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Thursday, January 4, 2018

Iguana Relo

Here in South Florida, you pay a price for perpetual warm weather. Half the year you’re on the lookout for hurricanes. The rest of the time you are trying not to murder an invasive species known as French Canadians, who still drive like there are a couple feet of snow on the road.

There are also non-human invasive nuisances. Cockroaches the size of Montana and stinging caterpillars, for example. I have friends from the north who come visit and scream when they see a lizard in my garage. You’d think that by now the Geico spokesreptile would have done something to eliminate their fears, but no.

The same northerners whose hair stands on end when seeing a lizard will practically snuggle up to all the “cute squirrels” in my back yard. I hate squirrels. Shave a squirrel’s tail, and you’ve got a rat. My beef with squirrels is that they eat the avocadoes off my tree when the fruit is the size of a grape. All of them. Every. Single. Avocado. And what is guacamole without avocadoes? Peppered onion lemonade. Enjoy a Dorito with that sometime.

These days, it’s the iguanas that are getting under my skin. Don’t get me wrong; iguanas are fascinating to watch. Some idiots even keep them as pets. They are sort of a link to prehistoric times, but they eat plants, usually the plants you’ve slaved over to keep alive. Far be it for them to munch on a few weeds or French Canadians and gain my respect.

This year we have had one iguana that has been particularly annoying. He is a fat five footer with a long striped tail. Every day this monster will climb a tree, jump on the roof and wander over to the top of the screen enclosure that covers our pool. He will then relieve himself of both number 1 and number 2 and then return to its tree. Such a hostile move, especially since we have been feeding him hibiscus flowers and bougainvillea leaves all of his slithering life.

We have cut down every tree that is close to the house. We have wrapped sheet metal at the base of palm trees to keep the invaders from climbing up them. We have actually studied the diets of iguanas and purchased Purina Iguana Chow to set in a humane trap that this guy, and all other iguanas ignore.

So on New Year’s Day as I was fruitlessly attempting to transfer data from an old phone to a new one, I heard the THUMP on the roof that is all too familiar. I went outside and looked up, and there he was, looking down on me with scorn and superiority. Apparently iguanas are capable of flying from treetops onto roofs.

I’d had enough. I had chased Iggy off the roof before, but it was a new year, and it was time to mobilize. Other Bill grabbed an empty trash can, and I grabbed the push broom and the ladder and ascended to the roof. Bill remained on the ground, posing as a giant basketball hoop, and I intended to brush Iggy down off the roof and score two points into the Rubbermaid. Iggy had other ideas. Iggy sprouted his wings and flew onto a nearby palm tree and started climbing up. I smacked him with the broom, sending him sailing downward, nowhere even close to the Rubbermaid goal. The minute he hit the ground he ran, and Other Bill gave chase. As a quick side note, what do you think of when you hear “Rubber Maid”? It sounds like a latex-themed straight porn movie to me.

Anyway, with the iguana on the run, I figured it was yet another loss. They run too fast for our old knees, so I proceeded to use the push broom to brush some of the shmutz off the roof tiles, because everyone knows I hate to waste an opportunity to do a little cleaning.

But then Bill called victoriously to me from the other side of the house, “I got him!” I found this a little suspicious, because Other Bill is reluctant even to cut up a fryer, and touching a live amphibian is above his pay grade.

I made my way down from the roof, and Other Bill was standing there proudly with the can over the giant wrinkled thing. I got the lid of the can and slid it underneath, and we flipped the can upright, and I folded up the tail and dropped it into the can. Score! High fives all around.

Then we had to figure out what to do with it. It’s illegal to kill them, and besides, the only gun I have is a BB gun (see squirrels, above). When confronted with a BB gun, an iguana will just sit back, light up a Marlboro and bark out a grizzly-throated, Suzanne Pleshette-style laugh. Someone suggested I put it in the freezer to kill it “humanely,” but a) I don’t consider freezing to death a comfortable way to die. That’s why we live in South Florida, and b) I figured if I did that, I’d be cleaning iguana poop off of a frozen pizza or two. Or a chicken that Other Bill wouldn’t touch with his bare hands.

So we loaded Iggy into the car and drove a few miles west where there is a park with a nice canal and dozens of other of his kind to befriend. I popped the lid, and off he ran at lightning speed for about twenty feet, and then he just stood there, still as a frozen iguana. Other Bill walked up to him, and they just looked at each other.

“I’m worried about him. Why isn’t he moving?” Other Bill asked.

“It’s moving,” I said, “he’s watching every move you make.”

Bill walked around it, and the lizard’s head followed.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Something’s wrong with him.”

“Well what do you want to do, take him home, put him to bed and nurse him back to health?”

Other Bill said, “Well, I don’t understand why he’s not moving.”

“He’s just getting his bearings,” I said. “And probably wondering where he’s going to take a shit now that he can’t do it in our pool.”

Reluctantly, Other Bill returned to the car with me, and we went home.

I’m not convinced this will be our last dealings with roof iguanas, but at least now we have a system.

And maybe next time I’ll aim better and make a basket in the Rubbermaid.

Now if I can just find a Rubbermaid big enough for a French Canadian. The trash can, not the movie. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Gimme a Break, It's only a Car

Well I feel just awful. It's like I just dropped my old dog off at the kill shelter.

I have a bit of a problem when it comes to cars. Okay, not every car. I have had lemons that I was more than happy to trade in. That underpowered Suzuki Samurai, for instance. You know you made a mistake when tractor-trailers are passing you going up a steep incline. And that Suzuki Vitara (I know; shame on me. I didn’t learn the first time.) It wasn’t even a Grand Vitara, which is one of the biggest oxymorons ever produced. Yeah, that Vitara, whose check engine light refused to ever go out, and no one could figure out what was wrong with it. 

There are cars, though, that I get attached to in a less than healthy way.

There’s the first car, of course, by which all other standards are measured. I had saved up $1000, and when I was 16 I bought a bright red, two-year-old VW Superbeetle that I nicknamed “Chigger.” Also not the best car ever made, but it was more than a car; it was my freedom. It was my escape out of a house of thundering alcoholics. It was the car I drove home one early, pre-dawn morning when I realized that there was no more pretending to be straight. It was a car I wrecked and repainted twice, and the car on which I taught myself how to change oil. Ten years after I bought the car, I was leaving the country for a year, and I sold it at a profit for $1200. When does that ever happen? And I cried when I turned over the keys. Gimme a break, I was only 26.

When my cousins gave me my Aunt Kay’s 1972 Volvo not long after she died, it arrived from Denver on the back of a car carrier. It was severely oxidized, and the driver’s door was several shades of blue lighter than Old Blue, because it had sat in her garage for years next to a window where the sun bleached it out. The driver of the carrier told me, “Be careful. That car don’t have no brakes.” I idled it into my driveway, stepped on the brake and nothing happened. I had to yank the emergency brake to keep it from hitting the garage door. It looked old and depleted. Its driver, the person I loved more than anyone else in the world, had died at 89, and the car seemed to reflect my sadness about that. Just as I wanted to bring Aunt Kay back, I wanted to restore Old Blue. I had spent all my teenage summers with that car, washing and waxing it, riding with Kay and her dog up to her cabin in the mountains. So in no time I had it worked over and repaired, stripped down and repainted so it looked as good as the day Kay got it when she was 65. It was a solid work horse of a car, but when it became mine in 1996, it had only 20, 000 miles on it. It only had an AM radio, and the air conditioner didn’t work, and it had an enormous steering wheel on it, because it didn’t have power steering, and you needed a big wheel to fight with just to make a left turn. I had to get rid of it when I moved back to Florida 16 years ago, but I sold it to a very earthy older couple who recognized my emotional attachment to it, and they swore to continue to baby it. I believed them, and maybe that car is still on the road today. It wouldn’t surprise me. Cried when that one was driven away, too. Gimme a break; I was only 44.

I did a really stupid thing when I finally ended it with my ex. I had money from the sale of our house that was burning a hole in my pocket, and in 1992 I went out and bought a 30 year-old Cadillac Sedan deVille.  I had grown up fascinated with fins. Every day we drove my father to work past the Cadillac dealer in downtown Tampa, my face was pressed against the window in utter amazement at the enormous cars that looked more like rocket ships than automobiles. the seville lasted for a year, and it was a blast to ride in. It was like my first car in that it, too, was freedom that could be bought with money. It was my celebration car. More like a boat on a still lake than a rocket or car, the Cadi could easily fit in six of my co-workers to drive to lunch. It got seven miles per gallon. It was more of a novelty car than a car I had an emotional attachment to; kinda like my ex. One day a light on the dash that read “GEN” came on, and it was confirmed that the generator was kaput. This was before the internet lit up and buying parts became as easy as owning a keyboard and a credit card. Needless to say, NO ONE on planet Earth wanted a 31 year old bomb that could only run as far as the battery would take it. I placed ads in the local paper, the Washington Post, and Autotrader. I even paid to have a photo ad flash on the screen at the local multiplex, while the deVille sat, deflated, in my garage. I was at the point where I was going to investigate having the fins made into a piece of furniture and scrapping the rest of it. But finally, a collector bought it for $400, “because he wanted to do me a favor.” I’m sure he managed to do himself a favor after he restored it. He also called and bitched at me because the car blew out a tire while he was towing it back to Timberville. Too bad. Buyer beware. It probably didn’t want to go with him. No tears, but god, what a joy to drive. My freedom hadn’t disappeared. It was just time to move on.

Which brings us to the car I abandoned today. Ten years ago I bought the second brand-new car I’ve ever owned. I even had a color choice, and I chose the red one, because it was the same red as my first car, the Volkswagen. It was (oh, god, I’m using past tense already!) a Honda Fit with a 5 speed manual transmission and so much fun to drive. It had great pickup, and the front wheel drive made it so maneuverable. I’m a little sentimental about the Fit, because it was last car I bought before Bill got cancers (yeah, that’s plural). It’s the car I had when we got married. It’s the car we took mini vacations in, and it has never, ever, in ten years given me a mechanical problem. We had to get rid of it because due to Other Bill’s declining peripheral vision, we had to buy him a car with blind spot detecting mirrors and a backup camera. It’s like driving a supercomputer. (And I thought my first car was technologically superior because it had an 8-track AND a cassette player in it, and had two door speakers and Chris Sestile’s old stereo speakers in the well behind the back seat. No one else and pseudo-Quadrophonic in their cars.)

The Fit was a tough sell as well, almost as tough as the Cadillac. Seems no one on planet Earth wants a car they have to manually shift. Plus when you sell a car outright today, you have to sort out the scammers who will “send a company to pick up your car, because I’m in a wheelchair/the army/jail, and I can pay by Paypal if you just click this link…”

Then there was one guy who communicated by text only. Wanted to come by after work last week at 11 pm, because he could get a ride then. I figured he was either psychotic or young. He later agreed to coming this morning, but he’d have to Uber.  Not my problem, so the date was set. I had been victim of so many fraud attempts, and I was still skeptical, so my buddy-cops made sure I was followed during the test drive just in case anything funny happened. This will most likely be the last car I sell outright. I’ll just have to suck up the low trade-in values henceforth. I knew the kid was going to buy it the minute he sat in the driver’s seat. He was a skinny boy with tattoos, and he smoked. He didn’t smoke during the test drive, but still. He drove too fast, wound the gears out too far, and he rode the clutch.  I felt bad subjecting my little four-wheeled friend to second-hand smoke and rough handling for the rest of its life. I don’t know why I feel that way. It’s not like it’s human.

But sometimes a car is more than just a car.

I didn’t cry when the kid drove off, cigarette dangling from his mouth. But the day’s not over yet.

Gimme a break, I’m only 61.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Fear and Loathing in Big Lots

Other Bill and I, sadly, spend more time than is probably healthy at Big Lots. It only makes sense for two people who are both gluttonous and cheap. Why spend $6.50 on two bags of vanilla Oreos at Publix when you can get three bags at Big Lots for less? Sure, the expiration clock is ticking faster on the Big Lots cookies. And it’s quite possible when you open the bag that all the Oreos will be crumbled into a sticky powder, but that just makes the cookies more amenable to serve as an ice cream topping instead of its intended use as a milk-dunking dessert.

It’s not rocket science to figure out why some things end up at Big Lots, otherwise known as the next-to-the last-stop-on-the-retail-train-to-the-dumpster. Things like chili con carne in a mylar envelope, and pumpkin-banana cake frosting were obvious losers. Hormel and Pillsbury are only human. Not every idea in the world food market will catch fire and sell like Starbucks. And things like half-priced giant bottles of Advil that expire tomorrow are only a natural for the store of the desperate and destitute. It’s always hit-or-miss with Big Lots. You never know what they’ll be stocking, which makes that the ultimate draw of the store. Maybe this time I’ll find those tins of anchovies for 60 cents again! Something that you can always depend on Big Lots to stock, however: Pop Tarts. That’s right, they always have a huge assortment of flour-encrusted jam slathered with jawbreaker icing. At radically-slashed prices.

At our Big Lots there is always one area in a dark corner under the $2 gallon jugs of white vinegar known as the Reduced For Quick Sale shelf. As if it’s not bad enough that you end up in Big Lots, this shelf always makes me a little sad. Products there look like they have been in trailers where domestic violence is the norm, and they have been returned to pay for bail. Boxes of Jiffy cornbread mix that look like they’ve been hit with a rolling pin. Dented little cans of Young and Early peas. So heartbreaking. Wrinkled, dirty bags of egg noodle crumbs. Sometimes I have to buy stuff from there just to show it a little love for products that lived a tormented life of abuse. Give the food a little dignity, for crying out loud!

When we were there recently, one of the first things I noticed was a huge box of rainbow-colored unknown chunks that looked like those tooth-cracking candy hearts with love notes on them. Only these were much smaller and asymmetrical and had no messages on them. They were in clear plastic cellophane bags with matte-finish, generic black and white labels. It looked like something that fell out of a government-issued military MRE.

Their labels made them seem almost as pathetic as the Reduced for Quick Sale items, but not quite. First of all, they were placed in the front of the store looking so colorful they caught the customers’ eye when they first came in. But you’d think they would have some fun and jovial name like Zip-Zaps! or Krazy Konfetti! (exclamation points not optional.) Sadly, whatever happened to these things, they never even made it to the marketing department. The label read, simply, “Asst Dehydrated Marshmallow Bits.” Not very appetizing, is it? And a far cry from creative.

Naturally I had to buy a bag, because a) I didn’t have my phone to take a picture of it, and b) They were only $1.25. And besides, you never know at Big Lots. You turn your back on something they have half a store’s worth of, and in no time, some kid who ran off with his mother’s SNAP card has whisked every one of them out of the building. You know this because the next day there’s a picture of a parti-colored, comatose child under a headline that reads, “Boy, 9, in Hyperglycemic Coma after Marshmallow Bit Overdose”, which would have been more eye-catching if it had instead read “Zip-Zap Overdose.”

So I blame the marketing department of these Bits. I picture a scenario where the national sales director gets on the phone.

“Look, Biff. I’ve got 620 thousand units of this rat-bait rotting in the warehouse. When are you going to get your marketing guys to come up with a goddamned name for them?”

“Just as soon as we can hire another marketing director, Maurice. You didn’t hear that Kevin emptied his desk and walked out without notice last week?”

Maurice does a face-palm and pops a Xanax. “This is the third marketing director in 5 months! Why can’t you keep someone in the job, for Chrissake? What was it this time? Pay, hours, or benefits?”

“Neither,” Biff says. “He wanted his office painted a different color, but corporate denied it.”

"Asshole Millennials," sighs the sales director.

Three weeks later, and Maurice is on the phone to Biff again.

“Goddammit, I told you months ago to get a name for these tooth-rotters, and—”

“How about Tooth Rotterz? You know, with a Z,” Biff suggests.

“What? Are you stoned? You can’t call them that. They’ll never sell. Mothers will be livid.”

“Yeah, Maurice? Well, what about Screaming Yellow Zonkers, or, or Fizzies, or Trix? What about those, Maurice?”

“Look you little weasel. No Tooth Rotters. With a Z or an S. Either you come up with a name by close of business today, or I’m just going to order them labeled ‘Assorted Dehydrated Marshmallow Bits’, and you’re gonna take the fall for their failure.”

And then, six months later, they end up at Big Lots, with a dwindling “Best if Used By” date.

Maybe one day we’ll be able to buy wholesome, fresh snacks at Whole Foods, and purchase name brand toilet paper that doesn’t dissolve on the first wipe, and cranberry juice I’m not pressured to drink before expiration, and drugs I’ll consume without symptoms because somebody should take these!

Until then, there’s Big Lots.