Life at the Funny Farm: September Edition

Jeez! 9 ayem and I’m flat-out exhausted! What a Morning from Hell! Up at the usual 5 a.m. but dawdled over the computer, so the Hound and I went out the door late.

Because it’s so late, we hit the road at the height of the Dogging Hour. Every chucklehead and his little brother and sister are out with their pit bulls, Aussies, spaniels, poodles, German shepherds, dalmations, chihuahuas, Bernese mountain dogs, Boston terriers, dachshunds, akitas, vizlas, and reservation dawgs. This adds a great deal of stress to a doggywalk because Ruby wants to LUNGE at every goddamn one of them. That, as you can imagine, tends to alarm the fellow dogs, which then go in for the attack by way of protecting their humans. To prevent this, every time someone comes along with a pooch, I have to stop and make Ruby “SIT! STAY!” until they go by us.

This is WHY we leave the house no later than 5:00…by way of avoiding the dog-walkers’ rush.

So we walk around the corner to see if our neighbor Signey is out with the kids. She lives right next door to the house where La Maya & La Bethulia lived before La B decided to pathbreak their escape to California, and at this time of year she’s often sitting in front with her small children and her herd of tiny, funny-looking adopted dogs.

And yes, she’s there. We start to schmooze…

New neighbor comes out with his dogs and walks off around the corner. She points out one of them and says it’s a pit-bull/shepherd mix and is extremely aggressive. She says it went after one of her pipsqueaks and almost killed it before she was able to tear the animal away from it.

Lovely. The scrawny male human looks like he weighs…oh…maybe 150 pounds, at the outside. Mmmm hmmmm…

She dotes on Ruby and rubs her hands and face ALLLLLLL over the dog’s fluffy corgi fur. Then she says happily, “And the kids are going to school.”

Oh. Good. It’s not maybe…it’s absolutely positively: You just rubbed fistfuls of virus into my dog’s coat! Jezus Aitch Keerist, but people are stupid.

By the time we get to Feeder Street N/W, there’s too much traffic to get across the road safely, so we wander back into the ’Hood, up the street I used to live on, around and around. This route is neither as long nor as pleasant as the stroll through the shady realms of Upper Richistan, but at least we don’t have to risk life or limb to get there.

Herd the dog back to the house, and now I have to wash her. She sleeps on my bed at night, and I do NOT want Signey’s kids’ classmates’ germs all over my bedding. Or all over the floors and furniture in my house, either.

Washing Ruby is quite a production. She hates it, she is terrorized by it, and she puts up one bitch of a fight. Decide against assaying this battle in the backyard — at that hour, it’s cool enough outside that cold water out of the hose could in fact harm her. So I have to drag her into the bathroom to wash her in the tub.

WHAT a fight!!!  I finally haul her into the bathtub, then get her wet all over, then scrubbed down with shampoo, then rinsed, then out of the tub…. Did I mention that she hates being wiped down with towels, too?

She goes shake shake shake shake shake shake shake… and covers the cabinetry, walls, and floors with billowing sprays of dog-water.

More fighting. Her hair is thick and she’s getting fat and I don’t get far with the towels. Dig out a hair dryer, plug it into a socket near the floor, and drag her over.

You thought the bathtub episode was a fight? Hah!

Finally manage to get enough of the sog out of her fur that I figure she probably won’t get chilled enough to get sick. I hope. By this time, though, the sun has risen and the air is warming, so…this is prob’ly a safe enough bet.

Clean up the mess and…clean up the mess and clean up the mess and clean up the mess and clean up the mess and….

Put the towels and the towel that fell off the towel bar into the bath water and the dog-wiping towel and the microfiber rags used to finish the dog-drying into the washer. Get out of my wet clothes and toss those in the washer. Find something else to wear. Climb into the shower and wash my own much-doggified body and hair before getting dressed.

By now it’s 8 o’clock!

Fix breakfast. Pour coffee. Just begin to drag the melon and the other goodies out to the table on the garden deck when ARF ARF ROAR YAP YAP ARF ARF WOOF WOOF ARF ARF YIPPETY YAP YAP YAP!!!!!!! 

Pool Dude.

Pool Dude is a chatty kinda guy. He does like to talk. Rudely, I sorta ignore him without saying in some many words arrghhh leave me alone because i bite! He goes on about his business. Putters around. Surfaces to explain his scheme to provide a refurbished pool cleaner gadget of the Amazing Variety, a plan that was derailed during the week. No problem. We discuss last night’s political side show, he being right-stage, me being left-stage, both of us being gun owners. I can’t get .38s. He has a bunch of ammo stashed. We figure we’ll be needing this, though I suggest it’s mighty doubtful that Trump’s bully boys will be rioting through sub-suburban neighborhoods. He says he’s taking no chances.

I say my plan is to get a blowgun. He says…

…hang onto your hat…

He used to make them! 

I mean, really. You’ve heard of “never a dull moment”? Around this place there’s never a sane moment.

I say I understand you can make them with PVC pipe. He says noooo, the diameter would be too large. You need copper piping.

Hmmmmmm……  Suppose Home Depot will cut that stuff to measure for me? Waddaya bet?

Which do we live in? Monty Python ShowTwilight Zone? Or just another planet altogether?

Pool dude out. 

It’s almost 10 a.m. I’ve got to go to Costco. On the way home, maybe I’ll stop at the Depot and see what I can get by way of lengths of copper tubing. Hmmmm….

Instacart Redux: Better, but…

So after the amusingly failed first Instacart adventure, in which I ordered stuff from Costco and got nine apples instead of the dozen that CC routinely dispenses, I decided to try again with AJ’s, which stocks produce in the way that grocery stores do (as opposed to CC’s warehouse mode) and which carries some things that Costco does not.

  • Again I found that things I buy all the time do not exist in the online environment.
  • Blue cheese is always sold in its crumbled form and never in chunks, even at a store where you could expect consumers to know better.
  • Though I know that AJ’s carries the fresh-baked bread I favor, you can’t order it online. Well, you can, but…
  • Flour has been cleared off the shelves, but…
  • It’s impossible to second-guess what a young person who never cooks from scratch doesn’t know.

This time I sent explicit instructions to RING THE DAMN DOORBELL. This worked. The kid — a very young woman — did alert me to the fact that she had arrived.

Again the service was very prompt. She showed up in less than two hours.

While she was at the store, she called to say the usual five-pound bags of flour were absent. However, she’d found some exotic kind of flour that was described as “extra fine” and…and…she didn’t know what it was. Would it be OK to get that?

Sure, said I.

Well. What she showed up with was a two-pound package of real, grown and packaged in Italy, Italian flour.

I couldn’t believe it.

Italian wheat is grown without the massive applications of pesticides and chemical crap that American wheat growers dump on their crops. That appears to explain why people who believe they’re “gluten-sensitive” can eat pasta and bread in Europe without getting sick: the EU legislates against the use of toxic products on food crops.

The US is fighting to force the EU to let growers use these products, but the last I heard, the EU was holding out.

The result is that pasta made in Europe, especially in Italy, simply tastes better than American-made products. Because it’s made from higher quality, less adulterated ingredients.

AJ’s carries pasta made in Italy, which is now the only kind I buy. But I had no idea they also carried Italian flour. If I’d known, I’d have had her buy a couple of packages.

The avocados I asked for were hard as rocks — perfect for a softball game, but not so much for eating. It’s hot, though, and so I expect within a few days they’ll ripen.

So. It looks like there may be an art to grocery shopping online. Apparently you learn this art as you go. So far the techniques I’ve picked up are as follows:

  • Expect that your shopper will know nothing about real food. They’ve all grown up eating highly processed fake food and so cannot be expected to understand much about fresh ingredients.
  • So if a choice requires any kind of finesse, explain what is needed in Instacart’s “comments” box. Yes: they give you a chance to enter a few words to explain things. Next time, for example, I’ll explain that avocados should be soft but not mushy to the touch….and definitely not hard as a baseball.
  • They deliver much faster than you would expect. Be prepared to receive the stuff within two hours or so.
  • Tell them to ring the doorbell. Use the comments section for this instruction. Put a sticky on the door pointing out where the doorbell is, if it’s not obvious.

Practice makes perfect. I guess…


First Instacart Experiment: FAIL!

LOL! Well, ordering up stuff from Costco via Instacart did not start out on the most auspicious foot of all possible feet. 😀

So I jump through the hoops to sign up to Instacart. Once you establish yourself as an official human with an official charge card, you can navigate over to the store of your choice — they seem to be doing deliveries from every market in the city.

Once in the virtual store, I order up a few things that I need — not many, because this is a test run.

Among the discoveries:

  • Steaks are now way outside my price range. Check that off the list, right away.
  • They do not display “Coastal” cheddar cheese, which is the brand I favor. I order another brand.
  • Neither do they display blue cheese in chunks. Apparently most of their customers think of blue cheese as something that exists only in crumbles.
  • They’re out of flour, like every other retailer in town.
  • They do not carry cucumbers (but we knew that…).
  • But they do have a particularly wonderful brand of smoked salmon.

Whatever. I order up a bunch of stuff, including a package of apples, since the trees are almost out of oranges. When the orange season ends, I go back to eating an apple with breakfast.

Amazingly, their delivery arrives at 11:22 a.m. Yes: I ordered around 9 a.m. and they showed up over here before noon.

Also amazingly, apparently ringing a doorbell is not part of the delivery person’s job description. She dropped the delivery on the front porch and, since I don’t have a smart phone and can’t get texts, she e-mailed me.

Forty-five minutes later, I notice this e-mail. It is 102 degrees out there. Cripes.

So I fly to the door and drag the stuff into the garage, where I wash down every plastic-sealed goddamn package in detergent water before hacking it open with a pair of scissors.

Fortunately the cheese was not melted. That’s because, like most US-made mass-produced “cheeses,” it’s not cheese. So now I have a gigantic brick of tasteless orange stuff. Yuck!

This is not unexpected. However, here’s the jaw-dropper:

Costco sells its apples in plastic clamshell boxes. One of these boxes holds 12 apples.

What I got was a plastic bag that appears to have come with something that required measured dispensing — not a grocery store bag, but made of the same flimsy, environmentally polluting flyaway plastic. And, in there were nine apples.

I didn’t register this until I’d washed them and brought them in the house. And boy, was I annoyed.

So now I email Instacart to complain about this — after I’d already clicked 5 Stars in response to the lightning-fast delivery, even though I was also a little annoyed that the delivery lady couldn’t be bothered to ring the doorbell.

Forthwith I get back an annoying form letter. This morning a letter from a human arrived, saying they’re giving me a $5.49 refund.

Okay. So…that’s not too bad. This afternoon I’m going to order a few things from AJ’s, my favorite overpriced retailer.

So far, perusing the offerings…

  • Yes, they do have flour. King Arthur, no less!
  • Wine prices are prohibitive: they’re trying to get $15 for a bottle of Oyster Bay Sauvignon blanc. That’s an $8 wine.
  • On the other hand…some Bogle wines are only slightly inflated: around twelve bucks. That’s still too high for cheap wine…I can get my son to buy that for me.
  • They do not offer the chunks of blue cheese online…only crumbles.
  • They do have a couple of their good loaves of bread, which will spare me from having to bake it.
  • Apparently you can NOT buy fresh meat from AJ’s through Instacart. Fortunately, I still have plenty in the Costco lifetime supply.

However… If you order through Amazon, you can get blue cheese in a solid piece (assuming you don’t mind paying $15 a pound for it). Apparently Amazon doesn’t deliver wine.

However, Instacart does deliver from Total Wines. I haven’t looked yet to see what the charges are there. The best nearby place that I’ve found for cheap table wine is, incredibly enough, Walmart’s Neighborhood Market. That’s where I found the amazing Oyster Bay wine to start with. They also carry several other drinkable brands.

At any rate: this afternoon we’re at Instacart Experiment #2: I just clicked “send.” We shall see….

Jack Frost Is y-Cumin’ In

The Weather Service tells us it’s COLD out there! We noticed, already… 😀 Temps are supposed to go down to 35 tonight and 33 tomorrow night. They’ve revised Wednesday’s 32-degree forecast upward, to a balmy 33. That optimism notwithstanding, they’ve issued a frost warning.

I engineered this change in our weather fortunes singlehandedly: by purchasing a Ficus benjamina and planting it in the pot recently vacated by the sickly rubber plant. Ficus, as you may know, is frost-sensitive. But I’d already subjected it to potentially killing stress a couple days ago…really, it’ll be an amazing surprise if that thing lives to see the middle of March.

Well, to get this new ornamental house-tree into the gigantic pot I wanted to put it in, I needed Gerardo the Wonder Lawn Dude’s help. The rubber plant reached up to the roof, and I figured it would be too large and heavy for me to manage. The plan was to ask him to pull out that plant whenever he next came around.

Meanwhile, SDXB called and invited himself over, craving company and some kind of time-killing junket. Couple days ago, he surfaced at 9 a.m. sharp, ready to roll.

Naturally, Gerardo and his boys showed up  just as SDXB did. I asked them not only to extirpate the moribund rubber plant but also to install the newly purchased ficus in its huge ceramic pot. This was, we could justly say, a mistake. What is the matter with me?

Was there some reason I could not have figured out, beforehand, that Gerardo is a landscape maintenance dude, not a nurseryman? Why would I imagine he would know anything about how to pot a plant? Or how to transplant a potted plant from Pot 1 to Pot 2? Whaaa?

In the first place, they  busted the rolling stand the thing perches on. So he took the wheels off it, placed the remains of the top on the ground, and plopped the pot on top of it. On the deck, where it belongs? Where it’s sheltered by the patio roof? Hell, no: they left it on the surface next to the deck, where the plant would get the full blast of sun and frost.

With the dirt, the plant, and water in it, I could not even budge the pot, much less lift it six inches and leverage it into place on the deck.  The thing was so heavy, I couldn’t even scoot it onto the dolly so as to try to leverage it up on that thing. Need we be reminded that ficus is frost-sensitive?

Come Wednesday, that plant promises  to be a dead ficus.

Its only hope was for me to pull it out of the pot. dig the dirt out of the pot , then lift the pot onto the deck. Then refill the pot and replant the ficus.

To do that, though, I had to drive way to hell and gone up to Home Depot and buy a new rolling plant stand thingie to replace the deceased. That of course consumed an hour of the day.

And the rest of the day? Fully cannibalized by the replanting project.

I had to dig the soggy, wet dirt out from around the plant’s root ball, dump it into the wheelbarrow, lift out the plant and set it aside, then dig out the rest of the even soggier, wetter dirt and deposit that in the barrow. Then and only then was the huge blue ceramic pot “light” (hah!) enough for me to lift.

In the process, I found Gerardo’s guys had recycled the dirt from the rubber plant, dumping it back into the pot. And lo! What should I find dwelling in the stuff but nice, big, fat paloverde beetle grubs. Three of ’em. Shee-ut!

Welp, that’s three fewer paloverde beetles to depredate the land. And it explains what ailed the rubber plant — the things eat the roots of plants growing where Mom lays her eggs.

Next, I needed to apply some of the insecticide that is believed to at least make a small dent on this creature’s ever-growing population. But, too tired at the end of the day to continue, decided to put that chore off.

Til today, for example?

The frost is about to be on the palm!

Not so much. With hysterical FROST WARNINGS emanating from the government and the media, I figured I’d better drag the smaller potted plants inside and then cover the larger ones — including the twice-transplanted ficus — with drop cloths.

This, it developed, turned into one bitch of an all-day project.

To start with, several of the shop lights I use to warm the air around the potted plants that have to be left outside on cold nights had gone missing. I needed two more. Plus lightbulbs to go in them. Plus some other bits and pieces of junk. Sooo…it was back to Home Depot…again.

Came away with those and some 100-watt incandescents (these new damned LED lights not only fail to emit light that doesn’t hurt your eyes, they fail to emit warmth). Every time I spot incandescent bulbs, I grab a bunch to add to my stash. In-fuckin’-furiating!

Oh well.

I also bought a new Kwikset deadbolt to replace the one the locksmith claimed was jamming because the key was worn out. Galloping Bull Shit, that: the lock jammed again yesterday. And the other two locks, which also work with the same key, operate with no problem. So now I’ve got to get a locksmith over here to install that, to my annoyance. Later.

Back at the Funny Farm… I had forgotten how much work it is to hang all those frost covers. Seven or eight of them, most of which have to be tied up or tied down, with the help of a ladder, a hammer, a box of nails, and a bag of curtain rings. It’s been quite awhile since we’ve had a hard frost here — five or six years, at least. And during that time I’ve grown, well…commensurately older. Dragging that ladder and all those old sheets around and climbing up and down and up and down and up and down and zip-tying and hooking and farting around is a great deal more tiring in 2020 than it was the last time I did it.

None of these tergiversations were  helped by cold gusts of wind, which came up in the afternoon. Every time I’d get a length of cloth in place, the wind would pick it up before I could tie it or weight it down with a rock. So, many a haul and a stretch and a throw had to be done two or three times.

I’m afraid I’m finally beginning to feel my age. Which is, we might say, considerable.

Thanks, Mr. Stranger Man…

So once again Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner has choked on a palm-tree seed, and I’ve dragged him (and myself…) up to the Leslie’s Pools store to be dissected, cleaned out, and put back together.

This process is free, but it’s a time-consuming nuisance.

After the palm trees favored in our parts have flowered (these are not date palms), they drop hundreds and hundreds of hard, BB-like black seeds. Right into the pool. Every time the wind blows. Every time it rains.

These BB’s can jam Harvey’s spinning innards, which are propelled by the force of water being sucked through the pool’s filter and pump. When that happens, Harvey comes to a dead stop, and no further pool cleaning gets done. Leslie’s will take him apart, remove the offending bead or beads, and put him back together.

Drag Harvey home, drop him back in the pool, slide the hose into the water so it fills up by displacing all the air in it, repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

A guy was there before me, and only one of the Leslie’s crew was minding the store. The kid said he’d be right with me; I said “no hurry.” So I waited. And waited. And waited. Two other guys came in. They waited. Another guy came in. He waited.

The fourth guy, bored, struck up a desultory conversation, during which I remarked that Harvey had choked on a palm-tree BB.

Now, this guy was an actual, living, breathing pool guy. In addition to fleecing the hoi polloi, Leslie’s does a to-the-trade business, providing deep discounts to people who can prove they’re pro’s.

“You know,” says he, “you can fix that, most of the time, by turning the cleaner upside down and giving it a sharp shake.”

What? “Oh, yeah?”

I flip Harvey over and shake him a couple of times, and POP! Out comes the offending seed. It bounces across the floor.

“Now,” says my informant, “you stick your finger in here and see if this thing will move around.” This thing is some kind of rotor device that resides just inside the hose connection. He demonstrates.

Then he flips the gadget back over.

“He needs new feet,” he says. It’s amazing how the “Harvey” conceit is contagious. Call the thing “Harvey the Hayward Pool Cleaner” and the next thing you know, everyone is calling it “him.” 😀  “And new wings.”

He then proceeds to advise on how to replace the wings, and, soto voce, suggests buying these parts from Amazon, where (as anyone who knows anything about Leslie’s knows…), they’re much cheaper.

Okay. Sooo…. I slip out the door while our cute young sales clerk is still occupied with Customer No. 1. I’m skeptical about this, but…figure it can’t hurt to schlep Harvey home and try him out.

Drag him into the house. Lash him back up to his hose. Drop him in the drink. A-N-N-N-N-D….

Holy mackerel! He takes off like a rocket!

Harvey has not shot around the pool like that since I had the puddle resurfaced!

I figured his sluggish pace was caused by the coarse, annoying quality of the PebbleSheen. But apparently not!

Two, three hours have passed, and Harvey is still going strong. He does still get hung up on the hateful new Save-the-Proles-from-Themselves drain covers, but instead of staying stuck until I come along and bump him loose, after a minute or two he manages to work himself free.


So I’m going to order the wings from Amazon, and maybe the feet, too — especially if I can find change-’em-out instructions on YouTube. Like, ohhh, say, this one…

Whoever that guy was, he not only saved me a whole lot of time (going forward), but he also saved me a bundle of dough.

I had grown so tired of the repeated junkets to Leslie’s — once every two or three days, during the seed-shedding season — that I’d decided to buy one of the newer Hayward cleaners that runs on wheels. These allegedly can handle the stupid new drain covers and also supposedly suffer less wear on the abrasive PebbleSheen surface. Planned to keep Harvey as a back-up, knowing this new thing will probably gag on palm BBs, too. Thing is…these gadgets cost FOUR HUNDRED AND EIGHT DOLLAH.

At Amazon. Probably more than that at Leslie’s.

Well. Mr. Stranger Man not only showed me a 30-second fix for Harvey, he also (silently) demonstrated that once actually fixed, Harvey runs as well on that PebbleSheen gunk as he did on the old-fashioned nice, smooth plaster!

I’ll be damned.

Of course, sooner or later Harvey will wear out. But when he does, his replacement will only be about $300, not $400+ for the wheelie model.

Meanwhile, I may not have to trim the accursed palm trees at all. Two or three years ago, to Gerardo’s chagrin, I stopped hiring him (or anyone) to climb up there and cut the previous year’s dead growth off. This, because Gerardo decided to schedule this job smack in the middle of the birds’ nesting season. Those palm trees host dozens of birds. One wants those birds up there, because they eat the cockroaches that spawn in goddamn palm trees, and they eat the cockroach grubs that fall in the pool all spring, and they clear out ants at the first sign of a new colony. Because of those birds, I have no roaches, no ants, and precious few other pests.

Well, when Gerardo’s guys barged up there and hacked back the trees, they dumped the nests full of baby birds on the ground.

When I went out there, I found dead baby chicks all over the KoolDeck, and mother birds flying around crying out in despair. Alllll day long.

Lest you think birds do not feel emotions…lest you imagine birds feel no grief, no despair: think again.

So, I’ve never let Gerardo mess with those palm trees again.

That makes them very messy, very VERY much a nuisance. To me and to the neighbors and to anyone who drives a car up the road behind the house during the windy season.

This is a question whose answer has long escaped me: Why do white people have such a fascination with palm trees?????????

What in the name of Heaven and Hell about palm trees so enchants the gringos? They make no shade. They’re ugly as an old stick in the ground. They make no dates. Certainly no coconuts. The only crop these Arizona palms produce is debris!

And they’re very good at producing debris.

They’re expensive to maintain — it costs several hundred dollars to have Gerardo’s guys trim the damn things every spring. They attract lightning. They breed cockroaches. And desert termites. And black widows. And roof rats. At least in Arabia the palm trees produced dates — matter of fact, that and millet were our area’s main crops. But these BB-fruiting things? All the way around, they’re useless, uglee, and nuisancey.

Why, White Man? What is it about these things that you find so charming?

I should have them taken out. But you don’t even want to know what it would cost to have someone come and cut them down. The neighbor across the street has been extirpating his, but he can only afford to remove one or two at a time. It will take several years to clear his yard of the things. At that rate, too, it would take four years to get rid of mine.

Is it worth the trouble?

Somehow, I suspect not.

PayPal: Why you should avoid it

Over at Quora, the subject of PayPal came up in the course of a discussion comparing US payment methods with those in Europe. Over there, checks are obsolete; electronic payment transfers are ubiquitous. Zelle is popular in Europe, as it is with major American banks. But credit unions do not exist there, and my credit union (which unlike a large bank treats its customers humanely) does not subscribe to Zelle.

One correspondent remarked, in praising Zelle:

Checks are so dangerous. You are handing people a piece of paper with your name, address, bank name and full account number, and at retailers they often notate your drivers license number and phone number too, and you top all this info off with your signature. Everything a fraudster needs!

Said I:

Credit unions don’t offer Zelle. PayPal dings you a stiff fee for every transaction and will not allow you to transfer a client’s payment to your banking institution for three months after the client pays. Also, by claiming not to be a banking institution, PayPal evades regulation by US banking authorities….and as my own experience has shown, that is FAR more dangerous than checks. When they choose to rip you off, you have exactly zero recourse to the law.

Flabbergasted, another commenter added:

PayPal is essentially unregulated in the United States. It is not a bank. It is a privately owned corporation that can do pretty damn near anything it wants. And anything it wants is not necessarily in your interest. The complaints posted online at the Better Business Bureau — presently numbering 8,696, are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Pissed Consumer reports three issues resolved of 635 reviews, with $1.9 million in claimed losses. A whole website is devoted to publicizing PayPal’s outrages.

Here’s an alternative that might work for you: a reasonably low-cost system that accepts all major credit cards, with transaction rates that undercut PayPal’s, especially if your clients are overseas.

PayPal: AVOID!