Friday, June 29, 2007

good fences make good neighbors

We're having a fence built. Fences are expensive.

Holy mackerel.

Here's a funny joke for you:

So the neighbor says to the new homebuyer, "You should just build that fence yourselves. We'll help. It'll save you alot of money."

I can't keep my clothes on straight. How the fuck am I going to keep a fence post level while the cement that will eternally affix it to the earth is drying? We'd end up with a fence that looked like a third grader's popsicle stick project. But you can throw a popsicle stick project away or at least put it on a bookshelf and find it charming/mock it when the child leaves for college. A future homebuyer isn't going to appreciate it when we elbow him in the ribs and say, "Isn't that cute?" about our crooked-ass fence.


Build our own fence.

Ha ha ha.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

dirt farmer, part two

Last night, I assembled our push mower.

Ladies and Gentlemehhhhhhn! Welcome, welcome, welcome to the Zen Imbecile Fight of Her Life!

When we bought the house, that patchwork quilt of grass squares called sod had just been laid on top of a large pond of quick sand in our front yard. When the sky proceeded to dump buckets of water on it for days at a time, the quick sand swallowed up some of our fuzzy green fabric swatches, mostly because we foolishly stepped on them and sent them plummeting to their sandy graves. Thankfully the grass sacrificed itself for the sake of our feet. We were then informed that we needed to let the grass grow for awhile so that the roots would firm up the ground.

One week and hundreds more buckets of rain later, some of those grass swatches are shin high and probably harbor families of field mice. Time to mow.

In this corner, in emerald green, with those buns of steel and guns of Navarrone. Those abdominal muscles that a 19th century pioneer woman could wash clothing on. That fancy footwork and quick instinct. She has a history of dodging both Facts and Figures flying furiously at her face. It's Fantasy!!!!!!!!!!!!

I had this brilliant idea. It involved taking my computer over to the new house and listening to a CD Kurt burned for me whilst assembling the mower. Later, but before the sun went down, I'd cut through the grass like butter and then collapse on our porch, spent but well used and satisfied by a hard job done well.

In the ... exact same corner? Also wearing green trunks ... slightly worn and very stained trunks. Looking kinda scrawny and pathetic. And hiding behind her opponent. Is that?

Yes, it is.

Reality, ladies and gentlemen.

Woo hoo.

The computer/CD plan goes out the door immediately. I'm working on the porch and it is fucking hot so when I turn on the computer, it says "Fuck you." and refuses to operate. That's OK though because the instructions are so long and elaborate that I need to fully focus on them.

Fantasy seems oblivious to the fact that noone is in the opposite corner. When the bell rings and the first round begins, she comes out swinging. It is a sight to behold. She'd massacre anyone who'd dare step out in front of her, but no one has. Instead Reality is deftly shadowing her every move. I'd have never guessed such a knobby troll could be so spry but she seems able to keep up pretty well ...

The instruction manual consists of eight pages of useless text plus a diagram to show you where all the nuts and screws go that is - I'm not lying - two inches square. It does include a couple of "closeups" to show where things go in relation to the front and back of the mower but in at least one case the item in the closeup is completely symmetrical. In other words, it is not possible to tell the difference between the front and the back.

Still I manage to assemble the handle and after struggling for fifteen minutes and losing two tiny metal half-rings that hopefully serve no purpose, I pinch the bottoms of the handle together and slide them over the hooks inside the mower body.

Viola! I'm done!!

And Fantasy swings that massive right hook through the blank space in front of her and as she does, Reality swings her toothpick of a leg around Fantasy's shins and trips her! Incredible!! To the ground.

Of course, the handle is jutting straight up at a 90 degree angle from the mower, which will make pushing awkward. And then I discover pushing is really awkward because I can't do it.

At all.

The mower won't budge.

She is down, ladies and gentleman. Out cold. Down for the count. This fight is over!

So I check the diagram and discover that 90 degrees is wrong. And while it doesn't tell me that an inability to move the mower is also the sign of an incorrect assembly, it seems reasonable to assume such a thing. It takes twenty minutes to get the handle off again.

And Reality has pounced on the prone figure of Fantasy and is just whaling on her. The ref pulls her off but she jumps back and stomps on Fantasy's head.

I try a different angle to reattach it but to no avail.

At this point, the handle is so thoroughly secured to the mower body that I have to completely dissasemble it (29 pieces including screws, nuts, and washers) to remove it. And then start all over again.

By the time I'm ready to reattach the handle a third time, I've discovered my error ...

The mower is upside - fucking - down.

I'm soaked in sweat. I've been there for two hours. And I've been wrestling with an upside down lawn mower.

By the time Fantasy comes to, the auditorium is empty. The lights are down, the chairs are folded, some kindly soul has covered her prone body with a soiled towel. Her good eye blinks away the darkness and she winces as she struggles to her feet. Hobbling to her corner, she punches the bare light bulb swinging over the center of the ring. She takes a seat on the stool and waits for the next fight. And grins and whistles while she does.

I couldn't help it.

It was 10:15 by the time I put the thing together but now I had a mower. And I built it.

I mowed.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

a gift

I got seven hours of sleep last night.

I'm not going to sing the song again, I promise.

But will you please clap your hands and say "Yeah!" for me? Maybe if enough people do it, my body will hear and give me a similar gift tonight.


Monday, June 25, 2007



Jesus H. Cristobal.

Goddamn sonofabitch mutherfucker.

Shit shit shit shit. SHIT!

I've been trying to write this fucking essay for a fucking week and I can't fucking do it.


Friday, June 22, 2007

living with a writer

I try to explain to her that the writer is the duelist who never fights at the stated hour, who gathers up an insult, like another curious object, a collector's item, spreads it out on his desk later, and then engages in a duel with it verbally. Some people call it weakness. I call it postponement. What is a weakness in the man becomes a quality in the writer. For he preserves, collects what will explode later in his work.

- Anais Nin to June Miller about Henry

(Thanks to Karen for quoting this first.)

This habit of postponing and collecting is not something I'm proud of. It makes life difficult for me and for the people I love. I want to be communicative, open, and understanding. But I also want to take things in and thrash them out in my head and on paper for awhile before taking them out again. I want to understand what they are and what they mean before I let them go.

Friday, June 15, 2007

conversation with God

This morning before we went to close on the house, we decided that God had something special in mind for us. Something like:

God: Go forth and give all your money to Hank Azaria.

Us: But God, we don't know Hank Azaria!

God: Well then, find someone who looks like him.

(Luckily, the builder of the home we decided to buy looks exactly Hank Azaria.)

Us: OK God, we're giving all our money to a man who looks like Hank Azaria. What do we get in return?

God: All your hopes and dreams for the future will be crushed.

Us: ... Man!

God: That is my will.

Us: ... C'mon!

God: OK. Nevermind.

Us: ...

God: Gawl! Can't you take a joke!?!


We're the owners of a new home.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

dirt farmer

Our new house is pretty cool. It has a big porch in the front, a utility room, plenty of closet space. Because we only have two smallish closets in the entirety of our current house, I'm especially happy about the linen closet. It is a closet dedicated to linens. An entire closet specializing in sheets and towels. It's like we're moving to Fantasy Island.


Does being excited about a linen closet make me sound like a suburban asshole?

Just wait. You have no idea.

I'm most excited about yard work.


Does that sound insane to you?

It does to me, especially considering that:

1) I've only operated a lawn mower twice in my life and it was one of those push things

2) Our current yard is pretty much a wreck.

3) I can barely keep house plants alive.

4) My memories of parental units doing yard work are not good ones. They involve alot of yelling, grunting, and grumbling. My dad once cracked two ribs when he was sideswiped off a ladder by a tree branch he'd just pruned.

5) It seems like a rule of homeownership that you have to hate yardwork. Either you have to hate hardwork or you have to be a some freakishly obsessive person who prefers conversing with flowers to making eye contact with neighbors.

After all, most people don't do yard work for the joy of it. It is something we do because our homeowner's covenant requires it or because we want to improve the "curb appeal" (ie the resale value) of our homes.

(Boy, that's a lesson in how to suck the joy out of things - make them about making money.)

Anyhow, I would like to imagine that I have some loftier goal in mind when I do yardwork like ... cue violin ... making things look pretty so's when we get home we have a beautiful green oasis to relax within.

But that's not why I'm excited about yardwork.

I'm excited because I like to dig in the dirt.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I wish I was special

Three jobs ago, a few days after I gave my notice and began final preparations for a year of travel, the Vice President of Engineering popped by my cube to say, "You can't leave, Imbecile! We were going to make you our star."

By "star" he meant "vassal."

You see, a few weeks earlier, the company had "downsized" - damn, I love euphemisms! - and I was the only technical writer who made the cut. That meant six or eight books to write and, oh I don't know, 35 engineers to wrest information from.

If you've ever spoken to a single engineer, you might understand how daunting 35 might be. If you haven't, imagine using dental floss to yank a hippo out of a lagoon.

I had no interest in being a "star."


OK, that's sort of a lie.

Truth is, I'd always been a teeny speck of a star in my innumerable places of employment.

(OK, that's also a lie but I'll explain that some other time.)

In many of the technical jobs I've had, I've been pretty well regarded. Maybe not a star but a ... Christmas light! Somehow, I managed to maintain Christmas light status throughout the tech boom of the 90s while only working 40 - 50 hours a week when many of my co-workers regularly worked 60 - 80.

The same thing happened in high school. I always did my homework on the bus or in my lap in the 5 minutes before each class bell rang and yet somehow managed to be a Christmas light of a student. Teachers liked me. A Latin teacher once lost my exam and gave me an A anyway because she assumed that's what I would have earned.

This was not a good thing. I'm not exactly proud of it. My point is merely that being a pinpoint of light in some evergreen shrubbery was easy and I liked it. I especially liked that it was easy.

Nowadays, however, my little bulb seems on the verge of shorting out or at least being outshone by some actual stars around me. I sit one cube away from someone who is such a shimmering tower of luminescence that on some days I can barely see my monitor. And I hate her for it.

(not really. I love you.)

(But you're interferring with my little flicker. Stop shining so brightly! Stop working so hard!!)

I tell her all the time to stop working so hard. I pretend it is for her own well being (and it is mostly for that) but it is also because I can't keep up. At least I don't want to. I don't want to work half as hard as she does, but I also don't want to be so massively outshone. Dammit.

And that's the real problem. She doesn't work so much harder than I do, she just accomplishes a shitload more. People count on her. People listen to her.

I want to be listened to and counted on too!


I just don't want to have to work hard to make it happen.


She's thinking, "You do work hard. You are listened to and counted on."

And I'm thinking, "Will you please just let me be frustrated?"

And that might be the most insightful thing I've written all morning. My problem isn't about how much I hate my job or how hard I should work or whether anyone is paying attention to me.

Maybe the problem is that I want to feel frustrated and I'm in a constant mad scramble to find excuses to do so.

Monday, June 11, 2007

sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!

I got seven hours of sleep last night.
Doo dah. Doo dah.
I got seven hours of sleep last night.
Oh duh doo dah day.

If I sleep all night.
Going to laugh all day.
I bet my money on a sleepless night.
I lost and that's OK!


Thursday, June 07, 2007

if it is not one thing, it's something else

Lessee, where were we?

Ah yes. My husband and I had just learned that the house we had a contract on was a modular building only 6 hours prior to the deadline after which our contract to buy the house became binding. And several of those hours were supposed to be spent working not researching modular homes.


Because my financial and personal well being was at stake, I naturally let work slide momentarily and spent a few hours on the hunt for bad news about modular homes.

I couldn't really find any.

I found a number of sites that confused modular with mobile or manufactured homes. There's also one site in which the problems appeared to be about bad construction which is something you could potentially get from any new home and that a third-party inspector could find for you. Some sites mention environmental hazards like off-gassing from the materials inside the house but that appears to be a problem with most new construction except the prohibitively expensive environmentally friendly stuff.

But why didn't they tell us it was modular?

Content that the modularity of the home was not a deal breaker, I crawled into bed and while I slept the contract slipped out of its tenuous state into permanence. Three hours and half hours later, my brain decided it was no longer content and rattled the rest of me out of slumber. I spent the next three hours on more research.

Is that legal? Not tell us in advance that it is a modular home? Maybe the fact that it was modular isn't a bad thing but if these people are being deceptive, what else are they hiding???

Not only did I find not much more bad about modular homes, but I learned much that was reassuring. For example:

* Modular homes are not mobile homes. They're permanently affixed to a real, state-approved foundation.

* While mobile homes have to comply with the regulations for the place in which they're manufactured, modular homes must comply with the place at which they're going to be installed. This means they're designed to deal better with the environmental conditions of the area than mobile homes.

* They're typically shipped in two or three peices and they have to be built sturdier than regular homes because the chunks have to survive a long trip bouncing down the highway.

* They're considered greener than regular homes. This is because they're built more efficiently so they waste fewer materials.

* They're built in a controlled environment so you don't have to worry about materials being adversely effected by the elements during the construction process.

* They're kind of "the shit" among alot of modern architects. Of course, I think most of these folks are excited about the crazy boxy, stackable types they use in Scandinavian countries but still.

I also found the website of the Something Something Something Bureau that regulates the construction of modular homes. It has all sorts of information most of which went completely over my head except this list of things the builder is required to provide you. I even checked with a couple of architects I know and they both had good things to say about either modular homes in general or our house in particular.


But ... why didn't they tell us from the beginning that it was modular??? That ain't right!

I put this question to our real estate agent. He put it to the builder. The builder's reply:

"I didn't think we needed to tell you. It is all over our marketing materials. It is on the sign at the front of the house."

Bullshit! I saw that sign. It said:

Matthew & Rita Berman
Some Phone Numbers
Something & Something Else Homes

So I drove over to the house after work. Guess what "Something" & "Something Else" were?







Wednesday, June 06, 2007

before your very eyes

I saw the sign. I read the sign. At least I thought I did.

It sat on stilts at the end of the gravel topped concrete drive that would soon be ours and it said:

Something & Something Berman*
Some Phone Numbers
Something & Something Else Homes

* names & identifications have been changed to protect
me from being embarrassed in case any of
the associated parties stumble across this blog.

When you're buying a new house from a big builder, history and economics seem to be on your side. You look at the wide swaths of land he's paved over in the decades gone by and you think, "This is someone I can trust." or at the very least, "This is someone I can call the Better Business Bureau about."

With a small builder or a new builder, you don't want to just believe they're good people who build good solid houses. You don't want to think "He wouldn't do something like that to me." But you don't have a lot of recourse to research this person to whom you're about to give a ridiculously large sum of cash, so you have to cover your ass somehow.

In this case, I substituted ass covering with completely freaking out.

As in:

What if the roof caves in? What if the front yard is full of quick sand? What if the house is made of paper? What if he's totally screwing us over?

If you are buying a new home and have thoughts like these, be reassured that your state probably provides you with certain protections. For example, Texas requires the builder to provide warranties of habitability for 10 years. While I find the implication of this a little crazy - that the house only has to be habitable for 10 years - that's better than no years. And no years is exactly what you'd get if your builder went bankrupt before those 10 years were up.

That was the next panicky thought that wheeled around in my brain - What if he goes bankrupt? - thanks in large part to my mother who in fact planted the thought in my ear, patted it on its butt, and whispered, "Run like the wind."

Thankfully I am resourceful person. In the most literal sense of the word, I am full of resources including: a computer with an internet connection at both home and work, an obsessive need to get to the bottom of things, and an obsessive need to finish what I've started even if it means accidentally waking up at 3:30 am to do so. While I couldn't exactly determine whether the guy was going to go belly up as soon as I bought the house, I could at least get a sense of his history ... sort of.

I don't even know how I found half the shit I did online but eventually I stumbled across the Texas Residential Construction Commission (TRCC). Without all the boring details, I can tell you that these are the dudes who enforce the 10 year warranty. They also have a searchable database of all new home builders in Texas.

So I go to the search page and then I retrieve the bitmap in my brain of the white sign on stilts at the end of the drive. It is kinda pixelated. This is what I come up with:

Something & Something Berman
Some Phone Numbers
Something & Something Else Homes

That's not good. So my brain squints a little and produces:

Charles & Some Woman's Name Berman
Some Phone Numbers
Something & Something Else Homes

Ah ha! Charles Berman.

... Is that it?

I just search on Berman because that way all Bermans will come up and then I'll recognize it. But I do not recognize any Bermans on the list. I Google "Charles Berman" and find nothing.

Is Something Berman such a new builder that he's not even registered? Do I want to buy a house from someone who is completely new to the business???

At a decent hour of the morning, I call a TRCC representative who kindly explains to me that if the man has already built a house (Something Berman has built at least two) and he is not registered with the them, he's breaking the law.

(oh shit.)

(oh shit. oh shit. oh shit. oh shit)

To give Something Berman about six hours worth of benefit of the doubt while the panic of my restless night subsides, I ask our real estate agent to please get his builder number. This is a method for searching the TRCC database that doesn't rely on my imperfect memory of his name.

Later in that very long day, we meet with the agent to look at the house one last time before our contract becomes official. I take what I think is a long look at the white sign on stilts. This time I see:

Matthew & Rita Berman
Some Phone Numbers
Something & Something Else Homes

Ah ha! Matthew Berman. Not Charles. Stupid.

(Please note however, that I still hadn't really read the sign.)

Very shortly thereafter, my husband finds a sign in the wall inside the pantry indicating that this lovely home with the wonderful porch and high ceilings is a modular home.

A modular home?! What does that even mean???

After explaining it to us in not particularly flattering terms, the agent announces that he's got a license number from Rita Berman. It is IHB-### and it is issued by the Something Something Something Bureau. Not the TRCC.

This builder is not licensed by the body that governs new home construction in Texas and provides legal protection to buyers.

WHAT??? Modular home. Not TRCC. What in the hell is happening here? Are we buying a house or some sort of appliance? And why didn't anybody tell us this was MODULAR home???

Clearly, we are being SCREWED!!

Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion!

Or whatever. I don't care if you read it or not.

Monday, June 04, 2007

oh shit

When you ask an insomniac why they don't sleep well, they might reply with something along the lines of, "I don't really know. I wish I did."

But if they are anything like me, they are thinking something completely different. Something along the lines of, "Jesus fucking christ, how the fuck should I know?"

This isn't because they dislike you. It is because they haven't been sleeping well.

Once past the niceties, inquisitive types move on to solutions like:

* Do you take anything? You should try melanoma.

Reply: Do you mean "melatonin"? I've already tried it. It works for a couple of days and then I'm right back where I started.

Thought: Do you think I'm an idiot?

* Have you talked to a doctor?

Reply: No. They'll just prescribe something and I really don't want to be medicated.

Thought: Typical. This is a medicated world. Maybe I should just give up and join the body snatchers. I could run around like Donald Sutherland hissing at the under-prescribed.

* What do you think about that keeps you up at night?

Reply: It is really hard to say.

Thought: Why aren't you up all night? The world is a fucking wreck.

* You should have a drink before bed.

Reply: Actually, alcohol interferes with REM sleep which is what you really need to feel well rested.

Thought: No. No no no no. No. No. I do not want to have this conversation any longer.

Truth is though that I start the conversation. I'm constantly telling people about my bad nights' sleeps and then getting annoyed with them when they try to be helpful. What's wrong with me? If I don't want their advice, why do I mention it? It is enough to keep an imbecile up at night.

Truth is that after months of sleeping fabulously, I've been stricken with the sickness once again and I'm pissed about it. I also know precisely what's causing it. It's the house. Buying a house is keeping me up at night.

But it is not as if I can name the thoughts running through my head as I stumble out of bed and into the living room. I am fevered and rigid, with a clenched jaw and shoulders pinched up around my ears as if trying to keep my head on its hinges. I can almost feel the earth spinning and I'm clinging to it with my fingertips.

If I could name the thoughts I could think myself out of them. But all I can articulate is "Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit."

Friday, June 01, 2007

letter to the editor

To whom it may concern:

I don't usually write letters like these but the situation I want to address has become intolerable. While it is perfectly obvious to me why newspapers, magazines, and other print/online media hire critics, it is decidedly less clear why such institutions might send them into the homes of the writers they are criticizing. After all, the general public wants to know about a work prior to reading it but when someone is constantly harassing the person producing those works the likelihood that said works will be completed is close to nill.

More importantly, why would you send one of your minions to harass someone who isn't even published or trying to get published? Is this your version of a pre-emptive strike? Do you think you're the publishing world's Dick Cheney with a 1% policy against bad writing? If there's a 1% chance that the writing is bad, then it must be stopped? It is counter-productive.

And mean. Just plain mean.

Zen Imbecile

Editor's Note: We're sorry that Ms. Imbecile does not appreciate the assistance we've provided her. Free of charge, we might add. We're sure that if she took a bit more time to think about it, she'd realize that she and the public agree - no one wants to read bad writing so it is best to stop it at the source.

Dear Inner Critic,

Your boss is an self-important ass so I'm going straight to the source. Although it feels very strange to write you a letter while you're looking over my shoulder, I'm hoping that communicating with you in this form will prevent you from interfering with the letter writing process.

Can you please just leave me alone? I mean, I get one word out and you're fucking smirking at me. It is six in the fucking morning for christ's sake and I'm trying to write this shit off the top of my head. It isn't supposed to be perfect. If anything, I want to just write freely for a half hour or so. With no particular goal in mind except maybe to connect with ...

With what?

People? Readers?


God. Don't look at me like that!! I hate that fucking smirk. You think it is so fucking meaningful. As if you've said something. That's the worst thing about you. You don't say much at all. You just like click your tongue at me or raise an eyebrow. You drop your head in exasperation. It is fucking brilliant that you're criticizing my writing without using any WORDS. You're just a series of facial ticks and sound effects but somehow you stop me in my tracks.

You know what? I don't even know if I want to connect with any readers. I think there are only about two left. I want to connect with me. I want to spend time entertaining myself before my shitty ass day begins.

Why on God's green earth would you want to interfere with that? Why do you care?

Screw you. I've had enough.




Did that work?