Coffee heat rising

This, That, and the ‘Tother…

Drawing a bit of a blank about what to write about this morning. Yesterday evening I had some brilliant idea, but now can’t remember it. But of course I can’t remember my name, so…no surprise there.

Here’s an Abert’s towhee out here in the backyard, pecking up some bugs under the paloverde tree. They’re effective insectivores — the birds, that is; not the trees. Along with a thrasher or two and a passel of sparrows, they’ll keep your yard free of ants and any number of other little crawlers.

Most of the hummers have (wisely enough) migrated north. They’re leaving the Valley earlier each year, in response to the climate change that doesn’t exist.

The Anna’s hummingbird used to migrate with them. They stopped doing so, though, with the influx of human admirers who hang out sugar water for them. For many years they buzzed about the Valley all year round. But this particular variety of flying gem is also damn scarce this spring…summer, or whatever it is. Reloaded all the feeders but have only seen one or two of them. So presumably this is yet another loss to what was once a pretty spectacular quality of life in Arizona.

My son says he wants to buy 40 acres in southeastern Utah, park a Tiny House in the middle of it, and go completely off the grid. Just him and his golden retrievers.

I have to say…there are times when that sounds pretty damn good. Think of how many unpublishable novels a creative type could scribble under those conditions.


But turning to the writing career, let us speak of cabbages and journalism…  The other day I picked up a sort of scholarly disquisition published by a Canadian university press. It is, shall we say, spare. Not to say “slight.” Which is, yes…that is what it is.

It’s only about 100 pages of copy, including a very lightweight introduction that does nothing but outline the book’s contents.

Looked at that thing and thought…huh! What I’ve already got in the “Drugging of America” series would fill that much space. Especially if, as this guy’s book is, it’s set in large type with wide margins. The guy has gotta be someone’s son-in-law.

So I decided to trick out a proposal. Preparatory to that, I took the first post and de-bloggified it yesterday. First step was to convert the links to end-notes.

Well. Naturally this led to another garden stroll through the Internet. HOLY shit, but this is a rich topic. Madly saved sets of links to a new Wyrd file, and came up with material for a good three more chapters. This would give the proposed book ten solid chapters, plus an introduction, plus a bibliography. And that would be one heckuva lot stronger than this little hardback I’m looking at now.

So over the next few days, I need to write an introduction, a chapter outline, a TofC, and a proposal. In a week or two, I hope to have that ready to send off. I’ll also send it to Columbia, which has published another of my books. And the UofA Press, where I have friends who have friends.

Step aside, Barbara Ehrenreich…

Choir season is winding toward its end. It’s been a splendid year with our two new musicians operating as director and associate director. The latter proposes to give voice and music lessons over the summer.

A friend and I have already imposed on her for the same, during the past couple of months. She (assoc. director) would like to be paid in the form of donations to the church. That would’ve been OK if I hadn’t used a large slab of this year’s required minimum drawdown from retirement savings to pay off the damned car. But having done that, I’m running dangerously low on money — have about four grand to last till the end of the year…and since operating this shack, eating, and maintaining the hounds and the car cost about two grand a month…well. Houston, we have a problem.

Really, I don’t know how I’m going to get through the summer, to say nothing of making it to the end of the year.

Complicating matters, the pool replastering job can’t be delayed much longer. There’s a crack under the coping that clearly extends through the shell, meaning the water that’s leaking through it is quietly creating some major structural problems. So that needs to be fixed.

Maybe it can be patched. But that will not fix the other issue: the plaster is flaking off because it’s almost 15 years old. That will cost four to six grand.

Ohh well…

Speaking of the writing career, I told myself I would finish (or at least make progress on) a chapter of Ella’s Story. Since I have to be out of here in an hour and a half to meet my business partner in lovely downtown Tempe, I seem to have procrastinated about as much as possible on that scheme.

And so, away…

Life, the universe, and all that money

This morning Cassie the Corgi and I awoke to a cityscape imbued with a strange yellow light. You couldn’t call it “golden.” Jaundiced fit better. Off in the distance occasional rolls of thunder rumbled across the sky, sounding for all the world like well-aimed bowling balls shooting up a wooden alley. To the south and west, a dark blue-gray storm drifted our way.

Last night’s windstorm blew a bushel of debris into the pool. After fishing the bonnet cleaner’s net off the bottom of the deep end, I decided to let the leaves and twigs sit until after the pump comes on and pushes them into one or two mounds, discretion being the better part. Standing in the back yard waving a metal pole around might tempt fate a little too far, given the flickers of lightning drawing ever nearer and the rain-fat clouds already overhead.

Most amazing: the air was almost cool! With temps low enough to shut off the air conditioner, we opened up the house and let some fresh air in for the first time in weeks. It’s quarter to eight and the thermometer still reads in the mid-eighties. At last! I’m sitting on the deck watching a gentle rain and enjoying my home—for the first time in many a moon.

This is the way central Arizona used to be, back in the Cretaceous before humans came along and wrecked the place. The hideous Phoenix metropolitan area—and believe me, this town is an aesthetic truck wreck, the city parents having studied everything Southern California did wrong and decided to do exactly that—has created a “heat island,” a thermal bubble arising from our having paved over mile after endless square mile with asphalt, concrete, and fake-tile roofs. Where water is no longer affordable (that is, in all of the newer development), the bladed desert floor has been covered with sizzling crushed granite and rock.

All of Arizona, including the low desert where Phoenix resides, used to experience daily thunderstorms and rain throughout the summer, starting about the end of June and lasting until the middle of August. Along about 4:00 or 5:00 p.m., the rains would drop temperatures about 20 degrees, from the low 100s to the low 80s or even the 70s.

Summers were hot, but nothing like what we see today. A 115-degree day was a rarity; it might have occurred once every three years or so, and heat like that didn’t last longer than a day or two. Now, 115 is pretty normal for July, and 118 is commonplace. In Sun City last week, SDXB recorded a temperature of 121 on his shaded back porch. That’s right: one hundred and twenty-one degrees. In the shade.

The cause of this change is supposedly the heat island: as the summer storms approach the urban area, they’re bounced back when they hit the wall of heat reflecting off the paved surfaces. And it’s true, you can see the clouds ringing the valley, see them approach, then part and go around us. Personally, I think climate change has something to do with it, too, but that’s neither here nor there. Whatever the cause, the phenomenon is real: the Valley is significantly hotter and significantly drier than it has been in European memory.

What does all this have to do with money? Well, the usual: reeel estate!

La Maya and La Bethulia have been seriously considering the upland town of Prescott as a retirement venue. Since GDU has exhibited an enthusiasm for online courses, La Maya has realized that if she could teach all her classes online, she would not be married to the Valley. La Bethulia, a psychiatric nurse practitioner with a significant reputation, has already been offered work in Prescott. So, they could reasonably move there before either of them quits working.

And since I’m about to quit working with a vengeance, I could in theory retire there, if I could find a decent house that I could afford. With real estate values depressed, usually pricey property is about within reach, especially if I could sell my house by-owner and save the 6 to 8 percent Realtor’s fee.

This summer has been about the worst in my memory. I’ve never seen it stay so oppressively hot for so long. We’ve had day after day after day of 115-degree-plus temperatures, and nights that don’t cool down: it’s routine to walk outside at 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. into 100-degree darkness.

IMHO, that’s not livable. Like snowbound northerners, you avoid going outdoors unless you’re forced to. A drive over almost-melting streets is miserable and dangerous—everyone’s tempers are short, people do crazy things, and nastiness is the standard mood of fellow drivers on streets and in the parking lots. When you come out of the grocery store, having left your car locked up for 20 minutes or so, the steering wheel is so hot it will burn your hands, and if your car has vinyl seats, you’d better not be wearing shorts. Literally: people have sustained second-degree burns from sitting on hot car seats.

Devil-pod tree, a.k.a. acacia salacina
Devil-pod tree, a.k.a. acacia salicina

Meanwhile, every plant on my considerable piece of property has to be watered EVERY DAY. The potted tomatoes, herbs, squash, and cantaloupe are wilting by 8:00 or 9:00 a.m., and if I had the temerity to take a weekend’s vacation in cooler climes, every plant would be dead by 5:00 p.m. on the day I left. Even in full shade, some plants’ leaves are burned. Because of the hot, dusty winds and the fact that Satan and Proserpine (previous owners of the House from Hell) planted the devil-pod tree next to the pool directly in the flow of the prevailing summer winds, the damned pool is chuckablock full of cleaner-choking pods and straplike leaves, all of which have to be fished out of the pool before the system comes on. The tiles have to be cleaned every day, the walls scrubbed down every morning, the pool refilled (it loses about an inch a day to evaporation) every morning.

These outdoor chores take about two to three hours. Every. Single. Day. Miss a day, and you get a green pool and a yardful of dead plants. All this work gets done in 100-degree heat, starting at about 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. It means I get to put in two hours of physical labor in crushing heat under a searing sun before I can feed the dog or have my own breakfast.

And the dog, the one that refuses to use a doggy door and regards the out of doors with horror? She has to be walked before the sun comes up and again after the sun goes down. Otherwise, the pavement will burn her feet.

Know what? I’m bloody sick of it.

So, once again, I’m seriously considering selling the house and moving someplace more habitable.

Prescott historic bungalow
Prescott historic bungalow

La Maya’s online property searches have found a number of very nice homes in Prescott in the $300,000 to $400,000 range. I can’t afford that. My house is only worth about $280,000, max. If I have to fork over a Realtor’s commission and assorted rips to the various other characters that have their fingers in every realty transaction, the best I can expect to net on the sale of this house is about $263,000. There are a few places in that price range in and around Prescott. Most of them are tract houses that look cheaply built.  It’s hard to get enthusiastic about moving into one of those. But every now and then something like this little historic house pops up: looks like a shotgun house on the outside and appears to be surrounded by newer construction, but all the interior pictures look make it look very charming.

Then there’s the actual cost of moving to be kept in mind. It’s not cheap to pack up a four-bedroom house and haul it to another city. Although I don’t have a lot of furniture, what I do have is stuff I’m not getting rid of—solid birch casework that my mother bought when we came back to this country in the late 1950s, and some leather pieces I couldn’t begin to replace on the nonsalary that will be my income after December 31.

Prescott condo
Prescott condo

And finally, there’s the question of whether Prescott can provide me a job to earn the required $14,100 to supplement Social Security and retirement income, money that will just barely keep me out of poverty. I’m not at all sure about that. Prescott has only two colleges, and neither of them pays what the Maricopa County Community College District pays adjunct faculty. I’m afraid I’d have to wait tables to keep the coyote from the door. And…well, I don’t want to.

Those are the financial issues. Others: I don’t know anyone up there. And a check of the  Weather Underground shows lows of 16 degrees during December 2008 and January 2009. Daytime temperatures are balmy enough…but I’m not at all sure I want to deal with subfreezing nights and the attendant ice on the roads, frozen pipes, and high heating bills.

Nice grass over there, but maybe that green effect is some sort of illusion.

My house is too big for me, and the pool is an ungodly amount of work that’s turned into quite a grind. Maybe what I need to do is look for a smaller place here in town—maybe even a cheaper one, and use the profit to rent a place in the north country during the summers.

One way or another, the weather issue > a livability issue > a real estate issue > a money matter. How is it that everything eventually boils down to money?

Prescott snout house
Prescott snout house

The Sun, Lykaestria, Wikipedia Commons
Devil-pod tree (Acacia salacina), Ethel Aardvark, Wikipedia Commons
Prescott real estate images: Shameless ripoffs