Written 5 December, 2009
Home After Three Months-- and OMG!
Yesterday afternoon I bade a tearful goodbye to Sweetie and flew home on a big Boeing jet.
By 9 pm I was on the MARTA train, and by 10:30 I was home.
I thought all was okay, but there were some surprises.
Nine, to be exact.
Surprise 1 was a big dead limb that had thankfully fallen between my two vehicles rather than on one or both of them. It wasn't possible to walk around it, and it was too high to comfortably step over it. How, I wondered, had George checked on my house without moving it?
Surprise 2 was a sodden cardboard box on my doorstep. When I took it inside and opened it (it made a mess on the kitchen counter), I found inside a pair of very expensive Clearwater speakers for the door of my Miata. Since UPS confirmed delivery on 10/5, it was clear they had been sitting outside for two months-- and the box looked it.
The owner's manual was sopping. Fortunately, the speakers themselves were tucked inside plastic bags, so no harm was-- I hope-- done. They seemed dry. Mostly. There were little puddles under them for a while.
Let me tell you about George. George is a therapist at the governmental mental health agency at which I until recently worked. He lives a quarter mile from me and passes my house daily. We're friends, having broken bread together a dozen times.
A few months before I left for New York, George asked me if I would look after his bird when he went on vacation. I said sure. He was gone five or six days, and every day I would drive to the other side of the lake, empty his cockatiel's feed tin, and fill it with fresh seed. I was bitten only once. When I got back, George gave me $20.
As I was preparing to leave, I told George I would be away from home for three months and asked if he would take care of my house. I would make it worth his while, I told him.
George said yes, so I took him to breakfast, gave him my keys, and asked him to walk through the house twice a week to make sure nothing had gone wacky, pick up any boxes that might have been delivered by UPS or FedEx, and, twice a month, start my little pickup and drive it a mile or two. I followed up the breakfast with an e-mail.
When I arrived in New York I realized I had forgotten something critical and called George and asked him to overnight it to me (it was small). He said sure, and did.
I think that was about the last thing he did by way of caring for my house.
During a brief stop in Georgia, at the end of September, I ordered some things for my Miata and the motorcycle I had purchased on eBay. I reminded George about this and asked him to check for the boxes and to store them inside my house, or, if he preferred, at his house.
So let's just say I wasn't happy when the cab driver picked up surprise #1 and tossed it into the side yard.
When I saw the soaking wet surprise #2, I said to myself... well, you don't want to know what I said to myself.
Inside, all looked well. But what was that noise?
It seemed to be coming from the back of the house, from the laundry room. Oh, god, please don't let it be running water.
The good news about surprise 3 was it wasn't running water. The bad news was the top-loading washer was in spin cycle. With the switch set to off, with the top up-- with two switches that should have made it impossible for the tub to spin-- it was, in all improbability, spinning.
The really bad news was the inside of the tub was thickly coated with black sludge. When I ran my finger around the perimeter, it came away black, leaving a clean white spot on the porcelain.
When I called Sweetie and told her about it, she said she thought it might be residue from the washer's belt. The more I thought about it, the more sense that made.
But it meant the washer had been spinning for WEEKS and perhaps for MONTHS.
How could George have missed that?
Surprise 4 was missing episodes on my TiVo. Checking its messages, it had twice run out of program information, meaning it had lost its signal to the wireless router upstairs. I was missing some of my favorite shows! Damn!
What, had George gotten to the router? But wait! George hadn't been in the house, had he?
Surprises 5 and 6 weren't really surprises at all.
When I arrived, the house was cold as hell. I had traded a sunny 60-degree day in the north for a 30-degree evening in the South. There was no gas and so no possibility of warming the house!
And the refrigerator wasn't working. Well, it sort of was, but the freezer compartment wasn't keeping the temperature below freezing.
My intrepid readers may remember I was home for a couple of days the end of September to drop off the Mazda Miata I had purchased on eBay and picked up at West Palm Beach. When I got home the freezer had gone out. So it wasn't a surprise. I can't blame George for this one.
The gas wasn't a surprise either, because, you see, I called George a few weeks after my return to New York to ask him if the packages I had ordered had arrived.
Uh, no, he said.
Since I had ordered two motorcycle helmets, a pair of motorcycle gloves, a specially-designed subwoofer box for the trunk of the Miata, and the aforementioned door speakers, I asked George to PLEASE go to my house to see if there was a big pile of cardboard boxes. He went, brought back to his house the assorted boxes he found, and told me there was a note on my door from the gas company. The gas had been turned off.
And no, not for nonpayment. The bill was up to date.
So surprise #6 was really no surprise, but the cold weather certainly was. It was frigging COLD in the house.
Surprise #7 was rat poop. There were rat droppings and torn pieces of cardboard outside the closed door where the water heater lives. It's the place where, if critters come into the house, they arrive. In a spirit of cordiality I keep several tubs of rat poison under the water heater. The rat or rats had emptied the tubs and, since there were no droppings elsewhere in the house, hopefully gone away somewhere to die.
There were so many droppings in the vicinity of the rat bait that several dozen had rolled under the door, some as much as a foot into the hallway. However had George missed that? But I thought I knew how George had missed it!
I'm not a big person for confrontation, but I phoned George and asked him if he had even BEEN in the house since he had retrieved the boxes. Uh, yeah, he said, but it was clear he hadn't, at least not during the last six or seven weeks. anyway.
He did mention surprise #8. He hadn't been starting my truck because it had made a "horrible squealing noise" the last time he had turned the engine over. So the truck had been sitting untouched for six weeks or so. That explain why it now runs on only three cylinders.
When I made my way upstairs and turned on the computer and logged into Second Life, I discovered surprise #9. My keyboard had gone wacky. It wouldn't function. It didn't help that the first thing I did was mistakenly conference every single online person in my Friends list. I managed, with lots of missing letters, to apologize.
Rebooting didn't help.
I should mention my keyboard is an ancient IBM AT model; I like it because it has mechanical switches rather than a membrane and provides a satisfying feel when I hit the keys. And sound.
By this time I was several surprises past my surprise limit and, despite having wrapped myself in not one, not two, but three throws, freezing my ass off to boot. I phoned Sweetie and told her of my sad plight.
"Thank God!" she said. "That keyboard drives me crazy when we're watching movies!"
"You know I'm a multitasker," I said defensively.
"But alas," she said, "I fear it's merely a temporary problem. That keyboard is just cold."
She was, of course, right. Twenty-four hours later, with the heat on, the keyboard is working properly.
Sweetie insisted I dig up and plug in my electric heating pad and bring my little electric supplementary heater upstairs and plug it in beside my bed. I did the former and promised her I had done the latter. And I went to bed.
After a horrible two hours in which I nearly froze to death, I made myself get out of bed. I rounded up every blanket in the house, grabbed all three throws, put on a pair of socks to warm my icy feet, and, wearing the heavy fleece jacket that had kept me toasty warm in New York, went back to bed.
So much for a triumphant return home!