo, Yavapai Regional Medical Center in Prescott, and Yuma Regional Medical Center.

I guess I could get bare-bones major medical coverage and then pay my doctor at the Mayo out of pocket. In only two years I’ll be eligible for Medicare, which does cover the Mayo. If I raid my savings and pay off the Renovation Loan now-meaning I won’t be buying a car anytime in the near future-I could take the $220 a month I would be paying for the PPO and set it aside to pay medical bills. It’s awfully risky, though…all it would take is a heart attack or a tumor to bankrupt me once and for all.

I also could sign up for the flex plan, which in the past has been a bit of a waste. I sure do hate to cut my take-home pay drastically, given that it provides me a grand $29 of play in my budget. Contrary to claims, I’ve never found the flex plan did a thing to save on income taxes; every time I’ve subscribed, it just meant cash gouged out of take-home pay that I was forced to spend on medical stuff whether I needed it or not. This has led to many unnecessary doctor’s visits and purchases of redundant pairs of glasses.

I’m thankful that I can afford to pony up $1,500 for access to a doctor, if indeed I decide to do so. But…am I the only person who thinks that this is a damned ridiculous pass for the alleged greatest nation on earth? If America is so great, how come we can’t provide decent health care for all our citizens, at an affordable price?

1 comment left on iWeb site

TM

I agree. My father has recently had some major health problems and was transfered from a Mesa hospital to Scottsdale-Osborn, one on the “distinguished” list. He had to remain in the hospital for 10 days and the discrepancy in care was startling. Even the food in Scottsdale was better. In our society, unfortunately, the almighty dollar rules all…even for products and services such as healthcare.

Estate Sales: The canary in the mine?

La Maya and I drove out to Scottsdale this morning, at the crack of proverbial dawn, to attend an estate sale that looked pretty enticing. Pictured on the organizer’s site was a bedroom set in the mode that M’hijito has described as desirable, plus various other interesting-looking loot.

When we got there, we found a half-renovated house in a (relatively!) downscale neighborhood of a ritzy part of town, the pool green and the pickin’s slim. The kitchen was devoid of valuable finds; the tools were old and worn; the bedstead was the wrong size and the bedroom set was cheaply made junk.

That notwithstanding, La Maya is not called the Queen of Estate Sales for nothing. Her discerning eye spotted a handsome loveseat, chair, and ottoman in butter-colored leather. After some study, we decided it probably was a quality product. She nailed all three pieces for $425, a fine 20 percent off the marked price. Not only that, but the estate sale organizer ate the tax.

Although we were numbers 24 and 25 in line to get in the door, no more than ten or twelve people were ahead of us. Evidently the ticket number they started with was higher than 1. It took two trips to haul the furniture. The second time we arrived out there, the furniture-lifting person had gone off for a break, and so we sat with the estate sale company’s owner for a while, helping to calculate tax and hand out bags to the few buyers.

And “few” was the operative word. Over the past several weeks, we’ve found ourselves at the head of the estate-sale line, even when we arrived after a sale was slated to open. This is in vast contrast to the normal experience, where you may arrive a half-hour or an hour early and still wait to get in the door through three or four rafts of people who got there first.

Gina, the estate sale proprietor, echoed other organizers in saying that business was very slow: plenty of sellers but few buyers. She was practically giving things away-name a price for a piece of loot and you could walk with it. Gina said people are not buying, and that times are tough in the estate sale biz. What she does is considered effectively wholesaling. “Retailers”-read dealers in antiques and used furniture-are really suffering. She said her biggest buyers, who indeed are dealers, are in deep trouble.

So, we might add, was her client. They evidently had purchased the house speculatively, figuring to fix it up and turn it around for a profit. Before they were done, though, they fell into bankruptcy. They had completed maybe half their renovation work on the unimpressive little tract house. In one bathroom, blue masking tape around the paint job was still in place, only half-pulled off. A sloppy plaster repair stood out on the ceiling where some defunct fixture had been removed to make way for recessed lighting. The pool water was green, slimy, and evaporated several inches below the tile line. Old dirty carpet remained on the floor.

Understand, an estate sale is a gold mine for two sets of people:

  1. those who are in the business of reselling “antiques” and used furniture (in general, one and the same thing); and
  2. frugalists, folks like you and me looking to furnish our homes and our lives with nearly new, upscale products at second-hand prices.

When neither of these are in evidence, well…it’s not a good sign. It means consumers are not buying. They’re not buying from businesses that sell second-hand goods and genuine antiques, and they’re not buying yard-sale items. When bargain-hunters quit looking for bargains, IMHO, it indicates people are either really hurting or really scared.

Well, at any rate, La Maya scored a lovely pair of luxurious leather seating pieces. They transform her family room, and she is very pleased.

Nevertheless, we worry. We worry.

How do you make a long-term decision rationally?

What strategies do you use when you need to make a decision that will affect your finances and lifestyle for years? Possibly for the rest of your life?

They may be huge decisions: Should we have a baby? Should we adopt a child? Should we move Mom into the spare room or pay to put her up in a life-care community? These are moves that will change your life permanently.

They may be decisions that, while still big ones, can be reversed or won’t necessarily last forever: Should I buy a car? Should I rent or buy housing? Should I quit my job and go back to school to finish a degree?

Or they may be smaller decisions that, while they won’t change the course of your life, will affect your finances for months or even a year or so: Should we get that new Play-Station? Maybe we should buy a $5,000 wide-screen HDTV and subscribe to cable when regular broadcasting goes off the air? Should I lend my weird cousin a couple thousand bucks to start a business, money that he’ll probably never repay?

Thinking through the costs and consequences of decisions like these takes some strategizing. And I must say, strategize as I might, I’m never perfect at arriving at the “right” decision, whatever that might be. Often I end up just going with my gut instinct.

Today, for example, I’ve discovered the Humane Society has a beautiful little Pembroke Welsh Corgi up for adoption, two years old, female, spayed…perfect! The Corgi is one of several breeds I’ve considered as a likely candidate for a new doggy roommate. They’re relatively small—about 25 to 40 pounds. And although they do shed, they’re generally sound, very smart, and because they’re herding dogs, they have a German shepherd-like disposition. They also have a big dog voice in a small dog body, a consideration for a woman who lives alone in an inner-city neighborhood.

When I consider the pro’s and cons of adopting another dog, I end up listening to a schizophrenic conversation between the Voice of Rationality and the Elf of Whim:

Rationality: You don’t need another dog. You need an engineer to fix the trolley that you’ve slipped!

Whim: Engineers can’t fix a broken heart. And as soon as that engineer has fixed the trolley, he’s outta here. I need some company, and at my age, you can be sure it’s not going to come with two legs.

Rationality: Moron! You spent $21,000 on Anna and Walt! Think of your pocketbook.

Whim: I spent it because I could afford it. You shouldn’t let your cheapskate instincts limit your life.

Rationality: The floors are clean. They’ve been clean for two solid weeks! You don’t even have to vacuum the darn things—you just dustmop and run the steam cleaner. There’s no dogsh** in the backyard to clean up every single day. The Burglar Portal is sealed shut. Corgis shed doghair dunes, just like Ger-sheps, and they track in mud that has to be scoured off the floor! Do you really want to do that again?

Whim: Uhm…well, no.

Rationality: You’re finally free—FREE, I tell you!—to go someplace on vacation! Do you really want to spend the rest of your life vacationing in the backyard?

Whim: Doesn’t much matter. I’ve seen the world and don’t need to see it again.

Rationality: What do you need a dog for?

Whim: To keep me company. To alert me if someone comes around.

Rationality: Join a club. Get a burglar alarm.

Whim: <<sob!>>

Rationality: Okay, okay. List the pro’s of getting a dog.

Whim: Companionship. Something alive to come home to. Rescue a nice dog. Walking burglar deterrent. Entertainment value. Maybe I will stop crying every day.

Rationality: Ducky. Now list the cons.

Whim: Expense, expense, expense, and expense. Dog dunes to clean up every day. Twice-a-day feeding. Filthy floors to scrub on hands and knees. Daily yard cleanup. Risk of dog drowning in pool. Possible excavation of landscaping. Restriction of activities—have to be home to feed dog, can’t travel without extra hassle and expense.

Rationality: I just can’t see a rational trade-off here.

Whim: Who are you, Mr. Spock?

Rationality: Have you thought of adopting a tribble?

The problem with making lists of pro’s and cons is that it’s very difficult to assign weight to subjective elements in the list. In this case, for example: What, really, is a dog’s companionship worth? How much, really, does having a dog limit your life and your ability to meet other people? How much, really, do you care about that?

Do you have any strategies that actually work when it comes to making decisions that involve both financial and subjective considerations?

Friday, June 13, 2008

5 Comments

Mrs. Micah

No tribbles. Ever! Wait…maybe just one would work, maybe it’s when there are 2 that problems start. But I think tribbles just might reproduce asexually.

Maybe while you’re still recovering from the loss you could spend a little time at an animal shelter? Volunteer or somesuch? It might make you want a puppy even more (in which case you could get to know the dog a bit) or you it might give you just enough. Or help your rational side emphasize the downsides.

Friday, June 13, 200802:13 PM

Debbie M

Oh, sure, I make the lists.And they are both the same length.

Then I weight each item on the list, and the two lists still total the same amount.

At this point I decide that either decision would probably be okay.

Another strategy is to think of the worst-case-scenarios for both actions.Or at least worst-case imaginably likely scenarios.For example, if you get a dog, it could be all sweetness and light during the interview, but once you get it home it shreds everything and is always escaping and biting someone.Or maybe you turn out not to enjoy the companionship of that particular dog after all.(Not: the dog could really be an illegal alien in disguise and since you saved it, it’s now going to destroy the planet.)

And if you don’t get the dog, you will always be unhappy and bitter, unable to make connections with anyone, and you get fired and kicked out of your house and die … oh, wait, I am exaggerating again.

And you can think of other ways to handle your concerns (like your “Join a club.Get a burglar alarm.” response)

You can think of ways to minimize the probable and possible negatives of both decisions, like start a pet savings account or brainstorm ways to find companionship.

I’m wondering if calling one point of view Rationality and one Whim is a hint for you.One could also argue that continuing having a dog is rational and suddenly deciding this is the time to go dog-free is a whim!

Good luck.

Friday, June 13, 200802:17 PM

andyjean

Hey there. I’m a believer in having a dog. The trick is to get the right dog. You’ve got other comments already with good advice on the list making. My only additional advice is that you need to start your list from true zero. When you made your list you were already focused on a specific dog so you are already locked into some of the cons. Think about starting over from the point of view that you will manage the cons any way you can, including choosing a breed of dog that will eliminate some of them, and then figure out ways to minimize the rest.

I had to go through the same process two years ago. When my baby girl wanted a puppy for her graduation, I was against it. My list of cons was very similar to yours. I know I’m not going to stay on top of cleaning up dog hair every day, and I’m not willing to live with it. Most of the year there is nobody at my house for 10 hours a day. That’s no life for a young thing. I also knew we couldn’t stand the chewing, puddling puppy phase. I also had concerns about traveling with a dog, how it would behave in public and whether it would trash my car. The list got long, but my baby wanted a puppy and all my reasons for denying her were selfish.

So for months I secretly researched dog breeds, finally settling on a miniature schnauzer. They don’t shed. Not at all. The breed also met my size requirements and had a decent reputation for health, temperament and activity level. With the breed picked out, I started looking for the right dog. I didn’t get far before I realized I had to define what was right for us. Based on past experience, I knew we needed a dog with a temperament midway between total alpha and trembling submissive. Instead of a new puppy, we needed one that was four to six months old. At that age they can stand more alone time, and if you get one that is socialized properly, lots of the bad puppy stuff is over.

As baby girl’s graduation date neared, I scoured pet ads, rescue organization postings, talked to local veterinary assistants, and tried every other possible source looking for leads. Then I went and actually saw all the pups I found in the right age range. It was hard to walk away from some, but I knew it was best in the long run to pass on the timid and the hyper, no matter how cute they were. With four weeks to go, I found the perfect little five month old male. His family had to let him go because they discovered their son had a pet allergy. Because I could see the dog with the family in their home while we visited, I could tell that there was a very good chance that he had the right temperament and had been well socialized. They were even willing to give the puppy a temporary home with the child’s grandmother until my daughter’s graduation day so that once he joined our family, she would be home with him all day every day for three months. That way he’d be even older before he had to face a 10 hour stretch without his family.

All the work and waiting paid off. We can’t imagine being without the little guy, and he is almost no trouble at all. The key is that I held out for the right dog even though it took four months to find him. The rest of the cons on my list have been easy too. He was mostly trained from the start and has practically trained himself ever since. The house stays cleaner than I imagined it could be with an inside dog. Keeping him clipped every month ($35/mo for me and well worth it) means he doesn’t drag leaves and crud into the house. I manage the muddy paws by keeping the doggy door locked on rainy days and meeting him at the door with a towel every time I let him in. I feed him outrageously expensive food made from human-grade ingredients with no cheap fillers and low on potential allergens. I’m fine with the expense because I know it will pay off in less pooper scooping and stave off expensive degenerative diseases. Now that he’s fully grown, he eats once a day in the morning before I leave for work. I feed him just enough to keep him trim and limit snacks and treats the rest of the day. Feeding him last thing before I leave helps to minimize the separation anxiety. It also means that I can run errands after work or go out with friends without worrying about him home alone wondering where his dinner is. When we go on a trip without him he goes to a doggy daycare. On the financial side, yes, we spend money owning a dog, but we’ve got it to spend and there is no question that having him improves our quality of life.

Wow, that was long. Sorry. I’ll be stepping off my soapbox now, except for one last thought – Walt and Anna gave you lots of good blog material. Are you really ready to give that up?

Friday, June 13, 200803:37 PM

Bret Frohlich

I learned about worst-case-scenario decision making a while back and it has changed my life for the better.Now, I can make quick well-reasoned decisions and I feel confident, even if it doesn’t turn out perfect.

Before, I used pros-and-cons decision making and it always left me with a nagging doubt, even if everything turned out OK in the end.

If you want the dog, then just get it.Life is too short to deprive yourself of the companionship.My friend had a Corgi and she loved it.Me, I love my aging German Shepherd.She sheds a lot, but nobdody jumps in my backyard.

Friday, June 13, 200811:13 PM

vh

I like the “worst-case” approach. It cuts through a lot of dithering…and listing pro’s and cons certainly does lend itself to dithering.

Finally I decided in favor of getting the little dog (see the next day’s post for a photo). It may be dumb…but what’s the worst that can happen? She’ll chew up $3,000 worth of leather furniture, bark until the neighbors call their lawyers, and end up back at the Humane Society. Hey…how could I turn her down?

Saturday, June 14, 200809:24 AM

Beelzebub Central

Great Zot! What have I done to tick off Lady Karma?

Last night I encountered a vast fly infestation in the house. Thought I’d killed them all off-something over a dozen. Disinfected the kitchen countertops with Mr. Clean, I product I just loathe for its vile perfume, and so went to bed with the whole house stinking of that stuff.

This morning: MORE flies! The place was just swarming with them! After swatting and swatting and swatting and SWATTING, I finally gave up and got out the spray. I hate that stuff far more than I hate Mr. Clean, and I really, really don’t want to use it in the house-especially with a famously sick dog at hand. But there really was no choice. Flies quickly learn to avoid a fly swatter, and my hand-eye coordination and speed are no match for the little guys.

So I sprayed around the arcadia doors and then opened them up with the screens shut. This didn’t come anywhere near killing all the critters, but at least slowed them down so I could hit them. Did in about three dozen flies.

I found more of them clinging to the security door in the garage. Spraying in there is highly problematic, because of the gas heater, but the door is a distance from the heater. So I sprayed the security screen and then slammed the wood door shut on it.

Off for the morning walk. When I got back: MORE FLIES. More inside the house, and another gigantic swarm inside the garage, clustered in a great buggy mob on the closed wooden door.

I guess the spray in the garage had stunned the survivors enough that I could whack them: I killed over two dozen in there.

So I’ve done in about seven dozen flies, all told. . .and counting.

But WHERE are they coming from? The dog mounds are picked up outside and stay picked up. There’s no garbage inside the house. The trash in the garage, yes, was a little ripe (yesterday, it was 109 degrees outdoors, hotter in the uninsulated garage, whose big door operates as a radiator), but there’s a screen door between the garbage and the outside, and I don’t leave the door between the kitchen and the garage open. ????

Dragged the garbage out, along with a few dried-out flowers, to find an enormous stench in the communal garbage can in the alley. The neighbor behind me uses adult diapers, and her companion dumps them in the garbage. And of course there were plenty of flies there. I doubt if they’re breeding there, though: Sally wraps everything up tight in plastic bags. At any rate, I sprayed the rim and lid of the giant garbage can.

It’s almost as if they’re breeding inside the house. There just aren’t that many flies in the yard for seven dozen of them to get in while the dog is wandering in and out the door. I wonder if they could be breeding in one of the plant pots? Guess I’ll have to haul those outside and inspect them.

Meanwhile, it was hotter than the hubs of Hades when we went for our walk. I haven’t been able to get in the pool (which needs some tending, too) because of the fly fiasco.

I had to disinfect the countertops and dishes in the drainer all over again.

Then I put my back out-again!-wrestling with the dog while trying to medicate her nether parts. She threatened to bite-again!-so I had to muzzle her-again!-and personhandle her down to the floor. That was jolly fun. Dang! My back was almost better. Now for another week or ten days of that…what fun.

Guess I’d better drag the plants onto the patio before breakfast. If the flies are coming from a plant pot, the sooner it’s outdoors the better. It’s already close to 100 out there, and the house plants won’t tolerate much of that. So…better get moving.

Then I have to clean all the windows where I smashed flies, vacuum up some more corpses, and take the fly-splattered curtains down and wash them.

<<Chortle!>> Woe woe pore li’l me!

Well…it’ll be a good excuse to have a beer this afternoon, eh? By 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., I’ll have earned it. :-))))

Burglars

The guy who’s taken the lead in our local homeowner’s association is having a frenzy over a rash of break-ins and burglaries we’ve been enjoying around here. He’s been e-mailing “Safety Alert” bulletins filled with neighbors’ reports on the latest happenings.

Surprisingly, he missed the shooting, though, which did make the local Play-Nooz. Over in the ritzier section, several armed neighbors have formed an impromptu posse. They actually caught an SOB breaking in to one of the million-dollar homes, and so one of them broke out his blunderbuss and blasted the guy’s tires. The cops were not amused. But the homeowners looked pretty smug. “We’re armed,” one of them growled, glaring into the camera. “Don’t come around here!”

He did send us this great story:

. . . watch out for a window washer. We live on E. Orangewood Ave. My husband was out mowing the lawn about 10:30 May 7th when a white, long bed Chevrolet truck between 1998-2000 drove up to the house. Driver was an African-American man over 6′ tall and 220 lbs. in his late 30’s-early 40’s. He said he was supposed to wash the windows of the house. He said “The homeowners want me to wash them.” My husband said he didn’t have any tools in the back of his truck.He must have thought my husband was a yard worker because when my husband told him he was the homeowner and asked for his business card he sped off very quickly.

That address is a ways from here. Pretty funny, though. Poor guy was too dumb to tell the difference between a homeowner and a yard dude. Ohh well.

Closer to home, we have the following entertainment:

Three weeks ago at about 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, we had an incident near 15th Avenue and west Golden Lane. A man and woman in a car were being followed by PD. They parked in our driveway and told the officers that they lived here at our home. (Both my husband and I were at work at the time.) We are so thankful that a vigilant neighbor (who is in law enforcement) saw what was happening, came over and told the police officer that the people did not live at our house. A quick background check revealed the car was not registered, the driver’s license was suspended and who knows what else. The driver was arrested.

Heh heh heh heh heh!

Yesterday morning while I was breakfasting on the patio, the neighbor’s alarm went off. Sounds like she has the same squeally little Costco stick-on alarms pasted to her windows that I’ve installed. Darn things are ear-splitting, and they can be heard across the street. I walked over to look down the alley-Manny caught some perps by spotting their car parked outside another neighbor’s back gate-but couldn’t see anything. By the time I got there, the alarm had given up the ghost. Forty-five minutes later, the cops pulled up and I heard her talking with them; she’d apparently come home and found a window open.

It’s not much help to call the police. They don’t show up in time to do any good. Last time I called 911 when some guy was outside a bedroom window, the dispatcher said (I kid you not!), “Well, if he tries to get in, call us back.”

Uhm…and why would I have dialled 911 if I didn’t think he was trying to get in? The only way you can get the cops here promptly is to tell them you have a shotgun and are prepared to shoot an intruder. Then they show up instantly.

Frankly, I don’t think dwelling on these matters does much good. Broadcasting alarms at every little incident just frightens people. Other than locking up the house and sticking alarms on the windows, there’s not a thing we can do about prowlers. You can’t stay home guarding the palace every minute: sooner or later, you have to go to work or at least out to the grocery store. Nor is it healthy to live behind bars, glaring security lights, and alarm systems. The bad buys belong in jail, not us!

During the vandalism episode, when my lawyers were urging me to take a $100,000 bath and sell the house for my own safety, I installed a fancy burglar alarm system, which is wired to the cops and the alarm company. Never turned the darn thing on, and after the contract lapsed, I quit paying the recurring fees. The main reason, above and beyond the hassle factor and the costs (you get a fine for a false alarm, which is easy to set off), is the feeling that I’m not the one who should be living in prison and I’m not going to make my home into a prison. Eventually I put a few of those stick-on battery-run alarms on the windows and the only easily opened door, so that I’ll know if someone tries to get in while I’m here.

One of the advantages of simple living is that I don’t own a lot of stuff worth stealing, and so I don’t feel very concerned about burglary. The only thing I’d really prefer not to lose is the computer. Otherwise, I own practically nothing of significant value, and the only negotiable instruments in the house are hidden in some very unlikely places (no, not the freezer).

The only possibility that concerns me is home invasion, which is pretty commonplace around here. I keep the security door in front locked, never answer the door to strangers, and have alarms on the windows. And, decrepit as she is, Anna can still emit a fierce-sounding bark. So I don’t worry much that anyone will get in while I’m home. Matter of fact, I’ve made a conscious decision to reject worrying about the bogeyman.

Maybe if we all got rid of the stuff, burglars would have to find another line of work!

Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Every morning about this time
she get me out of my bed
a-crying get a job.
After breakfast, everyday,
she throws the want ads right my way
And never fails to say,
Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na
Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Sha na na na, sha na na na na,
Yip yip yip yip yip yip yip yip
Mum mum mum mum mum mum
Get a job Sha na na na, sha na na na na

—The Silhouettes