Friday, May 28, 2021

The Eternal Refrigerator


It goes without saying that the selling and/or the purchase of a house is a time-consuming and exhausting endeavor. For my wife and I back in 2000 we were lucky enough to be the exception to the first half of that rule. However the purchase of our new home was not smooth and seamless. To put it bluntly, it was a huge cluster fuck unparalleled in scope and repercussions. We spent years cleaning up the mess and dealing with the items the previous owners left behind.

Boiling everything down to the basics my spouse and I were in the closing stages of adopting our daughter from China. One of the requirements to satisfy the adoption agency was that the baby had to have a room to itself. Our first home had three bedrooms, enough for us, one for our son, and one for the baby. But my wife felt we needed a fourth bedroom for family and friends who would visit.

So we painted and repaired our old house until it just about shined. Then we went about looking for a new house that had the right number of bedrooms and met my wife's other personal requirements like location, good school district, and distance from her work. The housing market at that time was on the side of the sellers and we immediately ran into some issues. Things got worse when the first family that looked at our home made and offer and we accepted. The clock began ticking for us to find a suitable replacement and get out before the deadline. We had less than two weeks left before we found a house that while meeting all the requirements had several issues.

Namely that the family selling the house we wanted to buy wasn't ready to move. Their replacement house they were building was livable but they wanted more time. It's been over twenty-years now and all I remember was that as far as they were concerned they wanted all the bells and whistles in their new home fully installed and connected. They wanted at least another two weeks before surrendering the house.

That was a no-go for us because the adoption agency had to evaluate our new residence and then send confirmation to the Chinese governmental agency so the adoption could go forward. If we weren't in the new house by the time of the evaluation we could lose the little girl picked for us who was still in a Chinese orphanage.

So the selling family blinked and moved out before their new place met their standards. It was either get out or we would have rescinded the offer leaving them with two mortgage payments. As a Plan B my wife and I had talked about looking at apartments and just staying there until the adoption was over where we would then have a new house built.

The old owners were not happy with the situation and in typical Lexington county passive-aggressive behavior they moved out leaving the house trashed. As we moved in my wife and I were shocked to see dozens of holes in the walls in every room that had been cleverly hid by the selling family. Most were from pictures but no attempt was made to repair any of them. During this bullshit the house inspector somehow didn't warn us about a multitude of issues that the sellers were supposed to fix. Off the top of my head the report that asshole gave us didn't mention a word about the broken burner on the stove; the interior doors that weren't square with the frames; and most of all the stains on the kitchen floor.

I honestly believe the selling family slipped the house inspector money to overlook these issues. I mentioned as much to a few of our new neighbors and I'm sure my suspicions were relayed to the selling family. I have another suspicion that the selling family was friends with many of those people and my accusations colored my relationship with those living around me.

But in true passive-aggressive style it was the refrigerator they conveniently forgot to load up that still makes me harbor ill feelings about those assholes.

Adding icing to the already difficult cake of moving I had National Guard duty on the weekend we took up residence in the new house. And for reasons I never understood both the CO of my unit and the First Sergeant refused to cut me some slack and allow me to slip out to help with the move.

By the time I arrived home late in the afternoon the majority of the moving was finished. My wife and in-laws were still dealing with the shock of the condition of the house. I, in turn was flaming pissed and wanted to kick some ass. Especially when I opened the doors of the refrigerator they left behind.

My dad-in-law knew something about kitchen appliances and guessed that it had to have been twenty-years old back in 2000. While still functioning properly the inside had obvious wear, to the point rust was showing through on some exposed metal parts. Shelves were bent and glass panels cracked making it look like a real backhanded insult to us demanding they move before they were ready.

But most worrisome was the brown sticky stuff at the bottom. Partially covered by the crisper section for vegetables, it looked like a Coke or Pepsi had leaked and they never cleaned it up. I wanted to move that refrigerator out the garage and bring in ours from the old house but by that time my wife was on the verge of a nervous breakdown while my in-laws compassion and love of family were exhausted.

So we assembled beds to sleep, the in-laws went home, and we order pizza from what I was now calling a glorified redneck trailer. Later that night as I lay in bed and fumed we then discovered the marooned refrigerator made some of the god-awful noises. The sounds it produced were like a combination of it about exploded and a plea to end its miserable existence.

Weeks rolled into months and we slowly made our new suburban trash heap a home. That included taking all the insides of the refrigerator out and cleaning them. And yes, I personally cleaned out the brown sticky stuff at the bottom.

The trouble was that a week or two later I noticed the brown sticky stuff had reappeared at the bottom and it was growing. I think the brown stuff reappeared after each cleaning for about a year. It never entirely went away but we learned to live with what little bit we couldn't kill off.

The adoption moved forward and the years came and went but we never pulled the trigger on getting rid of that nightmare refrigerator. We talked about it many times but with a new baby and other issues the fact that it still kept food and drinks cold always prevented us from really doing anything. I even learned to take comfort at night with its strange sounds.

That refrigerator lasted another fourteen years before it had its version of a stroke and died. So if my late dad-in-law was correct, and the old bastard was smart, that refrigerator lasted north of thirty-five years. Here's the real kick in the ass, its replacement died in less than five due to a lightning strike. And its replacement, an expensive Samsung with all the bells and whistles lasted two years before the ice maker on it utterly quit.

We called in the company-approved technician and he isolated the problem to the touch screen controller or the water filter assembly that had its own little micro-controller. He couldn't isolate the issue to a single cause and to fix both electronic components would cost over five-hundred dollars.

We instead bought six plastic ice trays for fifty-cents each from the Dollar Store and called it a day.

I still believe the selling family left the old refrigerator here as a form of insult. A small dig at the ungrateful family that wouldn't give them enough time to move out on their timetable. But I'll be damned as much as anyone can think fondly on a kitchen appliance that bad boy was tough.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Real Dangers to Democracy

Okay, I'll make this brief because I've got people coming to remove some storm damaged trees. What does a dangerously authoritarian-leaning political party do when they can't win elections? You got it, they change election laws in the state legislatures they control. 

What does the other political party do to TRY and avoid having elections stolen? You write a bill that prevents the other party from destroying democracy. What's seriously tragic though is to have the Democratic senators from West Virginia and Arizona sabotage the process.  

On another front for those who don't realize this, we're at war with Russia. We have been at least since the November 2016 election, although it has probably been going on for years before that. While the recent pipeline cyber-attack was supposedly done by non-government hackers they have been traced to Russia. It would take strong evidence to convince me something like this happened in Putin's personal kingdom with him not knowing about it.

Putin is engaging in a curious form of asymmetric warfare with the United States. Numerous news reports over the years all suggest Putin blames the United States for the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin's inference in American elections is certainly an attempt to spread dissension and chaos in this country. It wouldn't be hard to convince me now given his success that he and his cronies may believe they can actually breakup the United States as a form of revenge for his beloved Soviet Union.   

Understand something, for the most part I trust science and scientists. Of course where science gets sticky is when you have paid lackeys like the "scientists", who while employed by cigarette companies, claimed smoking didn't cause health issues. 

The same can be said for current day "scientists" who work for oil companies and claim Climate change is overblown or not caused by humans. But for the most part if an unbiased scientist with strong evidence says something I'm usually going to side with that person.   

No science is not a religion but it's a process that has been extremely useful in discovering how the world and universe works. Over the centuries since applying this process we have made the lives of billions of people far better. No science isn't perfect and the pursuit of knowledge can be a double-edged sword causing untold death and destruction.

In some ways we've been lucky with the Covid virus. It could have been far deadlier and with the idiots running around denying basic science and politicizing something trivial like wearing face masks the damage would have been far worse. I write this realizing well over half a million people died from Covid here in the United States.

The insanity of our times is exemplified when you have racists morons, like the ones on Fox News, spreading outright lies about the vaccines that could end this pandemic.  


Monday, May 10, 2021

Inconvenient Estranged Parent


Writing Prompt- Your main character is approached by their long-estranged parent who wants to reconnect. How do they react? This started out as fiction with only a little bit of real life thrown in. Unfortunately past history started seeping into the story creating a hybrid mix.  


 Early February at Fort Carson, Colorado isn't a good time to be stuck outside working in the motor pool. The only thing worse than the motor pool is being down range out in the field during a field training exercise. But then there were rare occasions when dealing with hardships out in the field were preferable than getting tangle up in old family issues.

“Specialist Vaughn,” my platoon sergeant called out while walking up from our company's motor pool repair bays. “Lieutenant Chase is on the phone, he wants to talk with you ASAP. Haul ass up to the office and find out what he wants.”

“Roger that, Sergeant Blackledge,” I said taking just enough time to put away a couple of pieces of equipment back into the platoon's storage container before double timing down the line. My seemingly responsible and prompt response still earned me a hateful glare from the man.

My platoon sergeant, SFC Blackledge, was a huge, African-American guy with a baked-in bad attitude when it came to anything I was involved. To this day I never really understood his dislike for me. I definitely wasn't the platoon fuck-up, we had three new privates fresh from Advanced Individual Training (AIT) who were all competing for that title. The general consensus among the other members of the platoon was that if you combined the intelligence of the three new guys a squirrel would probably still beat them at tic-tac-toe.

At the time my best guess for why Blackledge enjoyed hassling me was that I was the perfect average soldier. I was almost three years into my enlistment and my gung-ho mentality had long since died. It had been replaced with a new perspective of doing just enough to keep the NCOs and officers above me happy. I had one year and a couple of months or so left of active duty and my ass would be going home.

As most things go, the army during the late-1980s was pretty cut and dry. This is a gross simplification but as long as you shined your boots, performed basic hygiene, and could read a map most American males could be a success in the United States Army. But for me the glamour had long since died and whatever Rambo-esque dreams I might have entertained had long since been crushed by your basic standard issue reality.

Thinking on it now, my carefree attitude may have been the source of Blackledge's distaste for me. In all modesty if I had stayed motivated and played the dog and pony game by looking good and performing beyond basic standards, I'd probably could have made promotion way beyond just sergeant (E-5), which I would unexpectedly make the following month.

After arriving at the repair bays I stepped into the office and was handed a phone by one of the people working there. “Specialist Vaughn reporting, sir,” I said or something similar.

“Vaughn,” LT Chase said in a tone of voice that betrayed a touch of annoyance, “your dad called the company commander. He's in town and wants to see you.”

“Ah yes, sir, did someone die or something?” I ask back confused. At that moment I couldn't remember the last time I had talked with my father. My mom and dad's marriage and their final divorce back in 1977 had been Chernobyl-like in its messy, complicated nature. So bad that one of the few absolute certainties in this universe is the fact that those two fucked up individuals should have never been allowed to live on the same continent, much less marry and have children.

My mother had legitimate mental issues that in South Carolina went unrecognized and, of course, totally untreated. She was the child of hard working but poor parents whose education never went beyond a couple of years of high school. South Carolina was, or still is a backwater provincial land with a grossly under-educated population lacking any true idea of how mental health can affect individuals and society as a whole.

Mom's way of coping with her issues was to drink. She was a chain smoker as well, which brought on a whole other series of problems. Finally there was infidelity, something she would actually talk about to us kids once she had a few drinks in her system. Her other favorite subject of conversation was to tell her children how much farther she could have made it in life if she had never had us.

Dad's issues were a little more abstract but he was also a product of Southern society and culture. He was a hard worker but showed next to no emotion to his kids other than rage when they did something bad. Beatings with a belt were the usual punishment for infractions raging from not doing homework to breaking one of his possessions.

There was also more than a little resentment when he had to use his money for us kids. I clearly remember department store trips to buy new clothes for my siblings and I with him whining about how much money was being wasted. Adding more insult to these injuries, after mom and dad separated he got us for the weekends. Which most of time had us hanging out in his mobile home as he worked on cars outside. I vaguely remember catching him telling a neighbor, who had asked him to go on a fishing trip, that his damn kids were here so he couldn't do anything this weekend.

“Don't know Vaughn,” LT Chase answered bringing me back out of my memories. “But prepare to copy this phone number.”

LT Chase calls out the phone number to a local motel and the room number. I write it down on my notepad sort of figuring this meant no one was dead. My father had always seemed a few french fries short of a full happy meal when it came to common sense. But not even he would travel from deep in the bowels of bumfuck Texas and come to Colorado Springs just to tell me some member of his family was dead.

“Tell me something Vaughn,” LT Chase interjects without warning, “why haven't you talked to your father in several years?”

Whoa, that was the other thing about dear old dad which I had forgotten, he loved playing the victim. “It's a long messed up story, LT,” I respond wearily.

“Okay, I get it, Vaughn.” He says before hanging up.

The rest of the day plays out as usual with me wondering if I should contact my father. Got to admit I was more than slightly pissed with him playing the abandoned and forgotten father. Dad had promptly gotten remarried suspiciously fast after my parents' divorce was finalized. Can't really fault him for that with mom long experienced in blazing new trails in roadside motel exploration.

His new wife brought with her a couple of daughters and by all accounts he was a great step-dad to his new kids. My siblings had spent some time with them a few summers back while I was over in West Germany playing soldier. The reports I got from them about a happy, affectionate man was a truly alien concept considering the sullen individual I remember that only reluctantly took his own kids fishing.

After the company's final formation and being released for the day I found myself drifting towards the rack of payphones in the barrack's day room. With mixed emotions I dialed the motel number and asked for his room when the desk clerk answered.

“Hello,” a lady said in a sweet voice.

“Yeah, this is Eric. I got word that my father was staying there.” I replied figuring I was talking to his new wife, my step-mother by default.

“Oh Eric,” the lady said, “we've been hoping you would call. I'll get your father, hold on.”

A second or two later he picks up the phone. “Hey Eric, it's your father,” he says like there was some question who it might be. Remember, a few fries short of a full happy meal.

“,” I say hesitantly not really comfortable labeling him as such. “You're in Colorado Springs, what's up?”

“Lisa has a band competition here tomorrow, and we decided to see if you wanted to have dinner with us tonight.”

Running this information through my brain, I had to figure that 'Lisa' was my step-sister, someone who I had not only never met but didn't have a clue what she looked liked. Full disclosure, I didn't know what his new wife looked like either because I had literally never been in the same location with the lady. When my parents officially divorced, dad stayed in Texas and my mom and siblings and myself went back to South Carolina. Dad's new family life began about three or four days after everything was finalized.

Being the oldest of my siblings, I knew neither of our parents were worth much in the way of consideration. Going with our mother back to South Carolina was the safest course since we had her family to fall back on for support. But I admit, I was considering his offer of dinner. Part of me thought it would be interesting to meet at least a couple of members of his new family.

“So how about it?”He asked in an upbeat tone that I found both curious and slightly irritating. Past experience had taught me that my father expected instant acceptance and that any hesitation on the part of me or my siblings was a personal insult to him. There was way too much baggage in our past for me to have any enthusiasm about this reunion. I wasn't a kid anymore, I was an adult in my twenties and the few times I remember talking to him in the previous years he clearly still thought of me as a child.

Out of nowhere a question popped into my head that I had to ask before giving him my decision. “How long was this trip up to Colorado Springs planned? I mean you guys didn't just receive news about the band competition the last couple of days.”

“Oh, its been in the works for the last couple of months.” Dad replied offhand not realizing what it meant for his own flesh and blood to be an afterthought. Such actions were typical for him, for some reason his own kids were never a priority. Truthfully, it bothered me a lot that he somehow expected me to drop everything and rush across town to see him. He served in the army himself and knew the end of the duty day didn't necessarily mean a soldier was free to leave the post. It was either that or his offer for dinner was never be meant to be accepted. That he would use my refusal as yet another example of him being the victim. Given that the trip to Colorado Springs had been months in the planning, the fact that he didn't call me until the day they arrived tended to support my conclusion.

I simply didn't feel like being played that day. “No,” I said to him, “had you called and arranged something in advance it could have happened. But no, I'm going to the mess hall and then hang out with a few friends.”

“Okay,” he said in a tone that I felt was indifferent. He started to say something else but I cut him off.

“Look, it was great hearing from you,” something I didn't really mean, “but your arrival was totally unexpected and, honestly more than a little inconvenient for me. How about we try this again sometime in the future.” After that I hung up and didn't think about him for the rest of the night.

Was I cruel? Probably. Should I have given the man the benefit of the doubt? Maybe, if the weight of too many disappointments wasn't bearing down on my shoulders at that moment. The one good thing out of this cluster fuck was that I learned to treat my own kids completely different.

The coming years would bring my father back into my life. Namely him showing up unexpectedly at my house a couple of weeks after the birth of my son. My wife made me play nice. But dad never really changed and my patience with him only got shorter. My brothers somehow developed a phone relationship with him over the years with nothing but silence between him and myself.

Recently, I got word from my brother, Wilson, that dad asked for my phone number. Thankfully, Wilson told him he would have to ask me first. As I talked with my brother I thought about it for a couple of minutes. My decision was ultimately no, curiously there is no bitterness on my part. I found myself indifferent to the man and his life. Whatever relationship we might have had has long since passed into nothingness.

Friday, May 7, 2021

One of Those Weeks

Last Friday about this time I was mentally preparing myself for the rough week that I knew was coming. It started Saturday with my wife and I driving separate cars up to Clemson University to bring our daughter home. The semester was over, she had passed all her exams and came away with a GPA well over 3.80. I was/am proud of her as any dad can be.

Once we arrived at the collection of Soviet-era looking building that pass as student dormitories, the crazy shit slammed into a giant high speed fan. Just imagine the night the Titanic got much too personal with a random iceberg and you have something approaching the craziness of several hundred upper middle class parents all struggling to load up their kids' crap and go home. Throw in way too many cars, trucks, SUVs, and even a couple of mid-sized U-haul moving vans in an area never meant to have a quarter of that number and you could begin to understand the confusion and frustration.

Strangely enough, everyone seemed in a friendly and lighthearted mood. No arguments or fights, just way too many people in an area that the campus authorities had setup with multiple barriers to impend anyone getting too close to the buildings. We're talking 9/11 era safety features to prevent anyone from driving hypothetical car bombs up to the buildings front entrances.

Luckily, my wife and I had arrived a little earlier than our scheduled pickup time, so getting our daughter's stuff loaded was actually not as bad as I feared. Just when we were pulling out the next wave of parents started flowing into dorm parking lot. Still though, the drive back down to Columbia was exhausting and I pretty much gave up on all activity the minute I walked back into the house and saw the living room couch.

The next day was yard work, and even with a nifty new John Deere riding lawnmower I still had to pull out the trusty push mower and the irritating weed whacker to tame smaller, overgrown areas. Where was my rising Clemson University sophomore daughter? She had skipped out with her two college friends for an early Sunday brunch leaving me high and dry. I didn't say much to her about abandoning good old dad because she really buckled down and studied for her exams.

But wait folks, there was still a good bit of flying shit for the rest of the week as well.

Back at my work, I took a buddy's on-call for this week because he was hurt. And it was a moderately bad week involving a great deal of hospital equipment and circumstances I never had to deal with before. That was just Monday morning and early afternoon. The real fun began around five o'clock in the afternoon.

As massive squall line of storms swept through my area and as I was trying to post something that day. Somewhere around four O'clock I heard what that I'd have to describe as a combination of a thick limb breaking and outright explosion. It happened after a massive and prolonged gust of wind that had me listening for the telltale sound of the proverbial locomotive plowing through my subdivision.


We totally lost one tree in the backyard with it falling over into the neighbor's backyard crushing the fence. Making matters worse, where that tree fell is the usual location of that guy's super fancy bass boat. Luckily, the neighbor moved his boat sometime before so I didn't have to deal with my insurance guy. But I did talk to the neighbor about going halves on the fence repair since he had attached his small segment of fence to mine without asking permission. No he said, they're broke but will gladly give us tons of moral support for our trouble.

In the front yard the old and brittle river birch growing right at the neighborhood intersection lost a lot of decent-sized limbs. Limbs big and numerous enough to completely stop traffic from coming in and going out of the neighborhood. While it was still raining I ran out into the street and cleaned up the fallen limbs tossing them in my front yard. Looking on the bright side of things, my wife has finally agreed to have that river birch removed. After every storm over the last several years, I had informed her that if one of the big limbs or even a part of the trunk had fallen into the street there was no way I could clear it. And Heaven forbid had a big limb or part of the trunk hit a car that was stopped at the intersection. 

 The tree guys are coming in a couple of days to give us an estimate for removal. We're talking a couple of thousand dollars, at least.

Given the situation at work on Monday and my impromptu tree cleaning that day I passed out the second my head hit the bed that night. The rest of the work week was quite busy with me breaking new records in the number of total steps each day. I still have to cover for my buddy this weekend and will not be off call until Monday morning. Here's hoping nothing weird happens as this week slowly dies.

The final icing on the cake this week was the dishwasher. Last Sunday it gave up the ghost, stopping in the middle of a cleaning cycle. The tiny LED screen on the door threw up an error message saying the drain pump was the issue.

No problem, a couple of YouTube videos later I have my head in the dishwasher cleaning the filter screen. Since that didn't solve anything the next item on the trouble shooting agenda had me giving it a mechanical colonoscopy around the impeller of the drain pump. Sure enough the impeller was frozen with me not finding anything causing the jam.

Enter the professional appliance technician who had to make three separate visits this week to fix the dishwasher each time. Third service call appears to have been the charm with the dishwasher purring along even now as I type out this less than glamours collection of verbal offal.

Yeah, washing dishes is literally one of those “First World Problems” privileged and spoiled Americans whine about but I've hated that chore all my life. So as I sit at the kitchen table reflecting on the past week I take solace in the idea that my entire family, wife, son, his girlfriend, and my daughter will be going to Disney World this December. It's still a long time away but thankfully 2021 seems to be flowing far smoother than 2020.

I just hope I get to hug Goofy. I'll probably cry if I do. It doesn't take much to make me happy at my current stage of life. 



***Just as I was preparing to post, the dishwasher shut down again and started displaying the same error code. Oh well, at least it's Friday night.