Thursday, May 31, 2012

Uh oh.

I can measure the time before I get on a plane and fly to New Jersey in DAYS now. Not weeks, DAYS. On Saturday, I will be hopping on a plane, then on another plane, to go out to meet Kelly, and then we will do BEA (Book Expo America) in STYLE like the awesome young women we are.

I am going to New York City with Kelly, and she is going to show me all the amazing coolness that New York City is, and we are going to the Shake Shack like in Maureen Johnson's Suite Scarlett books and we are going to The Strand (one of the coolest bookstores ever) and we are going to meet our favorite authors and all the most exciting things ever and I am hugely excited.

And THEN on Friday, we are going to the Jersey Shore (not the TV show), which is by the OCEAN and it will be only the SECOND TIME I have EVER SEEN an ocean EVER IN MY LIFE. And my mum says there are crabs there on the beach JUST WALKING AROUND!! Not even on TV or anything! They LIVE there on the beach! Can you believe it??

I think I will find a crab and I will name him Humphrey. Because it seems as if crabs should have dignified sorts of names.

And all of that will more than make up for the terror of flying by myself for the first time ever, and the terror of a mere 37 minute layover in Atlanta, and the terror of forgetting things at home and not having them when I need them, and the terror of deciding whether or not I need to bring my laptop with me during this whole thing, when I am not certain how often I'll really use it*. I am also mildly panicked that I will look so out of place in the city that people will think I sleep in straw and rode a cow into town. I never worry about that in Chicago...

So tonight I will do laundry and tomorrow I will pack, and then Saturday, I will be off for ADVENTURE and I am very excited. And panicky. But mostly EXCITED.

Wish me luck, and if you need me, I will be here. You should also text me. I like text messages.

*I need it, don't I? It's a WEEK. I need my laptop. RIGHT?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Chagas Boy

While I was eating dinner this evening with Rachael and Katherine, I got a text message from my brother. This is what it said:
Terrible news everyone! It appears I may be infected with a rare Latin American parasite! I CAN NEVER GIVE BLOOD AGAIN!
Now, knowing Paul, this could have been a joke. Or it could have been real. I thought it was probably real. And it was.

When I arrived home, I was careful to knock and ask if the house was under quarantine (it isn't).

Paul, it seems, has had a false positive screening for the tiny little parasite that carries Chagas disease. This is a disease you get in Central or South America, where Paul has never been, especially while living in a hut with adobe walls. For extended periods. One of the causes of Chagas, according to the literature, is "poverty."

"Well." Paul said. "They've got me there."

"We all probably have Chagas, then," I said.

The closest Paul has ever been to the locale where Chagas hangs out is the Bahamas. He was only there a week. The testing people have informed him that it was a false positive. But they are going to test him again, for free, then pay him for his troubles. And they still won't take his blood donations.

"You are rife with parasites," I told him. "You are literally crawling with disease."

"Mom doesn't think it's funny," Paul replied. "And if it were more serious, I wouldn't, either. But it is a false positive."

"Yes," I said. "But know this: I will support you no matter what alternative lifestyle choices you want to make. Even if it means secretly living in an adobe hut in the backyard."

"Thanks, Laura."

Snake Redux

Darcy and I were walking down to the river. There are stairs that lead straight down to a path along the bank, and Darcy is quite adept at racing down them. But this time, she stopped at the wide middle step and whirled around. Then she started growling.

I think we all know what I saw when I got down to the middle stair. Yes. I knew what I was going to find long before I reached the step in question.

And there he was, the snake. The same snake, I might add. Trapped between a human and an enthusiastic dog, poor Snakey was terrified. He flattened himself into a little snake ribbon and remained as still as possible.

Naturally, I yelled for Paul. He is, after all, the environmental studies major. And he hadn't seen Snakey up close! I was the only one who had. Looking again, I could see the pattern on his scales more clearly and I knew I had been right--this was the endangered Kirtland's Snake. Also, he was scared of me. And that made me realize that snakes have feelings. And that made me realize snakes have little snake souls. And then I thought, "This snake must be protected from all harm. Poor Snakey."

Paul came out of the house, momentarily distracting Darcy. and the snake saw his opening. As quickly as it could move, it whirled around and sped down toward the river. It traveled faster than I thought possible, and its S-shaped movements kicked up sand (Is "kicked" the right word when the thing doing the kicking has no legs? I'm going for it. I'm sticking with "kicked."). By the time Paul reached us, the snake was slipping into the river, which presumably meant it was safe from us.

I have no idea if the snake is still living in the crawlspace. I haven't seen him in the vicinity of late. But one thing is clear: it has found a happy home here. And I will need to watch my step as I walk around the yard, so I do not accidentally stand on poor Snakey.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In Which We Are Beset by Snakes

You know how I live in a house? And that house has walls and a roof and floors? And when you build a house, stuff has to go underneath the floor to keep the house from crumbling to bits and falling into the river (if you happen to live on a river)?

When our house was built, the people who made it first built one section. Then they decided they rather liked the river view, and they built another section, an addition. The addition is where we watch TV, where we sit and stare at each other when we are too tired to move, and where the chunk of tree swung down off the roof and bashed through the window when my brother and father forgot Newton's Laws of Motion.

That section of the house, the addition, has no basement underneath it. It has a crawl space. So, if you were so inclined, you could slither underneath the house on your belly, no doubt discovering all manner of unspeakable things, like spiders as big as your face.

And now, snakes.

On Sunday, I took a stroll around the house with Mom, because she intended to show me what she planned to do with the area around our air conditioning unit.

"I will get stone," she said. "And I will put it around the air conditioner, and I will take all these plants out."

While she said this, Paul was driving around on the lawn mower, trimming the grass on our lawn.

And as we looked at the air conditioner, we noticed the entrance to the crawl space And that there seemed to be a something in the gap between the crawl space door and the side of the house. And that something had scales. And also three tails.

Snakes do not come with three tails.

Unless there is more than one snake. Then there can be three tails, but it means three snakes.

We have (at least) three snakes living under our house.

Naturally, we were surprised. We waved Paul over, and he observed the snakes as they went back into their (our) home. And then we went to the grocery store and Paul finished mowing.

When we came back, I went out with my camera to see if I could find the snakes. And I got a stick, for poking.

I poked the stick into the crawl space to no avail, but when I turned to walk back toward the house, I noticed something.

There it was. The snake, which, according to Mom, has "girth" and is therefore more horrible than smaller, lesser snakes. The snake was between me and the door to the house, and while I could walk around the house to get to the door, this was serious. I was not going to be confronted by a snake like this. No.

"So. There you are," I said. "You with your scales and things. On the cement. There."

The snake did not reply.

"You need to, you know...go. Now. It's important that you move out," I continued. "Because this is a house for people with limbs. And now I am getting a longer stick, because I have opposable thumbs, and I can do that."

I was very gentle. I did not want to hurt the snake. Not ever. But I did want to scare it a little, to show it that humans are scary and that it maybe did not want to hang out around us so much, even if it did have a conveniently climate-controlled home to live in. I moved the stick close to the snake, and it coiled a bit and moved its tiny head up to look at me a bit better. It stuck out its snakey tongue.

Having tried a few times to identify various snakes, I knew belly color was important. And I also thought it might be helpful to me if the snake wasn't in my path any more. Also it could go down the slope and live a happy snake-y life.

So I took my stick and picked up the snake with it, Steve Irwin-style. I then moved the surprisingly heavy snake for a few steps, until the whole experience freaked me out enough that the snake slithered off the stick and into the ivy.

I fetched Darcy. Together, we watched the snake from a safe distance, occasionally parting the ivy with the stick so we could see where the snake was hiding.

Then we went inside and tried to figure out how to remove snakes from a crawlspace without having an Indiana Jones experience with them. Apparently, the Indonesians know quite a bit about this sort of thing, and you can encourage snakes to leave with water (nope), fire (nope), or by ringing the house with sulfur (what a lovely smell that will cause) or mothballs (seriously, do they intend humans to live in a house ringed with noxious chemicals?).

We have resolved to throw mothballs in the crawlspace and see what happens. Then we will seal up the crawlspace.

Also, it seems that our snake friends might actually be endangered. So there's that.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Laura Blows a Fuse

I was midway through watching Glee (don't you judge me) last night when my television turned itself off. There was an audible click, and I was standing nowhere near the TV or the remote when it happened.

But before you think my house is haunted by Glee-hating spirits from the beyond, listen first to this: Throughout the evening, the lights in my bedroom had grown steadily dimmer.

Instantly, I thought: "Brownout." This is a THING. The power company reduces the amount of power sent out to various homes, causing the lights to dim considerably and power-sucking electronics, appliances, and so forth...they do not WORK.

I opened up my laptop, put in its battery, located my headlamp, and went on with watching the most recent episode of No Reservations. This was my quality knitting-time. I needed entertainment while I purled.

But then everything went dark. My laptop stayed on, and I discovered, much to my sadness, that a certain family member who borrows my headlamp from time to time had scavenged a battery from it (you know who you are).

All was dark. Except for Anthony Bourdain, who was eating something unspeakable that had been coaxed out of a fish.

We quickly discovered that the power wasn't all gone. The air conditioning still worked. The living room had power, as did part of the kitchen. The basement had power, meaning the well was working (so we could flush the toilet), the washer and dryer were working, and the dehumidifier was still going. What did all this mean?

We had blown a fuse.

Dad proved uninterested in solving the problem, so Mom was left attempting to determine which fuse had actually gone out. This was more complicated than one would hope, since we have no less than three fuse boxes and one breaker box.

Yeah. Really.

I have begun to believe that the people who built our house hired a drunk monkey electrician. We have even had the house rewired. But that just got us a breaker box. It did not consolidate the fuse boxes.

One fuse box handles the varied appliances and a non-specific portion of the house. One handles the garage and part of the house. The final seems to cover the same things as the other two, plus my bedroom and Paul's and the unfinished (i.e. the SAND ROOM because it is filled with PILES OF SAND plus lots of spiders and maybe snakes, weasels, and Satan) portion of the basement.

In our infinite wisdom, no one in the 25 years we have lived in this house had ever thought to figure out which fuse provides power to which section of the house. No electrician we've had has ever labeled them, either. So we have between 16-18 fuses and no one knows what any of them do. Also, we have a circuit breaker box which appears to control which of the fuses are on or off at any given time. Part of the fuses are numbered 60, part are 30, and part are 20. None of us have any idea what that means.

Naturally, we did not have any replacement fuses in the appropriate numbers. So Mom and Paul drove to Walmart* at 10:30 PM. I let them go without me because I had found a way (while the lights were still on) to pour olive brine down the length of my body. Also on my pillows.

By the time they returned, Dad had gone to sleep (Still without bothering to look at any part of the problem, but why would he? His room had power.) And when they arrived, Paul promptly went to sleep so he could wake up for work the next morning (today). This left Mom and I to replace the fuses.

We replaced every fuse we encountered. This meant all the garage fuses. Then we went downstairs and Mom slithered up into a cabinet under the stairs and replaced one of those fuses as well, because she thought it "looked funny." We observed it in better lighting and determined that it looked perfectly fine.

Nothing happened.

We still had no power. We resolved to sleep, and cope with the problem at some other time. Like, when the electricians were awake and able to answer phone calls from desperate people.

Approximately ten minutes later, power was restored to our house. Explain that to me. I really don't understand.

We were astounded. But we still went to sleep.

This morning, I woke up to get dressed from work only to find that we'd lost power AGAIN. In the same parts of the house, no less. So whatever is wrong, it is wrong enough to 1. Blow fuses for fun or 2. Consciously think up ways to torment us.

And because we are all overscheduled is unlikely that this problem can be fixed when no one is around to kidnap an electrician. But I am just happy we can flush the toilet more than once without going down to the river for buckets of water. That gets old pretty fast.

*Walmart failed to give us half the stuff Mom bought. Also they sold us a flashlight that does not work. Then they did not apologize when we called to notify them. That was really friendly of them.

Monday, May 7, 2012

All of the Crazies

In my life, I meet a lot of crazies for various reasons.

Mostly I try to treat the crazies as I want to be treated, because you know there is SOMEONE out there that has ME on their crazies list.

But sometimes, there is nothing you can do to evade the crazy except avoid eye contact and keep walking.  And Saturday was one of those times.

As I was walking across the street with some friends, I noticed three people walking on the sidewalk to my left. As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I would walk in front of them, so I found myself mentally calculating whether or not I could politely step in front of them or whether I would be forced to stand on the street until they walked by. I think about such things.

One of the men was shirtless, carrying a can of something-or-other, and agitated. (One learns to recognize agitation in others when one works with the public.) The other two people, a man and a woman, were walking slightly behind Shirtless Guy. They appeared to be TOGETHER, as they were holding hands. The guy was carrying a messenger bag which may or may not have been the woman's purse.

They were unremarkable, the kind of people you see on the sidewalk anywhere in Indiana (and probably the world).

Shirtless Guy noticed us first, and began to shout at us.


During this, Man-with-Bag and Hand-Holding Girl seemed unaffected, as if they did not care about whatever Shirtless Guy had to say. Neither of them seemed afraid of Shirtless Guy or as if they cared two straws about his accusations.

We kept walking. As we were about to step into our cars, Shirtless Guy screamed at us again.


Now, that was when I was sorely tempted to turn around and yell back, for several reasons:
  1. Carrying a messenger bag is not an indicator of one's sexuality, even if the bag in question belongs to a girl.
  2. Walking in the same direction as another man does not qualify a man as a stalker. Nor is it a crime to walk down the street behind another person.
  3. Why were we supposed to call 911? It is not illegal to be gay. The police were not going to come and arrest Man-With-Bag on suspicion of gay-ness. This is not Nazi Germany.
Not that I was going to yell any of those things. What I wanted to tell Shirtless Guy was, "If I am going to call the police about anything, it will be because you are screaming at me, and you appear to be intoxicated."

But, as I mentioned, the couple did not care. It was as  if Shirtless Guy was screaming about the news of the day, about the appearance of a blue sedan, or even that the sky was in possession of several clouds. So I got in my car and surreptitiously watched the trio continue down the street in case Shirtless Man attempted anything else. When nothing happened, I went home.

And that is what an average day looks like for me.