Friday, July 29, 2011

My Car Is Trying to Kill Me: Part Two

Read the first half of this saga here.

I made the mistake of thinking everything was going to be okay.

My car has what my brother has affectionately termed, "ghetto brakes." The name comes from his former roommate, Jerome, who grew up in what Fort Wayne has that passes for a ghetto. Since I have a friend who was shot in the face just for opening his front door in Fort Wayne*, I'd imagine it sort of does have a bad part of town, and if Jerome says he grew up there, I suppose I believe him. But I will never let him pull my teeth when he becomes a dentist, even if he does think up ingenious solutions to problems. This is because, despite his claims, pouring a cup of water on the floor and stomping on the liquid does not count as washing the carpet. I don't know what the tooth equivalent of that is, and I don't want to find out.

My brakes got their nickname due to the squeaking. Screeching, really. I had them taken apart and reassembled three times before I gave up and accepted the noise as a part of life. According to Expert Opinion, the screech occurred due to dirt and grime that became trapped in the rotors. They would get cleaned out, but the screech would come back a few days later. You would have given up too, if you had to go without your car so much.

Noisy or not, they were good, reliable brakes. They worked well, even if they were so loud I stopped going through drive-thru windows out of shame.

When Mom's brakes went out last Saturday, I got into my car with confidence, knowing that MY brakes were loud but TRUSTWORTHY. My car would never hurt me. My car LOVES me.

That is a lie.

Today I left work to drop off my car payment. See how responsible I am? But after I handed off the check, I noticed a change in the behavior of my brakes. By that, I mean they weren't behaving. At all.

Again, when I pressed the pedal, it swooshed down to the floor of the car with no resistance. The car continued to roll forward determinedly, leaving me grinding my teeth down to nubs from my place in the driver's seat.

"This can't be happening," I said out loud. "It is too much of a coincidence for my car and Mom's car to fail within the same week."

But sure enough, it WAS happening. At the next stop light, which was (mercifully) green, I continued to roll into the intersection. There I waited to make my turn, then made my way into a parking spot at the library. Once there, I applied my emergency brake, put the car in park, and turned it off. Still sitting inside, I started making phone calls.

The first was to my dad, as it is each time a horrible car-related thing happens. Who knows why. It isn't as if he can fix cars or tow them or even offer reassurance, but he changes a mean tire, and his jumper-cable skills are legendary throughout the county.

I reached his voicemail, and the message went something like this:

"Hey Dad. You know how Mom and I have identical cars? Well. We also have identical car problems, because that brake thing that happened to her car is now happening to mine. My car is like death on wheels. It is like one of those Loony-Tune giant snowball things, only in summer instead of winter. I don't know if you want to pick it up and drive it home or have it towed. You can do either. But I wouldn't drive it if I were you. You shouldn't drive it. Just have it towed. Don't drive it. It's deadly. I am not even kidding you. This car will kill you dead. I'm parking it and leaving it. You shouldn't touch it. Anyway. Bye."

Then I hung up the phone and called my car guy. I reached his voicemail.

"Hello!" I shouted into the phone because my car guy is basically deaf, which is why he could not hear the screeching and therefore why the screeching was never repaired. "It's Laura! Kelly's daughter! You fixed my mother's car! But now my car is having the same problem! Can you come tow it?! It is at the library! Call me back if you have questions!"

Except the instant the beep sounded, the voicemail box said, "Goodbye." And I talked for a few seconds and moved the phone from my ear, only to discover the voicemail box thing had hung up on me while I was talking. So it recorded nothing.

I stared at my phone. Then I called home. Mom answered.

"Mom?" I said. "My brakes failed just like yours. And now it is at work. But I will need a ride home at five."

Of course, Mom cannot drive anyone anywhere, including herself, because she let her license expire.

"Paul?" Mom called. "Can you drive Laura home at five?"

There was a mumbled response.

"Paul will come pick you up at five," Mom said.

"Thank you," I told her. Then I hung up. I then sent Dad a text message.

"I called the car guy, but his voicemail box must have been full or something, because it hung up on me. So I didn't reach him. But I will try again. But maybe you should try too. And you can call me back at the work number. But make sure you ask for me so they will transfer you. Also I have a ride home."

It must have been longer than that, because it sent as three text messages and not one.

Moments later, I was calling my car guy again. This time his voicemail let me leave a message. "It's Laura. Can you pick up my car from the library? It's Laura. Kelly's daughter. The pastor. That Kelly." It went on for a while after that, including references to Mom's car, brake lines, towing, and how to properly reach me via the library phone system ("call the library. Ask for Laura and they will transfer you. Or you can ask for the Children's Room. That would work,too. But make sure you don't just talk to the first person who picks up, because they will have no idea what you're talking about...").

Then, Dad called back. "I will come and get you," he said.

"No," I replied. "Paul is coming. And anyway, I am not going home until five."

"Oh," Dad said. "I will try to reach the car guy. But he might be in Indy. He goes there practically twice a week for auctions."

"Okay," I said. "I will just leave my car here."

"Good. We shouldn't drive it around like that."

"No," I said.

"But I hate to tell you this," he continued. "You're going to have to leave your car unlocked. And put the keys under the mat."

Now. The library isn't in the most horrible neighborhood on Earth, mostly because this is not a big town or even a small one. It is more a settlement than anything. We are lucky to have a Walmart. Or a zip code. But what we do have is drugs, and lots of them, especially heroin. You would be shocked to find out how much drug activity there is in this area. SHOCKED. Needless to say, if anything of value is left in a vehicle in our parking lot, and, if said vehicle is left unlocked, the thing of value will no longer be there when its owner returns to the car.

The good news would be, if someone stole my car, it would be easy to find. My car would be a block or two down the street, wrapped around a tree or telephone pole, or embedded in a shop window or brick wall.

"Dad," I said. "I can leave my car here. I can leave my keys inside. But I cannot leave my keys in my car if I want to come back and find my car again. Either it will be stolen, or people will get inside it and smoke and drink and maybe do unspeakable things in the backseat."

"Okay," Dad said.

"We can drop the keys off tomorrow. And I will leave a set here inside the building with a note on them."

We hung up. Then he called back, the car guy was going to try to come today, before five. This was good news. Then he called back again to tell me the car guy was on his way. This was better news.

As of now, I have a set of keys in my pocket, ready to be handed off to the car guy the instant he comes for them. Hopefully, I will get my car BACK before I need it for something important, but it has grounded me for the weekend, trapping me at home with Netflix and Star Trek: Voyager instead of allowing me to do what I'd WANTED to do, which was head to Best Buy to use my birthday money to get the radio fixed. Now my birthday money might go toward replacing the brake lines. Yay.

Grown-up birthdays are no fun.

*This was a couple of years ago. He made a full recovery. The motive was robbery. The guys stole a VCR. Really. Not even a DVD player

Birthday cake picture © Will Clayton

My Car Is Trying To Kill Me: Part One

Mom let her driver's license expire, so I was playing chauffeur. This involved me driving to the grocery store, first stopping at what Mom calls her "craft store," which is actually a little gift shop that sells rustic-style decor items, like the giant crocks Mom now uses to hold the potatoes and onions (and no, I do not mean those hideous shoes).

(I wish.)

I drove, and I spent most of the time talking about horribly depressing things, which seems to have become my new habit, likely because there are so many depressing things happening to people I know lately.

Mom and I have invented a new driving game, a game that certainly would work nowhere on Earth so well as it does in our part of Indiana. You see, there are these giant metal stars...who knows where they come from. And people take these stars and they mount them on the side of their barn or their house, and then the neighbors see the star and think they had better do the same, so now there are billions of stars all over Indiana, firmly attached to any building that stands still long enough for someone to approach it with an electric drill.

The game we have invented involves those stars. When we see one, we half-heartedly swat each other on the arm and announce, "STAR." It is a rather stupid game. Mostly it is to keep a running tally of the number of these stars, in much the same way as the game "How Many Dresses?" kept that Jennifer Love Hewitt show from being as tediously boring as it was. Her character had clearly suffered a psychotic break, to see dead people all the time like that. I forget the name of the show--Mom and I just called it "How Many Dresses?" (It is worth mentioning that no one WINS these games. They only exist to pass time.)

I think all the stars originated from this crafty store, though, because stars are everywhere inside. They were also playing the most horrific country music of all time that day, this man with an absurdly low voice, singing about how it's the end times RIGHT NOW, and we are about to be raptured at any second.

When Mom and I had finally escaped (with a rug for the kitchen floor), we hopped back in the car to drive across the parking lot to the grocery store, because it was nine billion degrees outside and no way were we walking.

As I drove from one parking space to another, I noticed something was WRONG. Very wrong.

I would press on the brake pedal and push it all the way down to floor. Then we would start slowing down. I discovered this as I pulled into a parking place, so I wasn't SURE there was a problem. It just felt strange, stopping.

When we'd gotten our groceries, I drove the car up toward the store to pick up a tank of propane for the grill. And was the car stopping? Not so much.

I knew the problem was serious when I stood on the brake pedal, only to have the car roll forward several more feet before beginning to slow down.

We did the only thing we could do, given the circumstances. We called Dad and told him to come rescue us.

I don't mean to tell you that Dad can FIX cars...because he can't. What he CAN do is DRIVE a car when you think that driving it will lead to your untimely death. So we stopped at the county's school administration offices and waited for Dad.

And he arrived.

And he added brake fluid.

And nothing happened.

He then drove the car home with Mom as I followed. I had warned him that the car pulled into the opposite lane when the brakes were utilized. What I didn't know was that the brake light on the passenger's side wasn't even bothering to turn on when the pedal was pressed. Basically, half the brakes were not even getting the signal to stop. This was a...problem. To say the least.

So we drove home slowly, Dad jerking to the left each time he applied the brakes, me following with my emergency flasher-dealies going just in case people didn't get the hint from our shockingly slow pace.

The next day, Car Guy came and towed the car away. Mere days later, we were alerted that the car was fixed, and it came home.

Everything was better.

Stop Sign photograph © Kt Ann

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's (almost) my birthday. Now what?

Next Wednesday is my birthday, everyone. Yay.

For the first time in my entire life, I feel well, apathetic about my birthday. I have no emotion about it whatsoever. I am not excited, because I have to work that day from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (with two special programs during the day), which does away with any possibility of fun. I am not unhappy, because I really don't care how old or young I am. I am nothing.

That's what I find depressing.

Shouldn't birthdays be fun? Shouldn't I be excited about it? I feel like I SHOULD be. But that's not happening. Does this mean my birthday will not be happy?

I feel like a complete downer. Sorry. I promise I will be funny again, when I am less downtrodden by the summer reading program and miserable heat.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Toys Jennifer Should Waste Money On

Sometimes I find toys I think Jennifer should have in her house. They are always dorky, always musical, and just nerdy enough to make me excessively happy.

Usually, I forget to show these things to Jen, and when I remember, the little limited-edition toys are gone forever, and Jen is without things I think are very necessary to her happiness and well being, if not her very survival.

It's like regular ice, except COOLER.

This was the first toy I found while at Target, and the only one I think you shouldn't live without. The others are cool, sure, but this is YOU, Jen. I can see you with your guitar, playing and singing, drinking chai you stir with a guitar ice-cube-stirrer. OR you could put juice in the little trays and have a guitar popsicle. The possibilities are endless.

Cool Jazz Ice Cube Tray, Amazon and Target stores, by Fred

Earbuds with Personality!

Here is an obvious example. These little ear buds look like the volume knobs on an old record player! Aren't they fantastic? They're musical and they play music!

Volume Knob Earbuds, Target stores, Urban D├ęcor Collection

Musical Pans (for nephews OR music teacher aunts)!

Who said wooden spoons had to be boring? Now they can be REAL INSTRUMENTS, because they are drumsticks, see? Just like band class, only you can flip these around and use them for eating! Well, serving. But still! It makes every food cooler--would you rather have a salad, or a ROCK AND ROLL salad? What band nerd wouldn't want to play with these?

Fred Mix Stix Spoons: Amazon and Target stores, by Fred

Too much of a good thing? I think NOT.

Really, why should you just have fun when you're COOKING? You should have fun while you're eating, too! With chopsticks. DRUMSTICK chopsticks! Don't you think dinner would taste better with these? I do, Jen. I do.

Beat It Chopsticks Set: Amazon, by Fred

Give Piece a Chance.



It's a peace sign cake pan! So you can have a piece of cake! Get it?

Peace of Cake Novelty Baking Pan: Amazon, by Fred

(This is when I just started playing on Amazon and the Fred and Friends website.)

Your Father's (or MY Father's) Next Birthday/Christmas Present...

Now, I'm not going to pretend I don't want these too, because I do. Still, you don't have a gun and neither do I, but your dad does, so I thought this would work for a gag gift for him. They are, frankly, hilarious and completely made of awesome. Think of the puns. Mobsters say they're going to "ice" someone, and they mean KILL.

They have brains too, Jen. Ice cube BRAINS. And sinking Titanics. That's IRONIC. And those weird stone heads from that ancient civilization, and coffee beans (cool beans, get it?), and jewels! They even have Lego ice cube trays! I get a strange kind of joy from these. JOY, Jen. Why can't ice be used to make us all happier?

Freeze Handgun-Shaped Ice-Cube Tray: Amazon, by Fred

Behold the Adorable!


Speaking of presents for people you love, how about these for your nephews? Aren't they cute? SO CUTE. Won't that help them eat their veggies? Maybe I'll try getting Paul a set...

Constructive Eating Utensil Set: Amazon, by Constructive Eating

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Dear New Foot Cream,

The following is a letter I composed in my head on my drive to work this morning. The foot cream is this one, Soak Heel. Naturally, I picked the unscented version*. No one bribed me with presents to make me write this. Although if you have presents you want to give me, feel free to do so. I like presents, and I do have a birthday coming up.

I love you. No, I really do.

There is no foot cream like you.

You have done magic things to my feet. Glorious things. And you have done it all without being toxic to me, and I appreciate that.

You are not greasy. You absorb and vanish, leaving my skin soft, for once in my life.

You do not smell of freaky unnatural scents (Don't tell me that's what a watermelon smells like, beauty industry: I have smelled a watermelon. You tell LIES). You do not smell of natural things that are, nonetheless, poisonous to me. You do not smell of your various component-chemical parts. You smell like nothing, and you have made this walking allergic reaction very happy.

You last. Many a cream is nice when you first use it then, after an hour, the effects wear off. Many creams make me wonder, "Why did I even bother?" But you are still making my feet soft, even after I took a bath, which I imagined would wash away your magical qualities.

But you are still working. You make me so happy.

If I could marry a moisturizer, I would marry you**.

You are beautiful. Promise me you will never leave me.

Love,

Laura

*I would imagine the effects of the scented versions are the same, but I didn't try them (I don't have a death wish. I do have asthma. You understand).
**I think this is against the law.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Random Monday

1. It is Monday.

2. I have a problem with that. But since Monday also has a problem with me, I suppose it all works out.

3. I think I have consumed more than my daily requirement of sweet tea. My entire body is vibrating, though I think the medical term is "tremor-ing."

4. Today I went to Wendy's and it rained really hard, and the rain came down through the sun-room roof and poured into my open purse, which was sitting on the chair next to me. Fortunately, the rain landed on my unused umbrella, which was stored inside my purse. I just carefully lifted it out, dumped the water, and fled to higher ground.

5. I told everyone that since the animals had already been gathered two-by-two, for the 4-H fair, we were going to have a Noah-quality flood. Dad said lumber was too expensive for arks, and I said it was okay, because we have the National Guard.

6. Dad then revealed that Mom was installing our new light fixture, on her own. His explanation for not helping her was, "I only get one day off a week." This was some impressive logic that will totally serve him well when he is pushing Mom from room to room in a wheelchair after she is crippled by the slipped disc in her back. One wrong move with that light fixture and that disc will shoot out from between her vertebrae like a rubber band, and poor Mom will be lying in a heap on the floor, groaning in agony.

7. I then called Mom to insist that she STOP what she was doing until I got home to help her. Paul had arrived at home and was already assisting her. In another few months, Paul could get work as a handyman, because he can do (and does) more around the house than Dad can do without his head exploding. Dad and home improvement don't mix very well. They actually don't mix at all.

8. Paul reports that there have been "major strides" toward having a working dining room light. If only he had poster squares. What do poster squares have to do with installing a light fixture?

9. I need to send a package. The Something* that goes in the package is the exact length of my forearm and hand, but it is super-skinny, so I don't want a HUGE box. I went to look for a box in our recycling closet outside and discovered the contents had just been picked up and we only had ONE box left.

10. The box was the exact length of my forearm and hand. It was no wider than a CD case, which is the PERFECT length. In other words, FATE gave me a box. It arranged the destiny of the box and my destiny perfectly to allow us to cross paths at the correct time. This was kismet, people.

KISMET.

Hope you're all having a lovely Monday.

L.

*This Something is a special present for Victoria Schwab, author of The Near Witch, which (hee, that sounds funny) is coming out in only THREE WEEKS! August 2nd! I am very excited. Victoria is doing a giveaway on her blog every Monday until her book is released. Check it out at http://veschwab.wordpress.com/

Friday, July 8, 2011

One of Those Weeks

I feel like my head is about to explode.

It has not been the best of weeks. I think it was coming back to work after being so ill over the weekend. I was not ready for this.

Children.

Children pouring inside from the outdoors, dripping with various fluids: sweat, chlorinated water from the nearest pool or Kool-aid.

Children scribbling on tables.

Children tearing posters from the walls.

Children tackle-hugging me when my back is turned.

Children standing on chairs and smashing tiny fists onto computer keyboards.

Children tearing books from shelves.

Children climbing shelves.

Children everywhere.

Normally, I can handle this.

I can even be patient. Kind. Understanding.

This week, I want to tell parents to kindly dislodge their children from my bookshelves, with VENOM. I think there may actually, be real SMOKE coming out of my ears. But I can't see it. Maybe because it's too humid.

The children aren't doing anything worse. Nor are the parents. This is the way the kids usually act. Except...I am not my usual self. I have spent the entire week a breath away from self-immolation.

I got a call from someone this week, announcing, "I just can't handle [this] anymore." THIS was a project we'd been working on together. "I can't do it. You'll have to finish on your own. My life is too busy."

I wanted to hurl my cell phone at her. Because she is not the only person who has a busy life. In fact, many of us have CRAZY busy lives, but we do not commit to things and then give up on them to do other things, like watch television. Some of us stop watching television. Some of us multitask. Some of us are so busy filling in for a half-dozen different employees through various emergencies, we put our own tasks on the back burner. Some of us have learned to triage.

Instead I listened to her flimsy excuse and hung up the phone, then went home and finished our task on my own.

What I need is chocolate. Lots of chocolate. And maybe a trip to the yarn store, to buy yarn for a tiny little sweater that wants knitting. I need sedatives.

I want to be the sort of person that can scream at other people. But I'm not.

I want to be the sort of person who tells another person: If you don't do X, it won't get finished. And if that happens, and Person Y is unhappy, I will blame YOU.

But I'm not.

Instead I do the work of two and let myself have half the credit. Instead I gnaw on Tums and do without sleep.

That's okay, I suppose.

But sometimes, my sort of person needs a box of DeBrand's chocolates, comfy pajamas, a furry sheltie or kitteh, knitting, and Netflix. Lots of Netflix. And this is one of those times.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What's that hanging down from the ceiling?

While most people were spending their Fourth of July Mondays blowing stuff up and grilling in their backyards, I spent the day with Mom at Lowe's where we looked at new light fixtures for the dining/living room. We found some very pretty ones. And some neat ones. But mostly we discovered that the trend in lighting involves mounting glass and metal breasts on your ceiling.

Don't believe me?
Really. Explain to me how these were not designed by a very lonely man.

We ended up picking this for the dining room (for over the table) and another smaller light I now cannot find (but it looks a lot like this one) Our selection parameter was: Pick the nicest non-breast-looking light fixtures and BUY THEM.

Mom and I went hunting for vent grate-cover thingies too. We found some we really liked, like this one. This is to go in the newly-tiled kitchen floor to replace the gaping hole in the ground that we have now. This hole has come in handy for small cereal spills, because the cereal falls inside the hole and VANISHES, never to be seen again. Which means, basically, that no one has to sweep, ever. And even if you did, the hole works better than a dustpan, right?

When I revealed that this was how the rest of the family was "unintentionally" using the hole in the floor, Mom stared at me, aghast. Then she shrugged. After all, the grate we used to have has been swallowing the odd pill and egg shell for ages. You could build a miniature city with all the Micro-Machines and toothpicks that have fallen in there throughout my life. It's best just to give up, or to buy a high-powered vacuum.

But, as with many home improvement projects, we soon discovered that we could in no way get the awesome grate cover thingy we loved.

This is because the people who built our house liked to smoke lots of crack.

You see, the vent covers you can buy, or even special order, are all on some kind of standard measuring system. So, you can get a grate cover that is 2" x 14" to cover a hole that is 2" x 14" because why make grate covers in every size when all ducts are that size, or in one of the many other standard sizes.

I think the people who built our house were waiting behind the scratch and dent truck for irregular duct work to fall off, because OUR duct is actually 2.25" x 15.75" instead of like, a NORMAL size.

I would think that standard sizing had just changed over time, except in my room, the vent is about a foot long, but the vent COVER extends across the whole of one wall, something like 6 FEET. What is underneath if not a duct, you ask? The sub floor, that's what. It makes no sense. And did I mention it can't come off? Well, it can't. We tried everything. We even went to work trying to pry it from the wall with various prying tools, only to TEAR THE METAL, while the rest of the cover remained in place. I think it might be welded together.

I wish the ducts and vents were the only strange things about the house, I really do. But they aren't. We have no idea why the people who built our house did what they did. But we are endeavoring to understand.

My mother and I have created a list of methods they used in the construction of our house, ages ago. Some were also used by whatever psychopath built my aunt's house.

How to Build a House, Farmer-Style

1. Buy really awesome wood for the frame. Because you don't want this house falling down.

2. Put the boards together with nails. But not just any nails. You should use roofing nails, because they are cheap but also super-long and long nails mean STURDY nails.

3. Buy a LOT of roofing nails, since you will be using them for everything, even to hang pictures on the walls.

4. Your house now has a frame. Hooray! Now you need to do other stuff, like putting in a floor and making walls and adding a roof. So buy the cheapest materials you can find!

5. Now that you've filled your new walls with insulation that will quickly turn to dust, wire the house with electrical wires! For LIGHTS! You know they have those in houses now. You flip a switch and it's like a candle lights itself AUTOMATICALLY. You want to live in a Rich People House, don't you?

6. Well, copper wiring is kind of expensive. Too bad you can't use roofing nails...Better save money by wiring the house yourself! So what if the random wire sticks out of the wall or ceiling! Just cap it off and no one will notice but your wife!

7. While wiring a house by yourself is, arguably, a fire hazard, fire extinguishers are for Soccer Moms and you should totally save money by not buying any.

8. Do you really need air conditioning? Really? I mean, you sweat all the time outside, so why should the sweating stop when you go INSIDE?

9. Plaster is boring. We plastered half of the house, so why should we keep this up? It's too much work. I know--we'll just buy paneling in bulk! And look, this paneling is a little different--we'll have an accent wall! Get out the roofing nails, let's get to work!

10. You know what else would be cheaper in bulk? CARPETING. So here's what we'll do, we'll buy that whole bolt of carpet that's on SALE! So what if it's the color of pea soup?

11. Wow. Did you know that carpet needs to, like, have padding underneath? Gee. I never thought of that. Hey--I know! This stuff will work! The carpet guy says it's only supposed to work for automotive purposes, but what do we care?

12. What side of the carpet padding is supposed to face up again? Oh well, it won't matter.* Get the roofing nails!

13. I've got this screen and these boards--that works for a door, right?

14. Bathrooms need carpet, too. So why don't we go back to that auto-carpet place? Let's do that.

15. You know what would be pretty right over the bathtub? A window! Let's make it a wooden frame, too. That's nice. And we don't need frosted glass, we're in the country. No one will ever want to put a shower here.

And, of course...

16. Make sure no one can ever replace those duct covers, ever.

The duct cover could not be purchased. We went online, and they just don't make duct covers that size anymore. That means we're stuck with the ancient one. Unless you guys have any ideas.

* They actually picked the wrong side. So the part that's supposed to adhere to the back of the carpet actually stuck, quite permanently, to the floor underneath the carpet. Then the bottom (now the top) of the carpet padding slowly decayed and turned to what might liberally be called sand. But it was pretty much a fine powder that would puff out of the carpet if you smacked it with something heavy. Also it would gather in places like sand dunes.
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