Saturday, November 28, 2009

Now You See It, Now You Don't

It's no secret I will do just about anything for the Queen. Under the right circumstances, the Sixth Commandment might even be subject to a more liberal interpretation should some poor, unfortunate fool be dumb enough to attempt harming the Queen thereby underestimating the depth of my willingness to fulfill my marriage vows. Specifically, the one about protecting her. Is it really murder if someone simply ceases to exist on this planet?

So, if I'm willing to do serious bodily harm to a would be regicidal maniac, it should come as no surprise that I'd engage in a little property destruction without too much persuasion.

As regular readers, friends and family are aware, the Queen's health has been challenged for some time now. We had been noticing a musty smell in the master closet for some time which would not go away despite our best efforts to clean, vacuum, wash, and reorganize said closet's contents.

Not long after we started smelling the musty odor, we received allergy test results indicating the Queen has sensitivities to mold. Sensitivities in most people might be a case of the sniffles or a slight headache. Sensitivities with the Queen are slightly more debilitating. Like seizures, severe muscle weakness and other forms of excitement.

Naturally, we started looking more closely at the master bath for potential sources of mold. The sink and toilet were clear of any water leaks leading us to the master shower which looked exactly like the photo below.

A close examination of the shower revealed cracks in the second course of tiles up from the floor as well as a lack of grout in the corner from the floor almost to the top. The Queen and I had been discussing remodeling the shower for a long time. It just had not been a major priority given everything else we have been dealing with of late. Unfortunately, we no longer have the luxury of taking risks and letting a potential shower leak go unrepaired.

To quote the magician: "Now you see it, now you don't."

The good news is that the person who built this shower was very good at his job. There was no water penetration into the wall cavity. The bad news is that I need to build a new shower.

If anyone is interested in buying a slightly used but extremely well built shower, I'd be happy to make suitable arrangements with anyone willing cart it off. One warning though:

Some assembly required.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It's in the Cards...or the Genes

I find myself slowly creeping up on my 40TH birthday. Hiding from it is probably a better description even though the event will take no notice whatsoever of my efforts to avoid capture. I don't want to grow up anymore than the next Toys 'R Us kid; but, as the winter months tip toe into Texas for their brief stay before being unceremoniously thrown out on the street by the bluster of spring barging in like a drunken Irishman full of too much hot air and recycled beer loudly proclaiming the yearly anniversary of my birth, I find myself reflecting more and more on what I still want to be when I grow up. Or least, what I want to do in the next 40 years or until the Second Coming...whichever comes first. If me and the planet are still here when I turn 80, I suppose I'll have to rethink everything again.

In between pondering my purpose in life and during those rare times when I have nothing better to do, I've been playing online poker. It's not nearly the same as sitting around the table with a group of family or friends, telling stories and jokes, and generally having a grand old time, but it'll have to do for now.

I've always enjoyed playing real live card games. There is a feeling and a smell to a well worn deck of cards which I can't even think of a proper way to describe. A new deck is a little like a brand new car. They're all sleek, glossy and shiny with a sharp chemical smell of fresh ink. They're slippery in your hands and fly across the table on a deal. A well worn deck of cards, on the other hand, has a texture that forces you to make an effort to spread them across your hand to reveal the secrets handed out by the dealer. They will still fly across the table until some minuscule imperfection in the card or the table stops the card dead in its tracks like it hit a brick wall. The ink smell is still there, but it has lost some of its edge and has matured from countless games as if aged in a barrel with fine wine.

It is no secret that my love of card games comes from my upbringing in a family of card players. I think I learned to play gin about the same time I learned to play Chutes and Ladders. My grandfather's (mom's dad) morning ritual for as long as I can remember was playing Gin with his second wife while drinking their morning coffee. My great grandfather Pennington (mom's mom's dad) even played poker semi professionally to help put food on the table for his family back in the Great Depression.

I guess you could say card games used to be a way of life in my family. I don't remember many family gatherings or visits that didn't involve a game of cards at some point or other. Gin or Canasta were the main games of choice; however, an occasional poker game was not unheard of. I say used to because family gatherings have become increasingly rare these days for a variety of reasons; and, on those rare occasions when we can get everyone in the same spot, the TV or the computer or the honey do list trumps the simple pleasures of a real live, ink coated cardboard in your hands, face to face game of cards.

One such family gathering stands out amongst the disorganized mess that is my memory. I can't remember the occasion, whether it was Thanksgiving or what. Nor can I remember who all was there. I do remember we were at great granddad Pennington's house in Austin when someone, cousin Pat (I think), suggested we have a penny ante poker game. So, a bunch of us all sat down around the round oak table now sitting in my mother's house and commenced to playing good old fashioned 5 Card Draw and 7 Card Stud. This was well before the huge popularity of Texas Hold'em.

I recall holding my own fairly well despite the fact I was the youngest player at the table (all of probably 16 at the time) and hadn't played much poker before that night. I can't remember what time it was exactly; but, sometime around way past late:30, a general consensus arose amongst the group that it was time to pack it in for the night. Cousin Pat piped up and said, "One more hand. No limits." I was sitting across from great granddad which gave me a front row seat to catch the gleam in his eye as he said, "Awright". The action came around to Pat at which time he bet $10. Heady stuff for what was a friendly penny ante game up to that point. Great granddad was next in line around the table from Pat, and the only sound he made was the sound of his belt clearing belt loops as he whipped off his money belt. He started to count out several hundred dollar bills much to Pat's dismay.

I remember Pat trying to argue about something. I can't remember exactly what. I suspect it was a feeble argument trying to limit the game to table stakes or pleading poverty. Whatever it was, it was a losing argument and a losing bet. He lost on both counts, and the game was over.

I miss that. You can't get that kind of story from an online card game. "I beat the computer in hearts" or "I was in a heads up hold'em battle with a guy from the Ukraine on" just isn't quite the same. Where are the smells, the sounds, the glint in the eye, the knowing smiles, the smug satisfaction of watching your opponent cringe as you lay down a winning hand in an online card game? Will it matter in 40 years?

The big round oak table is still there bearing the patina and scars earned through years of family get togethers and countless card games. It sits waiting for a table full of family and friends to gather around to shape new memories of old games. It waits patiently to see how often mom will try to bait the stack in Canasta, who will try to bluff to an inside straight and whether a rare lay down hand in gin will appear. I look forward to that.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Moving Curse

I had dinner with mom recently. I think. It may have been a week or two ago now. Time no longer has any meaning to me. Warning to those who are offered the chance to work from home: make it a point to get out in public once in a while to avoid becoming a workaholic hermit.

It was a lovely dinner after a long day of driving from Dallas to Aggie Land (Bryan, TX - that’s a 3 hour trip one way for those of you who are cursed with the misfortunate to be from somewhere other than Texas) and back; however, mom made it a point to take issue with the way in which she has been portrayed in this blog so far. Specifically, she indicated perhaps, just perhaps, I might have been using my bully pulpit to make her the butt of my slightly skewed worldview a little more frequently than a good son should.

I love my mother. I really do. I wouldn’t have a world view, much less a slightly skewed one, without her. So, in an effort to show her how much I appreciate her and respect her wishes not to be the whipping girl yet again, it’s dad’s turn to be thrown under the bus. I’ll get around to rehabilitating mom’s image in another post. I promise. Oh, and if my sister is reading this by some miracle, I will gladly entertain requests to be left out of this exercise in character assassination. I’ll even seriously consider such a request if accompanied by appropriate compensation.

Now that the solicitation of bribery as a means of avoiding familial libel and slander is over with, we can continue with our story.

I’m not too worried about dad getting offended by my humorous references to his character flaws, real or imagined, as I’m pretty sure he’s still not reading the blog. When I last spoke to him a few weeks ago and inquired as to his opinions about whether he liked the blog, the quality of the writing (he was an English major in college after all), etc., he said, and I quote, “He-eh”. At least, that’s the only way I know to spell the sound that comes out of his mouth when he has no clue what someone is talking about. It sounds like a cross between “hay” and “eh” with a slight hint of a nasal “nuh” in the middle. Or maybe the nasal sound is tacked onto the end somehow. It’s hard to tell.

I’m sure there are lots of stories to tell about dad. The problem is I only know a few of them that don’t involve carefully repressed memories. I think it’s one of the side effects arising from him not being the custodial parent in a “joint custody” situation. One of these days I’m going to ask a family law judge how they figure “every other weekend and two weeks in the summer” constitutes “joint custody”. Seems to me like someone was smoking a joint when they came up with that euphemism, but I digress as usual. Instead, I will focus on how I take after dad.

If you were to ask number one follower, best man and all around good guy, Ken, what is my most notorious curse, he will likely, without hesitation, tell you it is my perverse luck with moving. As in “it’s time to pack all my crap and change addresses” moving. I’ve lost count over the years, but I’m pretty sure Ken and I have helped each other move at least a dozen times. We’ve got it down to a science. However, every time, without fail, on any moving day I happen to be involved with, disaster strikes. I’ve pretty much seen it all: a completely insane soon to be ex-wife (not mine, Ken’s, The Queen is a dream to work with on moving day), dozens of fearless cockroaches chasing Ken and I down to reclaim their sofa that had just been moved in the middle of the night so that Ken’s now ex-wife could avoid leaving a forwarding address (that move was also the scene of the laundry closet wall caked with dryer lint because someone didn’t connect the vent hose…for a few years), heatstroke caused by choosing the hottest freaking day of the summer to move (there is not enough water or Gatorade on the planet to keep someone properly hydrated in 100+ degree Texas heat when the inside of the moving van feels like the surface of the sun), moving furniture up three flights of stairs while coming down with pneumonia (The Queen had to do most of the work that day as I was passing out from fever), thunder storms, furniture that had to go in through a second story window because it won’t fit through the front door and many other fond moving memories.

I come by my curse honestly though. It’s genetic from dad’s side of the family. Mom’s side of the family doesn’t move unless forced to by a tornado. I can prove it, too, with two fond memories from the Annals of Disastrous Moving Adventures.

The first fond memory I will relate is actually the second memory chronologically speaking, but it’s bad form to give your best evidence first. As moving weekends go, it was what has become typical for me: the weather sucked (thunderstorms all weekend) and one of my uncles (mom’s brother) went into the hospital for the final time due to a terminal illness. The bad karma of that weekend could have all been avoided though had my father made a simple, life altering phone call. You see, my dad and my uncle (his brother, not mom’s brother) had season tickets to the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys made it to the Super Bowl that year which gives season ticket holders first dibs on Super Bowl tickets. My uncle generously asked dad if I would want the other ticket. Dad, without asking me, told my uncle that I wouldn’t want it because…wait for it…I was going to be moving that weekend. He and my uncle went and had a great time in Pasadena, California while I was stuck back here in Texas to get run over by the bad karma bus. No, I’m not bitter at all.

The curse actually got started earlier than that though. This particular story will prove, without a shadow of doubt, my curse is genetically inherited from dad. Dad and my uncle owned and ran their own company. Sometime in mid to late 1988, they decided to buy a competitor’s operation down in Houston. Dad drew the short straw and prepared for the move to Houston to become the fearless leader of the office there.

By the time dad was ready to move, it was late December or early January. The week he was going to move, he was out of town for the first part of the week when the weather was perfect: sunshiny and relatively warm for winter in Texas. Dad came back into town Wednesday night, and we started loading the truck on an overcast and chilly Thursday so we could leave first thing Friday morning. Thursday night brought a Dallas, TX version of a blizzard: snow and ice covering everything, dropping power lines, and turning roads and bridges into skating rinks.

Now, I can hear some of you from places that actually have four seasons and see snow outside of a glass globe snickering into your coffee mugs; but, down here in Texas, most drivers think ice goes in your tea and were never given practical tips like cruise control don’t work on ice. Dad and I woke up Friday morning to a winter wonder land and embarked on what should have been a four hour drive to Houston. I know this is beginning to sound like the opening to Gilligan’s Island, but it’s really not that bad.

The snow and ice storm followed dad and I from Dallas to Houston. Ten hours later, dad and I rolled into Houston with a moving van full of dad’s worldly possessions still shiny side up by doing what most other Texans haven't figure out yet, driving incredibly slow. It was well after dark, and a lovely freezing rain gave Houston that cheerful, death on a slab in the morgue look. I don’t remember what floor dad’s apartment was on. What I do remember is being stiff from sitting in the cab of a moving van for 10 hours and then having to unload enough of the furniture to have something to sleep on that night. One elevator load at a time.

Saturday morning, after we unloaded and hooked up the TV, dad and I discovered that Houston had its worst ice storm in decades. Forty plus unlucky drivers managed to have a massive accident on an ice encrusted I-45.

Remember what I said? To people in Texas, ice goes in your tea.

As you can see, my moving curse is most definitely a genetic gift from my father. What I’m still trying to figure out is, given the fact he is well aware of my curse, why does Ken keep asking for my help when he moves?