Coffee heat rising

Thank you, Amazon…

Shopping at Amazon can be pricey. But if you attach a dollar value to your time (something I could justify a lot better when I was getting paid for more of my time…), it is very much worth it. Especially, I imagine, if you live in a city like Phoenix, where you put your life on the line every time you venture out into the homicidal traffic.

My venerable kitchen-sink scrub brush broke apart the last time the Cleaning Lady from Heaven was here. I need one of those…all the time. But hafta say…trudging off to a grocery store that carries them has NOT been what I want to do. AJ’s, my favorite venue for fresh produce and incidental groceries, does not carry hardware-store types of products. This is largely true of Sprouts, too. Costco has some of that kind of stuff, but decidedly not kitchen scrub-brushes. Albertson’s no doubt has them, but risking life and limb to walk across that store’s parking lot is counterproductive. Do I really want to make a special trip to a Safeway, a Fry’s, or an Albertson’s in a better part of town to buy…what? A plastic brush?

Well. No.

So I’ve put it off, largely because I tend to forget about it when I’m not standing at the sink. And of course because I feel uninclined to schlep all over the city for the sake of one, count it (1) cheesy item.

But lo! Have no fear! Amazon carries the things, in gay profusion.

Got two of those gadgets in the picture for seven bucks. I kinda doubt that Albertson’s will be selling them for much less than three or four bucks apiece.

Nay verily! At Albertson’s an identical model is $4.59 apiece!!

Between Amazon and Instacart, delivery services have saved me so much mileage that the monthly cost of gasoline here at the Funny Farm has gone way down. I hardly ever buy gas anymore — maybe once every two or three months. The only trips that consume much gas anymore are the endless jaunts to doctors, of which I am mightily sick&tired. If I didn’t have to run to a doctor or a dentist every time I turn around, I would hardly be buying any gasoline at all.

And that savings more than makes up for the extra cost of ordering something online and paying to have someone deliver it to your door.

Interestingly, too…the change of habits occasioned by the Plague and its lockdowns has cut back my driving habits to the point that it probably would make some sense to buy an electric vehicle. Before this, it would have made no sense at all…because I was driving hither, thither, and yon constantly through traffic and over roads that demand the vigor of a six-banger. I went out in the car almost every day. Now, though, I hardly ever drive. If I didn’t have to run to these damn doctors every time I turn around — and traipse to the physical therapist three times a week — I might not be taking that car out of the garage more than two or three times a month. If it were safe to walk down Conduit of Blight to the Sprouts and the Albertson’s (it decidedly is not!), the truth is that I could get by comfortably without a car.

The trick would be to rent a vehicle when one is necessary. Or use Uber, if one were so inclined.

DXH and I had neighbors who liked to visit Las Vegas with another couple. Two or three times a year they’d all pile into a car and drive up there. But to our initial amazement, they didn’t pile into one of their cars. They always rented a vehicle to drive across the desert.

This made a great deal of sense. For one thing, if you got in an accident, you didn’t crash your own car, thereby eliciting the enormous hassles and expenses so entailed. For another, they weren’t racking up mileage gratuitously on their own vehicles…and that, you no doubt have noticed, helps to keep your car insurance rates down. And for the third: our houses had carports, not garages equipped with doors that closed behind your car. So if you drove off in your car for a weekend in Nevada, that would be spectacularly obvious to the local burglars, who would quickly understand that you weren’t home and weren’t likely to be home anytime soon.

Whaddaya think? Do we really need these expensive gas-guzzlers anymore?

Historic perambulations

Dawn spreads its glowing veil over a spectacular day: clear blue skies, bright sun, and cool air. Temp is about 68; expected to max out at 70. Sooo….along about mid-morning the hound and I set out for a lengthy stroll.

She, of course, wishes to go to the park. So…OK. Off we go to the park and then a block past it to South Tony Realms Drive, a lane that runs between Feeder Street North/South and Main Drag West, proceeding through a neighborhood that could be called Old Money. The houses, most of them on third- to half-acre lots, were built in the 1950s and maybe the early 60s. It’s quite a lovely neighborhood with irrigated lawns (irrigation is really about the only way even rich people can afford lawns anymore) and nicely maintained brick or block homes. As you might imagine, a third or a half an acre of affordable grass is in high demand, and so a lot of those places are being fixed-and-flipped. We saw three in the process, there in about three blocks of side streets.

It’s interesting how eccentric the neighborhood is, in a low-key way. For one thing, at least three sections consist of what I’d call “semi-custom houses.” That is, you can tell they were installed by the same builder using a sort of…oh, builder’s template, maybe. But they’re not recognizably the same model in the way the houses here in the ’Hood are. The ’Hood is a later vintage — early 1970s. Other parts of the neighborhood — which are in high demand now — were built out in the late 1950s. This whole area was out in the country in those days: cotton fields and citrus orchards.

My part of the area is a tract that was started by a couple of brothers who were prominent builders here, Hugh and Frank Knoell (pron. “k’NELL”). Theirs was the same company that built out Sun City, and the houses are very similar: uninsulated cement block structures with unassuming front elevations, all of them looking much the same. I’d say there are maybe a half-dozen different floor plans and elevations, though a couple of nearly identical elevations are attached to floor plans that are different on the inside. Something terrible happened and Knoell went out of business when they were about halfway through building out the tract. Knoell sold to another builder, who finished the job, so that part of the tract is subtly different…but not enough so you could tell unless you knew about it.

To the north of my part of the ’Hood stands a smaller tract of contemporaneous classic Southern California style. It’s a lower-rent area, and the houses are Pure Anaheim. Which is about as bourgeois as a residential structure can get. 😀

For reasons unclear to me, the area to the south and east of the park (which at the time was not a park but rather a sheep pasture) was more upscale. Beverly Hills it ain’t….but the houses are large and occupy lots ranging from about a third to maybe a half an acre. Most of them are apparently custom or “semi-custom” homes, all but a couple of them sprawling single-story ranchers. No two of these places seem to be the same.

But the weird thing is…they’re not all vast sprawling monuments to their original owners’ egos. Some of them are quite large. But a few really are no bigger than my house. Apparently some people wanted to live in relatively small homes — less upkeep, presumably — but with lots of elbow room between the neighbors.

At one point along the line, after I’d moved into my first house here, much closer to Conduit of Blight, I looked at an open house over in that older area….more out of curiosity than with any idea of actually buying it. It faced on the park, a circumstance that was considered a marvel of luxury. It was a little large for my taste — for one person and a dog, you don’t need to live in a hotel. But the thing that was a jaw-dropper was that it still was using a septic tank!!!!!

Not surprisingly, in a way: by the 1950s, this area was still out in the country. Encanto Drive — smack in the middle of what is now considered the “historic” central city — was the city limit: about 7 miles from here. But as the sewer system expanded, most people connected with the city lines. I think it was free (read, “paid for by your property taxes”) at the time. Someone was either real cheap or real suspicious of Big Gummint! 😀

Dog is campaigning for an evening doggy walk. Away!

The Walking History Archive

Have you ever noticed how weird it is when you’ve lived in a neighborhood for so long that you remember the people-before-the-people-before-the-people who now live in this or that house?

Honestly. Sometimes I feel like I’m a creature from another century. Which, come to think of it, I am!

This morning the Hound and I strolled through a small tract just to the south of us. Those houses have traditionally been more expensive than the newer (but now “vintage”) slump-block houses of our tract, though we’re catching up fast. But young people are moving in there and fixing those places up, too, adorning the walls with lots of eye-searing white, prison gray, and charcoal black paint. And the houses respond well: some of them look very nice, indeed.

Case in point: a house on the corner of a little neighborhood lane that debouches into the park.

I seriously considered buying that house, at the time SDXB and I were engaged in battle with the Romanian Landlord (aka The Perp). It had separate mother-in-law quarters, a spacious apartment with everything a guest or an elderly parent would like to have. My idea was…I would buy the house. SDXB and I would sell our houses up here and move in there. He would have the MiL quarters to use as he pleased: as his man cave or his office or his own private apartment, whatever. It’s a very pleasant house in a very pleasant neighborhood.

Only obvious drawback was that it wasn’t far enough away from the Perp, for our lawyers’ taste.

SDXB is chronically armed to the teeth. I’m not exactly defenseless myself, plus at the time I roomed with a very large, very menacing German shepherd who didn’t take no flak from no-one, not even a half-baked Romanian mafioso. But that notwithstanding, he absorbed the lawyers’ hysteria and betook himself to Sun City. I, having been there and done that, declined to go along, so stayed right where I was. And still am.

But nevertheless, that house had a genuine, nonimaginary drawback: its history, one that you’d think would make it hard to sell.

It had belonged to a couple who had a young child, a little boy. The dad was a cop.

One day the man came home and set his service revolver down on the coffee table. What would possess you, I can’t even begin to imagine…but yep! That’s what he did. Little boy came along when the parental backs were turned, found the gun, and picked it up to play with it. It discharged and shot the child in the gut.

He survived, surprisingly enough, but the slug ripped his intestines apart. He would have to wear a bag on his belly for the rest of his life.

The marriage, not at all surprisingly, could not withstand any such event. The couple divorced and disappeared into the Naked City. Another couple came along, lived there for a year or two, and by the time of the Perp Adventure were themselves moving on — that’s why the house was on the market.

We decided against buying it.

SDXB moved to Sun City.

Anna the GerShep chased the Perp’s would-be revenging son-in-law off and so terrorized the poor man he ended up sitting in his driveway sobbing. She and I were never bothered by that tribe again.

Animosities ceased after I rescued the Perp’s grand-daughter from a vicious dog that attacked her, by getting her and her puppy atop a mailbox stanchion and then facing down the damn dog…which was no less cowardly, really, than the son-in-law. 😀

I can walk through this whole area and remember a lot about the people who have lived in any given house over the years. I’m an ambulatory local history journal, I guess.

She’s OUT! She’s Off and Running!

So I’m chowing down on breakfast whilst browsing through The Economist — the single best general-interest periodical for people with functioning brain cells, IMHO — when I hear Ruby launch into a yap-fest: YAP YAP YAP YAP YAP…from…huh? From the front of the house????

WTF!?!

Leap to my feet, race through the open back door into the yard, jumping into an old pair of clogs on the way, and fly into the back yard, hollering RUBY! RUBY!!

No dog.

Round the corner of the house at a dead run and see Ruby bounding cheerily toward me…through the open side gate!

WTF, indeed! That thing has a double-cylinder dead bolt, and it gets locked every time the gate is pulled shut.

Love up the dog, lure her back into the house, then go outside to figure out what that’s all about.

Well, the doorknob-like handle on this gate has never been real efficient. Its little latch bolt — the tongue-like thing that fits into the strike plate and holds the door shut — wants to slip out of its assigned nesting spot, though it will stay put with some coaxing.

But the thing isn’t locked, and I know I locked it (it’s a double-cylinder deadbolt, so locks with a key from both sides). Because I never walk away from a door or a gate without locking it and checking to be sure it’s locked…for reasons that have been described floridly on this very blog.

So, yea verily WTF!?! Did somebody pick the lock open?

Unlikely. Why bother when there are so many juicier targets all around? Besides, it was raining last night. No burglar or bum in his right mind would be tromping around in that.

But o’course, the “in his right mind” part is operative. Hmm.

At any rate, thank the heavens Ruby had a nice little bark-fest while she was exploring the front yard, probably occasioned by some other dog owner walking their pal past the shack. And thank the heavens (x 1016) that she came to call.

It rained enough during the night to turn the backyard’s quarter-minus into slush, so now the kitchen floor is covered with mud.

But at least the little dog did not get hit by a car, creamed by a passing neighbor’s pit bull, or stolen.

And NOW…yea verily… I don’t even get through this short blog post when a helicopter — a big one, sounds like the military copters that emerge periodically from the Reserve base down on McDowell Road — comes ROARING over the top of the house, at tree-top level. Holy shit! Who are THEY after?

No one, evidently. He continues on, westward ever westward, so probably it’s a military exercise in how to chase down snipers in civilian residential areas. Ducky.

We’ve gotta get outta this place…

Bum’s Paradise

Having taken to walking the pooch twice a day on mile-plus rounds of the ‘Hood and the Richistans (upper and lower), of late I’ve found myself noting the amazing number of places where homeless folk (who abound in our parts) could pass the night without harassment.

Most of these people are pretty harmless, except that they steal. Apparently few of them have the energy to commit a rape (except for the guy who jumped over one family’s back fence to show off the family jewels to a couple of toddlers…he was a little strange…). They rarely heckle women. Their burgling skills do not often rise to the level of breaking and entering. At the park, the poor souls just sit there and zone out, far as I can tell. They will, of course, take anything from your yard that’s not red-hot or nailed down, by way of peddling it to support their drug habit: bicycles, trikes, children’s toys, decorative plant pots. And at any rate, one would just as soon not host uninvited guests in one’s side yard, especially since some of them will leave a bit of a mess at their campsites.

The tide of bums that came with the extension of the light-rail boondoggle up Conduit of Blight Boulevard has receded a bit, of late. Dunno why. My guess would be that either the city has finally heard the nonstop complaints from outraged neighborhoods (hah! fat chance!!) or maybe the lightrail has stopped forcing people to get off at the end of the line, up at the intersection of Blight and Gangbanger’s Way. Over in the Richistans, a well-connected and ambitious neighbor led a charge to make the city install gates on one of the alleys. That alone seems to have interrupted the invasion: apparently that alley was a Bum’s Highway, and now that passers-through can’t get to where they want to go via the neighborhood short-cuts, they stick to the main drags.

The main drags are surely where they congregate. Between Conduit of Blight and the freeway, sometimes I’ll count 10 to 15 panhandlers begging for handouts along Gangbanger’s way. If you try to go into the Walgreen’s at the corner of Main Drag South and Conduit of Blight, you’re likely to be swarmed by a crowd of panhandlers — I will no longer get out of my car in that store’s parking lot, nor will I visit the Albertson’s across the street at that intersection. One reason for that is that the city has kindly installed a meth clinic on Main Drag South, a few blocks to the west of Blight. Users ride the lightrail up to M.D. South, walk over and get their fix, then loiter around the convenience market across the road from the clinic, where they dig through the trash and pester customers for handouts, and hover around the parking lots and bus stops near the intersection.

Makes Sun City look good, doesn’t it?

Well. No. Not yet, it doesn’t. But there’s still Fountain Hills, Prescott, and Patagonia… 😉

So anyway, back to the point: Yesterday afternoon I’m counting. Since we often walk through the Richistans after dark (yeah, I know. But a] if someone is going to pounce you, they’ll pounce you in broad daylight as easily as after dark; and b] well…ahem… Make my day!), I’ve noted the number of nooks, crannies, shrubs, unused spaces in carports, pony walls that hide space from street view, and the like.

When SDXB and I spent three months backpacking and camping through Alaska and Canada, we rarely stayed in campgrounds, unless we’d bummed a ride with someone who was given to spending time in those places. Most of the time we just set down wherever we happened to be. Occasionally we would set up camp in parking lots — and interestingly, no one would stop us or roust us. So I’ve developed an eye for decent places to camp in urban settings.

  • Oleander hedges with enough space between them and the yard’s fence to fit a sleeping bag
  • Empty carports
  • Side yards with no motion-sensitive lights over them
  • Pony walls that create comfy hiding spots, right out in front of God and Everyone
  • Vacant properties
  • Alleys

The alleys here are long, perpendicular flophouses. The bums use them not just to camp in but as toilets of convenience. And on pickup day, they’ll go through the trash before the trucks arrive, looking for credit-card statements and other documents that they can sell to identity thieves.

We passed six such alleys, which in theory could accommodate dozens of bums in peace and quiet. In the low-rent section, the original alley right-of-way included an alcove for trash cans behind each residential lot. The little strip of alley behind my street has about a dozen of them. These provide comfy, semi-private hideaways for the weary traveler. They make convenient outhouses, too. And just in the mile and a half circuit that Ruby and I traverse on a routine doggy-walk, there are forty eight properties with comfortably dark side yards or pony walls that block the view from the street.  In addition, some months ago a house caught fire, rendering it uninhabitable. Apparently the residents had no insurance — or maybe setting fire to your shack whilst cooking meth renders it uninsurable, I dunno. That place has been abandoned, apparently with the furnishings intact: a perfect bum’s hideaway!

In addition, the neighborhood fly-by-night nursing home entrepreneur (Yes: Tony the Romanian Landlord found a new money-making gambit!) had bought and converted a big old ranch house on the northern end of Lower Richistan, right before the covid plague struck. His client nursing-home operator shut it down, evidently trying to cut their losses in time of covid, and so that house stands vacant. To his credit, he keeps it maintained…but with a quarter-acre backyard, covered patios, and an empty carport, it still is a perfect site to throw down for a night.

So that’s about 60 potential campsites. Just on a walk that doesn’t even cover a tenth of the neighborhood’s area.

Think o’ that! No wonder the place is overrun.

 

 

 

Amazon and the Discriminating Porch Pirate

As you may have surmised in reading my all-too-frequent reports about the antics of the local bums, burglars, meth-heads, and thieves, the ‘Hood is pretty much over-run with porch pirates. This is why I had to spend some unholy amount of cash on a Fort Knox of a mailbox: so that I didn’t have to get all my mail delivered to a rental mailbox inside a locked building.

That notwithstanding, I do occasionally order things from Amazon, despite the risk of theft. The view of my front door is obscured by a courtyard wall, so if a package is delivered to the door, a passer-by eyeballing the house from the street is unlikely to see it.

Well, O.K., so there’s that.

Now, the other day I discovered that ground clove, when mixed in solution with water, eases the crazy-making sting-and-burn effect that my current ailment, peripheral neuropathy, inflicts on gums, tongue, and lips. Used as a mouthwash, it disappears the pain right now. Mixed with Vaseline and smeared on the lips, it also stops the maddening lip-tingle, again right now. But lo! Like nutmeg, clove is obscenely overpriced when marketed on grocery-store shelves…so I ordered a quarter pound of the stuff through Amazon, at a fraction of the local supermarket gouge.

So late yesterday evening I plop down before the computer to find a fresh new e-mail: your Amazon package has been delivered.  (And your driver was too harried or too lazy to bother to ring the doorbell.)

No, it’s not dropped by the front door. But I can see it’s out by the front gate — in the driveway.

Go out to retrieve it (surprised that it’s actually still there) and find that one of the locals has neatly sliced the long edge of the envelope off, dropped the slice inside, and replaced the package — unstolen — on the driveway pavement.

Hee heeeee! Just imagine the thought process!

Can’t give it to the girlfriend, whatever it is.

Can’t give it to the kids, whatEVER it is.

What IS it, anyway??? Funniest-looking coke I’ve ever seen. Don’t think it’s meth, either.

{sniff sniff} Nope, neither of those.

Can’t snort it. Can’t smoke it. Can’t give it away. DAY-um!  You keep it, ya weirdo!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

So, feeling a little weary of having to emit elaborate instructions to Amazon delivery people — they can’t figure out that Erewhon Avenue is different from Erewhon Drive, and that these are two parallel streets with the same house numbers, and so they regularly deliver stuff to my neighbor one street to the north (I know: it is a difficult concept!). She declines to forward these or bring them over to my place (it must be all of 100 steps, and she walks by here every day or two with her dogs), so if a package goes to her place, it is effectively gone gone: permanently — I called Amazon’s customer service and asked if it was possible to install a permanent instruction to leave packages inside the gate, NOT out on the goddamn driveway.

Hilariously, I happened to get an Amazon CSR with a sense of humor. (How you could work for that place and retain a sense of humor escapes me: must be a seasonal hire!). So when I started to describe the Looney Tunes that is Life in the ‘Hood, she instantly spotted the ridiculousness of it all. By the time we got off the phone, we were both laughing so hard at the image of the porch pirate trying to figure out WHAT to make of a baggie full of dark red-brown dust that neither one of us could pull ourselves off the floor.

There is some sh!t I will not snort!

After the two of us managed to recover our respective breath and she flagged my account for the delivery drivers accordingly, she suggested that maybe I’d like to use one of those Amazon strong-boxes they’ve put up around the city, specifically for the purpose of thwarting porch pirates.

Well…uh… No. This is an idea whose value escapes me. If I have to get in my car to go get something, then obviously I’m going to shop local — which I would much prefer to do if it weren’t for the city’s homicidal traffic and my near-terminal case of laziness.