Adventures in Home Ownership: “Foist It Off” Edition

How tired can you get from watching someone else work? Just this moment, I’d say plenty. 😀

Yesterday nothing would do but what I had to take on the overgrown layers of foliage that border the west end of the pool. The pool equipment is hidden behind a veil of cat’s claw vines, which climb the steel fencing around the gear. “Veil” had morphed into “pile” over the past few years. Cat’s claw, an invasive and pesky imported plant so named for its scratchy little thorns, is a vigorous and aggressive monster of a vine. Like the jungle plants that cover ancient cities in the Amazon, it will inundate anything around it, leaving nought but a green mound visible to the human eye. It has its uses, but must be kept under control

That latter bit has decidedly not happened in the Funny Farm’s backyard.

A blue plumbago — a lovely plant — had disappeared beneath the green tsunami, as had much of a very assertive rose bush. A cape honeysuckle, quite a pretty shrub, had escaped being submerged by growing about 12 feet high. Green tentacles were reaching out to eat the Meyer lemon on the far end of the planting bed.

So yesterday afternoon I managed to trim back the rampant growth on the north and south faces of the pool-equipment fence, but couldn’t reach the towering overgrowth without a ladder. That plant extends  about 12 feet high. Instead, I wanted to free the rose bush from the strangulation…not an auspicious job: the rose is about dead, suffocated beneath the jungle. WHAT a gawdawful mess over there! The rose and the cape plumbago and the blue honeysuckle were BRAIDED with cat’s-claw runners.

About the time I got most but not all of the cat’s-claw runners unwound and pulled out of the ornamental plantings, along came the cops. 

Is there some reason we can’t have any peace in this place?

Cop copter streaks in, barely clearing the tops of the palm trees, and starts roaring around down at the end of the next street north. That’s one (count it: 1) row of houses north of where I’m standing with the back gates unlocked and the inside gate hanging open. They’re actually searching the end of that block and the alley that runs behind the Funny Farm. Drop everything and run to shut and lock the gates. Stumble inside and think Fu*k it! Time to knock off anyway.

Probably a good thing: I was getting pretty tired, and it did, as predicted, reach almost 100 degrees yesterday.

Anyhow, what I thought would be a two-day job morphed into at least four days’ worth. Maybe more: wasn’t counting on how much dead stuff underneath there would be.

At the point when this realization dawns, the giant trash bin in the alley is now full to the top. Trash pickup isn’t until next Thursday.

This seriously risks the neighbors reporting me to the city, since you can’t miss where all that cat’s claw came from. The reason I’ve let it grow out there is that it adds about three feet to the height of the six-foot backyard wall. Many of the neighbors have piled a couple extra courses of cinderblock atop their original walls — very possibly without benefit of permit. Apparently nothing will be done about this particular violation unless a neighbor complains. Which of course they won’t, because they’re doing the same. The cat’s claw gives me, legally, an eight- or ten-foot wall that the local prowlers can’t see over, making it impossible for them to spot the dog door or to case the windows and human doors on the back side of the house.

This morning I took on the tangle of dead twigs and branches that were left behind (though more cat’s claw needs to be trimmed off the top of the mound — that will require risking life & limb on a ladder). Filled the wheelbarrow three times and BARELY cleared out most of it. There’s still at least two more barrows-ful under there, and when I climbed in under the damn mound to pull out a gigantic sucker, what should I find but a goddam GROVE of baby palm trees growing under there!!!

With the trash bin in the alley already almost full, I figure I’ll have to sneak the wheelbarrow down the alley to dump the debris in other houses’ bins. This won’t matter much, because none of those people ever seem to throw anything away — only the young parents across the alley (four tiny kids = a whole lot of diapers and junk-food wrappers!) and I seem to use the one that serves four houses here.

After wrestling and yanking and cutting and hacking, I come to appreciate one basic fact: I am too old and too out of shape to keep on doing this for the next four days or so. That’s how long I figure the job will take, with me working until I can’t lift my hand, giving up, and then coming back out the following day.

***

Stumble inside. Call Gerardo to see if I can put him up to fixing this mess.

He says he’ll be over at 1:00. That means 2:00. Eventually he surfaces, along about 4:00 p.m.

Gerardo’s men cleaned up the mess out back, per my instructions. They did more in under an hour than I figured to accomplish in another three for four days!

Yellow yard
Yellow: the desert’s favorite color.

Gerardo, if you calculate how much he earns here and then expand that out to, say, six hours a day, giving him two hours to drive from pillar to post (and he does — he has jobs ALL over the Valley), and then has to schlep to the dump on the far, far north side: at $80/job, if he can get in two jobs per hour he’s earning $160/hour, which would give him $960 a day. However, from that he has to pay his two underlings (who are his cousins and so know where he lives…) and cover the costs of fuel and maintenance for his truck, trailer, and lawn equipment. And he says it costs $50 to take a load into the county landfill.

Hard to guess what he nets…but…some years ago I read a newspaper article (remember when we had newspapers?) going on about where the Valley’s largest concentration of millionaires resides. Turns out it’s not Paradise Valley or Scottsdale…it’s a mid-middle-class development on the westside called Arrowhead. Nice, but not gaudy: these folks don’t put on airs. And as it develops, a large number of our millionaires are in the landscaping business. Hard, grody work, but if you work smart and handle money well, you can make a decent living at it.

At any rate, he’s highly motivated to give a low-maintenance yard like mine a lick and a kiss, since he no doubt earns a lot more elsewhere. I asked a guy who was working on a house over in Richistan to give me an estimate, and what he wanted was so ridiculous I can’t even remember it. Gerardo has been trying to build his business in commercial properties — apartment complexes and office buildings. No doubt that kind of work would add up to a lot more per job, and require a lot less schlepping around.

So…yeah. I’ll have to chat with him about keeping that damn vine under control. One major problem is that Gerardo and his guys are not really gardeners. They’re landscape maintenance dudes. That means they do the heavy, broad-stroke work, but not the dainty little details of planting and cultivating things. They seem not to know much about plants — they know about lifting and heaving.

Thank the heavens…since that’s something I’d like to know as little about as possible. 😀

Standing By…but Not Standing Back

…got fruit?…

As we noted a day or so ago, the comments section at Funny isn’t working properly. Some readers may be able to post a comment in the “Reply” feed, but it won’t show on the site. Yet. It will be forwarded to me, though, meaning I can see it. But no one else can. Feel free to stay in touch! 🙂

Funny’s Web guru has located a new template that’s remarkably similar to the one we’ve been using. But he’s had to go out of town, so it’ll be awhile before the issue is fixed.

Meanwhile, life continues. Ruby the Corgi has proved her worth as a ratter. Did you know corgis are bred as ratters as well as for herding? Yes. You have never seen anything move as fast as this dog when she launches after her prey. Except, of course, for Rattie.

For some years, Phoenix has been infested by roof rats, a relatively small rat (compared to a sewer rat) that favors fruit. I think of the little pest as a kind of wingless fruit bat, actually. They’re attracted by citrus — of any kind: Rattie will happily eat the Meyer lemon outside the back door. They’re strangely charming, in a rattish way. The problem, though, is that they’re extremely destructive. They can climb straight up a block wall…and once they get into your attic, they’ll gnaw on the wiring — which can cause a fire. Get under the hood of your car, and they’ll eat the hoses and wiring. Got a washer in the garage? They’ll chew up both the wiring and the hoses! Inside your house, they’ll slip in behind the sofa, dig their way inside, and establish a nice comfy nest in the furniture, there to bring up the family.

So: needless to say, no matter how cute Rattie may be, she’s gonna hafta go.

The easiest way to dispose of these fine creatures is poison. Last time I had one as a guest, she took up residence in the garage, underneath the washer. . At that time my room-mate was a German shepherd, who was pretty easy to keep an eye on. This made it possible to lay poison bait behind the washer & dryer and keep an eye on the place until the victim croaked over in the middle of the floor.

Today, however, Rattie has staked out her territory in the backyard. First off, she built a nest under the westside deck. After I stuffed steel wool into every nook, crack, and cranny around the thing, she moved into the river rocks that line a drainage ditch across the backyard, and then built a cool tunnel along the base of the cat’s-claw hedge.The backyard is inhabited by Ruby the Corgi, and so poison is out of the question.

Wilier strategies are in order.

My son gave me a box of sticky-board traps. Problem is, Ruby got stuck in one of those at his house, and it was quite the little fukkin’ disaster. The dog almost croaked over in her terror, and to free her, we had to hack the thing out of her fur with a pair of scissors.

He also gave me a couple of cage traps. These ingenious devices have a little platform that’s connected to a delicate catch. You put the bait on this platform and when the critter lifts it up, it releases the door, trapping the critter inside.

Very clever.

Problem is, rats are very clever, too. Indeed, most likely they’re more clever than the human. Rattie has successfully evaded the glue traps. I barricaded Ruby out of the area under the tree where I placed these traps, by surrounding the tree with a wire garden-border fence — plenty of room for Rattie to get through to her favorite lemon stash, but not enough for Ruby to squeeze through.

Or so I thought.

Took her a week or so to find her way inside there. Once she was in, she panicked. Luckily I spotted her and managed to get her out before she flailed onto the glue traps…Whew!

Rattie built a nice nest in the middle of the marjoram patch. Tossed a glue trap in there. She moved on.

Next trick: try to lure her into the rat cage. First time I tried these, Rattie laughed. Noooo…not interested in your peanut butter, thankyouvery much. A cruise of the Web produced some clues: get the critters used to the traps by locking the door open and putting food in there for several days & nights, so they expect to find treats in there.

Well. This sounds good, eh? Little pieces of fruit around the entry, a few inside the little palace.

These gems looked good, too: to the resident mockingbird. He would be the critter who unearths seedlings and yanks exotic little vines out of their pots.

Adjust strategy: place the fruit out at night, after the birds have gone to roost. Keep Ruby indoors, so she doesn’t eat the fruit herself.

So now we’re on the second night of baiting the un-set trap. We shall see if Rattie can be fooled. She’s a smart little beastie, so it remains to be seen whether she can be trained to go inside the trap and munch on a bait set on the spring platform.

Too bad she’s such a nuisance and that she carries any number of noxious diseases and parasites. She’s kinda cute. In a rattish sorta way. 😉

Staying Healthy in Third-World America

This fine warning comes to us regarding fresh peaches purchased in Aldi stores.

We don’t yet have Aldi here in lovely Arizona, though the chain is planning four discount emporia in our garden state. Doesn’t matter though: the principle applies across the board: We’re not in Kansas anymore…

It’s unclear from this opaque article whether we’re talking about fresh whole peaches sold in bags, or sliced refrigerated or frozen peaches. However, it looks like probably they’re talking about fresh whole peaches. So, here’s a message from 1955, courtesy of US citizens living in lovely Saudi Arabia, where ALL fresh produce was assumed to be contaminated with this, that, or the ’tother fecal bacteria. It applies now as it did then, back before the US was a Third-World country:

Before bringing any fresh produce into the house, fill a kitchen sink (or, if you have it, MUCH better: a garage or workroom sink) with soapy water. Dawn is really good: a generous squirt of Dawn in a sinkful of cold water.  But any dish detergent or laundry detergent will do the job.

Gently submerge the produce in the soapy water. Let the produce sit there while you go on about your business for a few minutes; videlicet:

a) In another sink, wash your hands in soap and water

b) Bring in the rest of the groceries.

c) As needed, wash other (non-produce) groceries in the kitchen sink, using soap and water.

d) Drain the kitchen sink, rinse off groceries, and place them to drain dry or wipe them dry with towels. Toss towels in washer.

e) Put these groceries away.

f) Return to the sink where the produce is soaking. Wash each piece with soap and water (that is: your produce is sitting in detergent water — say, Dawn or Ivory + water — and now you take a bar of good strong soap and wash each piece with the soap under running water.

g) Rinse well, and set these aside to drain dry

h) After 15 or 20 minutes or so, to the extent the produce is still damp, wipe it dry with clean toweling.

i) Then, and only then, put it away in the refrigerator or in whatever cool place where you store it.

Got it? Wash produce in detergent, bar soap, and water; wash your hands in soap and water; rinse produce well; drain produce dry; refrigerate produce. Pray for the best.

Ideally, items that have tough skins — such as citrus and melons — should be doused briefly with dilute Clorox and rinsed well before storing.

If it is revealed to us moderns that we’re talkin’ about refrigerated or frozen processed peaches: cook the damn things before eating them. 

This was what we had to do with when my family and I lived in Saudi Arabia, where the produce we bought in the local commissary was likely to have been grown in fields fertilized with human waste. Very little that was brought into camp from nearby Middle Eastern countries was safe to eat, at least not by “Western” standards. By the 1950s, most produce and meat you bought stateside, in ordinary U.S. grocery stores and supermarkets, was safe enough to eat that consumers did not typically obsess about sanitizing every bite. But once you were outside the industrialized world…well…you took your life in by your hands if you chose to get careless about any detail of sanitation.

Who would think that half a century later, we here in the Good Ole USofA would find ourselves living in a Third-World Country?

Plumbing Update

So…what happened after I showed Steven the (Avaricious) Plumber the door? As you may recall, when I couldn’t reach my regular guy, I’d called another local plumbing outfit which sent a gent around after making me wait upwards of five hours. This character complained that the plumbing under the sink (which has worked fine since I moved into this house 11 years ago) was an out-of-code mess, could not be roto-rooted, and needed to be disassembled and reassembled to clean it out. Proposed fee: $545.

Right. Sure. So I sent that jerk on his way. Posted a query on the Facebook neighborhood group’s page. Two neighbors recommended Maloney’s Plumbing, an outfit I’d never heard of. Gave them a call. And forthwith had a new fella in here.

What. A. Difference!

The guy has got the drain working fine for the nonce. He removed the lever-operated drain plug — an invention whose appeal has always mystified me. A rubber plug I happen to have in hand works just fine and does not annoy, annoy, and annoy some more. He was honest. He was straightforward. He was astonishingly hard-working. And he was very clearly NOT trying to rip me off.

Yes, he did have to take Satan’s do-it-yourself pipework apart to do the job, and yes, it no doubt was a PITA, and yup, it took the poor guy half the afternoon.  But he didn’t try to persuade the Little Old Lady that the job couldn’t be done without disassembling the entire damn bathroom and rebuilding it from the foundation up. For an entire afternoon’s work, he charged me $326.

This, as opposed to the $525 (for starters) the first guy offered up — for starters. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters! Maloney’s Plumbing has got a new customer for life…or at least for as long as they treat me fairly.

Soooo… When the dust settles from this damned tooth fiasco, first thing that happens next is I’m hiring those folks to install plumbing to code under that damn sink.

Plumber Frolics

The sink in the center bathroom vanity has been running slower and slower and…slowwwerrr…and this yesterday afternoon effectively stopped up.

Called my favorite plumber with a noticeable IQ and then some. No answer. I figure he’s either gone out of town for the 112-degree August moments, or shut down his business for the duration of the plague.

Call another outfit I’ve used in the past — they’re mostly in the drain cleaning business, which, I figure, probably fills the bill.

He says he’ll get here between 8 and noon. By 10:30 I figure…hmmmm….

More hours go by: no sign of second-choice plumber.

Put up a notice on the neighborhood Facebook page asking if anyone could recommend. Forthwith a guy posts that he’s watching answers, too, because when he called HIS guy, he was told the man had died at home from covid!

Aughh! I hope his guy was not my guy! Oh, my goodness, the guy is such a sweetheart. If he croaked over from this horrid disease, that would be a serious loss to just about everyone who knows him.

***

Meanwhile, the members of the ’Hood are agonizing on Facebook over we’re going to do about Halloween. Because we live in a middle-class to affluent enclave surrounded by low-income neighborhoods, we have a fantastical parade of wonderful little kids and teenagers (and parents!) all gussied up in crazy costumes, trucked to our precincts in pickups, sedans, and small buses. This begets a gigantic block party, where everyone hauls their gear out onto the driveways and sits around partying and admiring the style show. It’s the BIGGEST hoot.

Some folks are talking about maybe an event in the park, where candy can be handed out from tables. Others have pointed out that the way things are now, everyone is outside in the open air anyway, and pretty well “social distanced.”

****

Time passes…passes…passes

Just as I’m about to pick up the phone and call one of the neighbors’ recommended plumbers: Steven the alleged plumber calls and says he had “truck issues.”

Right. Sure.

Anyhow, he’s on his way. By now, though, I have two references to outfits the neighbors say can’t be beat.

****

3:21 in the afternoon…and Steven the Plumber shows up, only 3 1/2 hours late. Or 7 1/2 hours late if you figure in his demand that I be ready to receive his majesty at any time starting at 8:00 a.m: he was supposed to appear between 8 and noon. And…it’ll be his last appearance. Got two enthusiastic referrals to other companies from the FB neighborhood page.

And if I’d had an office job that I needed to get back to, while I was waiting an extra three and a half hours for this gent to surface??? Hmmmm…

****

The guy dorks around a bit and fails to unclog the pipe, which really just needs to be briefly rotorooted, right?

THEN he calls me in and gives me this WONDERFUL song and dance, to the effect that some amateur plumber has installed a messy lash-up under the sink and he can’t get his rooter in there to clean it out, and so he will have to take the entire thing apart and rebuild it. This will cost me $545.

I say well, that’s nice, but I don’t have $545, so I’ll just have to use the sink in the other bathroom. I send him out with an offer to pay the $145 base house call fee that he and his bosses had quoted earlier.

He, apparently certain that he has the hook set, says ohhh no, he’ll collect that when he comes back next Tuesday to revamp the plumbing…he still thinks he’s invited back, I guess.

Fortunately, I DO have another bathroom sink that I can use, because I can’t afford $545 on top of thousands of dollars worth of dental work: it’ll just have to stay unfixed. Privately I think THANK YOU FACEBOOK for providing a Neighborhood FB page, whereinat after I called this outfit three people gave me the names of their most highly recommended plumbers.

Shoo him out the door and forthwith call an outfit doing business as Maloney Plumbing. It comes equipped with rave personal reviews from three of the neighbors.

They promise to show up tomorrow afternoon. And waddaya bet they get it fixed in about 30 minutes?

****

Y’know… I moved into this house in 2009. That was 11 years ago. If Satan, the previous owner, had screwed up the plumbing as baroquely as this character says — he went on and on about how bizarre it is — that sink would’ve backed up long before this. (See the baroque photo, below…) And it has NEVER backed up until now, not in over a decade.

It is true, Satan was an inveterate do-it-yourselfer. And it is true, the lash-up in the middle bathroom looks different from the lash-up in the back bathroom (which is made of stainless steel, not plastic and is much simpler in design). But the lash-up in the kitchen, which was installed by real plumbers in my hire, is FAR more complicated, all plastic, and it never plugs up.

What d’you bet this guy figured he saw an easy mark and gave me a line of bull? Now, it’s possible that the sorta double U-turn you see there may be difficult or impossible to root out. But…whyyy do I doubt this? What, really, would be involved in unscrewing the black U-shaped section and cleaning out the pipes from there?

Welp, we’ll find out tomorrow. The guy from Maloney Plumbing is coming by between 12 and 2. This should be entertaining…

Allegedly baroque (or broke) plumbing

What a Day!

So first off, it’s out the door at 5 a.m., running late to walk the dog. Dog-Walkers’ Rush Hour kicks in around 5:30, meaning I have to drag the corgi away from mutt after mutt after mutt, each of which she enrages by LUNGING at them. Get back to the house right at 6.

Feed the birds, sit down and feed me. Manage to finish breakfast just before Jim the Pool Dude shows up. He’s interminably chatty — nice guy but yaks a lot. He probably thinks something similar in my direction. 😀 Anyway, he decides to toss some gunk into the drink which hazes it up — because all the palm tree trash Gerardo’s guys dropped in there has dorked up the chemicals.

Now, late in the afternoon,the  pump hasn’t run enough hours to dehaze it, and I do not feel like fiddling with it…so it’ll have to wait until I feel a lot more lively or until Jim comes around again next week.

As I’m slamming around trying to get ready and fly out the house to drive halfway to Yuma for ANOTHER damned appointment at the dermatologist’s, I spot a phone message from Gerardo. He and his guys will come by today. I call back and say I’ll leave the gate unlocked.

A-a-a-n-n-d-d-d of course as I’m streaking out the door, I forget to unlock the gate. Realize that about the time I get a quarter of the way to Yuma. Arrive at the derm’s; PA freezes some more emergent actinic keratoses. She says it looks like the back surgery wound is healed enough that I could go swimming.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the pool weren’t quite so chemically milky? Oh well.

The magic elixiir for pereipheral neuropathy?

Streak back across the city. Planned to stop at Sprouts on the way home to pick up the woo-woo (IMHO) patent medicine that beloved Mayo Doc thinks might be helpful, but figure I’d better get back here to unlock the gate, just in case there’s some chance Gerardo has yet to show up. Unlock gate. As I’m walking through the garage, I brush against the decrepit clothes rack that I use to hang laundry out of the washer or dryer, and the damn thing falls apart! It collapses all over the floor, bearing a load of laundry with it.

Did I mention that the weather has cooled a bit? Only 112°. Don’t ask what the temp is inside the garage.

Jump back in the car and shoot over to Sprouts, where I discover alpha lipoic acid pills are made of gold! It’s upwards of $9 for a ten-day supply at the rate WonderDoc has in mind (three of the horsepills a day!). And that’s cheap compared to what Amazon is charging!

Grab a bottle, fly home, pick up the clothes off the floor and put them away, repair the clothes rack. Throw the clothes I’m wearing into the washer, throw in the three cloth masks I wore while gadding around, & turn it on; scrub feet, legs & arms in the shower. Defrost a lamb chop, start cooking lunch/dinner. Drop one of the pills. Realize I feel extremely tired and wish only to bolt down food and go back to bed. As said food is cooking on the grill, Gerardo and his sidekicks show up. Naturally.

He’s feeling chatty. (What IS it with chatty guys today????)

I want to eat.

Shovel the men out the door, Gerardo with a hefty check in hand.

Ship off a client’s paper — edits and clean copy — with a bill. Hit her up for an amount I think is about a hundred & fifty bucks too little. Realize last time I worked for her I charged her 6 cents a word, because her stuff tends to be exceptionally difficult. But it’s been so long that when she sent this assignment, I just automatically quoted her my regular 4-cent-a-word rate. Cheated myself.

This evening we get an announcement from the power company begging us to conserve electricity: no pool pump, no laundry machines, ratchet up the AC thermostat to 80. Fire up around Lake Roosevelt is threatening transmission lines. That and day after day after day of 115-degree temps are, we’re told, “straining the grid.”

No doubt!