The Day from Hell

Last Monday was a Day from Hell which stretched into the Week from Hell, and so much of it is blamed on “Corporate America” and so much of it was preventable – not easily, perhaps, but it’s not like they didn’t see it coming. Even more chilling, it’s going to happen again.

Every year about this time, we have Spring storms. On Sunday afternoon, we had a Texas-sized Spring storm. Trees down all over the place, a crane fell on a building, you name it. It was pretty bad, even by our usual Spring storm standards. Also, it was fairly predictable that it would happen eventually.

So, just like every year when we have a Spring storm, the power went out. This is because all of our power lines are overhead and nobody trims back the trees which are going to fall during a Spring storm. Therefore, power lines come down.

Oncor

Also, just like every year, Oncor sends out a note “Power will be back tonight”, then moves it to “tomorrow” and then eventually just sets their voicemail to a self-congratulatory message about how hard their crews are working under such stressful conditions (it was beautiful out on Monday, the day after the storm, not that I could enjoy it), and how people from other States are coming in to help restore their patient customers’ power.

Here’s a thought, dumbasses – how about trying prevention, since your damn cure always takes days?

I hate Oncor. This is probably not a secret. When Texas deregulated electricity a few years ago, what they really did was create another set of middlemen that do the billing. They buy electricity in bulk and sell it to the consumer. Whoever can lower their costs, say, by having no customer service whatsoever or selling at various prices under different names, can provide the lowest price.

However, Oncor owns the lines, the generators and all the other components that fail every damn year during Spring storms. So, every “electric company” in my area of the State has a sign on their website that says, “Oh, yeah, when you have no power, don’t call us, call Oncor.”

Oncor is what happens when you have a monopoly. They just cash the checks and don’t really consider making real improvements to the infrastructure because that costs money. They just make repairs as needed, at whatever speed they can manage.

I was just in the Caribbean, on the island of St Maarten, which had been virtually wiped out by hurricanes a couple of years ago, and as they’re rebuilding their completely destroyed infrastructure, they’re burying their electrical wires, to help withstand a storm.

There’s a thought. If the lines were underground, trees would have a more difficult time falling on them. Dallas has their streets torn up constantly anyway, why not bury the damn power lines?

The real issue is that some bean counter at Oncor is looking at the statistics, and we had power 362 of the past 365 days (mostly.) So, we had a 99% uptime. That’s really good.

Here’s the problem – all those downtime statistics don’t recognize whether the downtime was all at once. If we had an hour here or there all year, that’s one thing. 72 hours in a row is when all the food goes bad, the dogs become more psychotic, and I end up in a hotel.

So, Oncor disappointed me, but didn’t surprise me.

The irony is that Oncor has their own weather people. Apparently, they can’t predict any bad weather, but they can recognize it after it hits. I can do that without a degree in meteorology – if you want to know if there was a Spring storm, look out and see if all the houses are dark in the middle of the afternoon. If you wait until evening, it’s even easier to diagnose.

Here’s why power is important to me. There are basically three things I do at home, besides cater to the dogs and appear to obey my wife. I eat, I work and I sleep. With Oncor’s courageous three to four-day repair cycle for a very predictable, almost annual occurrence, I can’t eat (we’ll be throwing out all the food in the refrigerator and the freezer), I can’t work (I need WiFi, which needs power – even though I’m pretty sure the phones are working because their lines are underground) and I can’t sleep (I use a C-PAP for my sleep apnea, and without it, I wake up constantly during the night. I spent Sunday night constantly dreaming I was drowning. It was not pleasant.)

So, I’m a wee bit bitchy as I’m starting to write this on Monday night, because the only way for me to get a decent night’s sleep – and get some work done in the morning, was to break down and get a hotel room. I am now at a work staycation, two miles from home, at $200 per night. The Spousal Unit is home with the dogs, who are freaking out about being in the dark all day.

I got the hotel room because a couple of other companies failed me. One I hadn’t dealt with in years, and one I deal with constantly.

Amazon

First, the one I deal with all the time – Amazon. How do you get around a dumbass power company? You purchase another independent power source. Amazon had a battery backup that other people used for their CPAPs, so that would be perfect. Sure, it’s $250 that Oncor should pay, but it would be delivered by Monday evening.

Wrong. Somewhere between hitting Enter and the first delivery update, the delivery day got changed to Friday. By Friday, even Oncor should have the power restored. (It actually arrived on Wednesday.)

So, great try, Amazon, but when I order something for same-day delivery, there’s a reason.

REI

When Amazon said “delivery on Friday”, it meant I could spend another sleepless night at home or find a generator or battery locally. We called everybody we could think about – and nobody had one, but then I remembered someone had mentioned “camping with my C-PAP”, so we went to REI. The one by our house was sold out (obviously, since I was not alone in this thought), but they found us one in Plano (which wasn’t affected by the storm), so we drove the 25 miles to the Plano store to pick it up.

We had selected this unit from the small list of units available specifically because it could be charged in the car – it has a 12-volt adapter. Since we have no working outlet to plug it in, we needed a backup power source without spending another $150 on a solar panel. This is partially on us, because we should have asked, but the 12-volt adapter is the one thing that is not included in the box.

We talked to Lee at the Plano store (who shouldn’t be at REI, he should be at Dick’s, because he is one) and his solution was to try to upsell me to the more expensive model because “those batteries come charged.” Then, he suggested just going to Walmart or McDonalds and plugging it in. Uh, I’m not going to spend eight hours in a McDonalds, Sparky. I’m on a low-carb diet.

So, Monday I bought two battery backup units in one day and one will be here Friday, and the other one could easily be charged in my home if Oncor restored the power – which was the problem in the first place.

So, REI Dallas, rock stars. REI Plano, not exactly helpful. (While Lee was trying to upsell me, Virginia called the Dallas store to see if they had the adapter, and they said “No.” She asked if they could see if any other store had one, and they said, “Sure, but the guy in Plano can do that.”

Then, it turned out the upgraded unit was available in Southlake, which is another 50 miles or so of driving, so we declined.

Sprint

The final culprit in my near-breakdown is Sprint, who must have lost some towers during the storm because our cell service was for crap yesterday. I couldn’t get anything done without being on WiFi. I couldn’t make calls, I couldn’t browse. If all I had was cell service, it wasn’t going to work.

By evening, the Sprint connections seemed to be improving, so maybe there is hope for humanity.

Actually, there is hope for humanity, because every dark cloud has a silver lining (or a lot of rain.)

Starbucks

Finally, some heroes, or at least companies that meet the challenge of a Spring storm in Dallas. Thanks to Starbucks for being open, having coffee, and having a web app, so I can walk in, see a line around the store, find a seat, log in and order my coffee, bypassing the line. By the time I explained to my boss online (over their free WiFi) that I was going to be out all afternoon with a doctor’s appointment and had no power or Internet at home, so I was taking the day off as vacation, my coffee was ready.

That was the final blow. I’m a contractor on my current project, so taking a day off basically means losing money. I really couldn’t see charging someone when I was probably going to be dozing off all day, and I was supposed to start a three-day medical test Monday afternoon – and was told to expect two hours to install the equipment.

So, I took a day off.

I got to the doctor’s office fifteen minutes early. They were closed for the day. The building had no power.

DoubleTree by Hilton

Every hotel around me was booked solid, because my neighbors were smart enough to avoid the four hours of touring the Metroplex while trying to find a generator and just moved out of their houses for a couple of days. By the time I conceded the fight and decided I needed a hotel to sleep and work, everything at a reasonable rate was taken.

I’m not saying DoubleTree is unreasonable, I’m just saying it’s a rate I’m used to paying with an expense account, not out of my own pocket. By the time I booked, what they had available was a Junior Suite. Not the most inexpensive room in the building, but if you’re going to suffer, suffer in style.

I love this place. I would stay here all the time, but it seems silly to stay in a hotel two miles from your house, and I can’t afford it all the time.

The staff is great, room service is fast and on-time in the mornings, the WiFi works, and I have a view of East Dallas out my floor-to-ceiling windows. Suffering should always been like this.

I had the room to myself most of the time, since my wife declared she “wasn’t leaving the dogs.” I’m not sure if this was to remind me of my place in the hierarchy or make me feel guilty, but it’s very hard to make me feel guilty when I’m looking out a 10th floor window and I already know where I rank.

She did spend afternoons at the hotel, which made working a wee bit difficult. I’m not used to the person in the next cubicle laughing at Facebook videos and memes. Well, I was at one point, but I’ve been home-officed for so long, those memories faded.

The hotel even had enough outlets so we could plug in the REI battery backup unit so my wife could have power for a reading lamp at home. She didn’t need it as badly as the dogs, who are apparently now afraid of the dark. (Actually, they’re afraid of the normal noises in the neighborhood they usually don’t hear – so much for dogs’ vaunted hearing ability – because the windows aren’t wide open to get a breeze in the house.)

We did not have the famous Doubletree cookies because my wife is minimizing carbs and she was watching me. After we got everything set up in the room and she went home because “she wasn’t leaving the dogs”, I forgot to go back downstairs and get one. Or six.

Epilogue

Just after I booked the hotel, Oncor texted me that the power was back. After just enough time for me to start cursing and reading through the cancellation policy, they texted and said it was out.

The Oncor auto-text messages went from a specific time estimate to “We are reviewing damage in your area.We will provide an update when your power will return.” which is the marketing version of “Beats the fuck out of us. Ask one of the power guys from another state. They seem to know what they’re doing.”

My favorite text from them is “Your power is restored. Please reply “N” if it is not.” Don’t you know?

The power finally came back Wednesday, so I went home after work that afternoon to help throw out all the food in the refrigerator and the freezer.

I spent one last night at the hotel so I could do my homework and because I didn’t have much faith the power would actually stay on. Also, it was a nonrefundable rate. (At one point, our power was back and the house across the street was still out.)

MR-Ay-yi-yi

I hate most medical procedures. Let’s just get that fact out of the way. No matter how cool the technology is, they never let you look at the screens, so what’s the point?

I haven’t even had my MRI yet and it’s already been a bad experience.

The only person who hates tests more than I do is my wife which is why I need to keep her about sixteen miles away from me before I have a procedure done because there is a very good chance she’s done it before and there is an absolute chance she will be filled with the need to share all the negative, horrible things about it.

Now, she’s a horrible patient, so I can take most of it with a grain of salt, but I had to have an MRI this week and she got into my head before the machine did.

I’ve had three MRIs. When she had to have one, I really didn’t understand the whining and gnashing of teeth – but then I realized hers was on her shoulder (head-first into the machine) and my first one had been on my knee (feet-first into the machine.) She needs tranquilizers. I think tranquilizers are for sissies.

I’m not usually claustrophobic – except in really, really crowded spaces, say, an elevator on a cruise ship right after muster drill and before drinks are available.

I had an MRI on my neck a couple of years ago when my doctor thought I might have a blockage (no, I did not.) It was loud. They give you headphones and play music, but you can’t necessarily hear much other than the machine. The operator asked what I wanted to hear and I said, “Adele” which got a strange look, but my wife had been listening to her a lot and all her songs seemed about five minutes long, so I figured that would be a good way to estimate time in the tunnel. That assumed I could actually hear when one song ended and the next started. (That’s not a comment on Adele, it’s a comment on the noise level.)

I had an MRI on my brain last year when I was having a massive vertigo attack that people were hoping wasn’t a stroke, and it wasn’t pleasant, but it wasn’t that bad. It was loud. They put a cage around my head so I couldn’t move very much. That was very unpleasant. I kept suppressing the need to call out “Clarice”. I passed the time trying to guess what song was playing because it was much louder than the first one, and I just requested “Classic Rock”.

So, I had some trepidation about yesterday’s test, but it’s not like I haven’t survived it before. My wife had told them I needed a larger machine, but I didn’t really think it mattered much. I have a beer belly, not a beer head.

Ho ho ho.

The technician was very polite – he could have just said, “Wow. What a lardass. You’re never going to fit in here”, but he didn’t. He said, “They want me to give you an IV, but let’s just test this first and see how it goes.”

I got about two-thirds of the way in, and that was it. Wow. Panic attack. Claustrophobic attack. Give me some Valium. Stat.

He rolled me back out and said, “Yeah, you probably need the bigger machine. The front desk can get you scheduled at another facility that has one.”

So, here’s a question. You have some machines that are almost guaranteed to cause panic attacks in probably half the population, and larger machines everyone can use. Why do you still have small machines? (Yes, I know, they’re expensive, but still. If you’re not using them because prospective patients keep running [waddling] off in fear, you’re not making any income, anyway. Sell them cheap to a rival lab and get some Hungry-Man sized machines. Increase your business.)

Another question. Can’t you train the staff at the check-in desk (better yet, at the referring doctor’s office) to recognize the difference between, say, someone who enjoys food and a fashion model, and route them to the proper clinic?

I got the MRI rescheduled this morning for next Wednesday. Now, I have almost a week to remember I finally couldn’t handle an MRI. Almost a week to remember the Silence of the Lambs cage they put around my head. Almost a week of the wife saying, “Maybe you need Valium. Wait. They’re looking at brain function. Maybe you can’t have Valium. Wow. I really needed Valium for mine. It was horrible.” This may finally require drugs next time – and I swore I would never take drugs just for a stupid test.

I was originally rescheduled for Tuesday but then the scheduler noticed my neurologist wanted a 3T machine. There are 1.5T machines (T is Tesla, some weird unit of measurement) and 3T machines. 3T produce better images, faster. Why are the 1.5T machines still around? Can’t you sell them to the rival clinic and get the best ones? Can’t we speed up the depreciation? (Yes, I just passed my accounting class.)

So, I need the wide-bore 3T MRI machine. In layman’s terms, the lard-ass, high-quality machine.

So, I have a few days to think about getting rolled into a tube headfirst (with my head locked down) so they can shoot magnetic rays at me. Also, the same few days for my wife to remind me how horrifying an experience it is for her, and therefore, for the universe at large.

I may need Valium now.

Murphy James Gilhooly, 2006-2019

Murphy James Gilhooly was my puppy for almost thirteen years. As much as Ripley was supposed to be my dog, Murphy was my dog. It is very difficult to say “goodbye.” However, today we had to do so.

fullsizeoutput_1d45

We met Murphy after an East Lake Pet Orphanage Advisory Board meeting in early 2006. He was at least a year old at that point, but we’ll never really know, since he was adopted. The rest of the board said there was a gorgeous Cocker we just had to meet.

This should have set off warning bells.

The rest of the board assumed we would love a Cocker since we already had one, and they knew we had adopted an additional dog already. Most of them were pet fanatics, so what’s the difference between two and three dogs?

So, we went down to the adoption area to meet Java. As the staff opened his crate, a brown blur rushed out, straight into a glass window, and bounced off.

Then, he did it again.

This should have set off warning bells.

What really happened is that I thought, “This dog is so stupid, he deserves to live with us.”

I didn’t like “Java” as a name, since Java was a computer programming language I fought with every day t work, but I liked having a name that reflected his coloring. (The staff picked “Java” to mean “coffee”.) My first thought was “Guinness”, but he wouldn’t pass as an Irish Setter, so I had to find another Irish Stout. Murphy’s Stout, founded by James Murphy. So, reverse the name, and Murphy James was ready to come home.

Virginia still blames me for the adoption since I had him named before we left for home. However, this is not true because I had to get home first to look up Murphy’s Stout.

Murphy and Katie doing laps
Doing laps with Katie

Murphy actually accumulated names over the years. I’m not sure how it started, but by the end, he was Murphy James Elliott Macintosh McIlhenny Molanaphy Gilhooly, Esq. Elliott is my sister-in-law’s cat (with a slightly different spelling.) Macintosh is what I am typing this on. McIlHenny is the maker of Tabasco, which Virginia requires for her eggs. Molanaphy was a classmate of mine in grade school. I think. However, Murphy was pretty sure his first name was “Dammit.”

Before the adoption could go through, we took Bubba over to meet his potential new brother and they got along fine, so we signed the paperwork and Java became Murphy. I’m still not sure Murphy ever knew Bubba was a different dog. I have a feeling he always thought Bubba was his reflection, just a different color and doing different things. Murphy was not a Rhodes scholar.

The Graduate

Maybe he was a Rhodes Scholar

However, as much as Murphy’s intellegence has been questioned over the years, he is the only one of all of our dogs to graduate from puppy training. I’m still not sure how he did it, but he actually graduated. (They didn’t let him keep the hat.) He has a diploma (somewhere) to prove it.

Murphy drove my sister-in-law Mary crazy one visit while she was Mom and pet-sitting because he always wanted to be touching her. Most dogs want to be in proximity, but Murphy perferred direct contact. (He would sit pressed up to me on the couch.)

We had phone calls in France about “the brown one won’t stop touching me!”

That said, Murphy was the only one of our dogs Mary said she would take if something happened to us. So. maybe “annoying” eventually became “a certain charm.”

We’re not sure where Murphy actually came from – we know he began his rescue life abandoned and tied to a tree with his sister at the SPCA. He had chronic eye issues, so he was thought to be unadoptable. Luckily, East Lake Pet Orphanage took him and nursed him into shape, and then he met us – a couple who already had a dog with chronic eye issues. We knew how to do eye drops. Well, Virginia did.

Murphy had eye issues. He had allergies. He had bad skin. He blew out one of his ACLs before I blew out mine, then he blew out another one. He was basically the poster child for why breeders are often considered evil and why pure-breds are not always better. He had every issue Cockers were known to have. He had more specialists than I do, but he enjoyed car rides, and he loved his vets, no matter what they did to him.

His biggest problem was his food allergies, since it meant we couldn’t put his pills in bread or hot dogs or Pill Pockets, like normal dogs. His hunting instinct was pretty much useless on anything other than medications hidden in his food, and finding cookies in his eye doctor’s lab coat pockets. By the end, Virginia was making grilled chicken, grinding it up, and putting his pills in chicken. Maybe he wasn’t that dumb.

Peanut Butter

Somebody get this peanut butter off my tongue!

He also could not easily be distracted. One of the vets said that when we had to give him a allergy shot, we should just distract him with a spoonful of peanut butter. A normal dog would start licking the peanut butter off the spoon, and never notice the shot. Murphy would ignore the peanut butter until he had been given the shot, and then lick it off.

The one time I had to take him to visit one of his specialists alone, we were lead to an exam room and he immediately pooped on the floor. A lot. So, I asked, “Uh, did you guys need a stool sample today?” The vet tech said, “No”, so I said, “Then we need some paper towels. And a mop. And a gas mask.”

Murphy wrote our family Christmas newsletter before Rocky took over. It was vastly more popular than the ones I wrote. Murphy got a thank-you note from my Aunt. Hand-written. In the mail. The next year, Murphy wrote about how my sister-in-law was “cheap with the treats” and started a firestorm with my in-laws. Virginia had to remind them Murphy didn’t actually write the newsletter.

Murphy was a good dog, but they’re all good dogs. I’ve had some hesitations about adding dogs to our household with almost all of our dogs. My only hesitation with Murphy was I wasn’t going to call him “Java.”

Cocker Guards
Murphy and Bubba, guarding the yard

He was the happiest dog I have ever known.

Godspeed, Murph. We’ll see you on the other side. I hope Heaven doesn’t have a glass door.

around-the-far-curve_453034438_o

History of a (Lost) Flight

It takes two days to drive from Cedarville to Dallas (with an overnight stop), so this was still faster, but it’s interesting how long it took American to just say, “We’re not flying this plane back to Dallas.”

We were on American flight 1492 from Columbus (ha!) to Dallas, and the plane was in a bit late, but everything looked good.

Then, the new crew did a walk-around, and the Captain called Maintenance. Run-Roh. That’s never good.

The gate agent assured us it wasn’t a big deal, everything was fine, but the Captain didn’t want to board us while they were doing paperwork. So, just relax, everything’s going to work out.

A bit later, she said, it wasn’t a big problem but they weren’t sure if everyone or only some or nobody was flying to Dallas. Hmm. The non-problem seems to have worsened. What would cause a plane to hold less people?

I found all the texts I got while we were at the gate, attached below. Basically, every fifteen minutes, you got a text moving the flight out fifteen minutes. This is silly, especially if the flight has not arrived yet. If a flight arrives late, it will depart about forty-five minutes after it finishes unloading, unless they can’t get a slot to take off. Minimum.

Here’s the annoying part – all the systems (gate agent, app, text messages) are slightly out of sync. You can’t really depart at 3:15pm if it’s 3:17pm and the plane hasn’t arrived yet. I’m pretty sure the gate agent knew the flight was canceled before she finally announced it wasn’t officially canceled yet, but it wasn’t going to depart.

So, after looking at the plane just sitting at the gate for a couple of hours, and listening to ever more disturbing and cryptic announcements, I called the AAdvantage Gold Desk (one time being lifetime Gold helps) and asked for alternatives. I said I thought the flight I was on was about to be canceled. The only other American flight was sold out. The agent offered to just move us to Delta, but that meant a connection in Atlanta, which adds hours of travel. Still, it seemed better than a hotel at the airport and flying out the next day, so I took it.

It occurred to me later that either she moved us to another airline out of the goodness of her heart or she already knew the flight had been canceled. As far as the rest of the people at the gate knew, we were still leaving – or some of us were. We were safe, to a certain extent.

We got to see a small part of Hartsfield International Airport and discovered the seats are better on Delta. (We also got delayed out of Columbus after there was a ground stop in Atlanta, which cut into our connection time.)

We saw a few people from the gate on the Delta flight with us, so we weren’t alone. We were just first, and I didn’t have to stand in line at the gate to negotiate a switch.

I would love to know what was wrong with the plane, especially as it had just flown up from DFW.

Text updates are generally helpful because they will tell you your gate changed before the gate agent announced it, or before you look around and notice you’re alone. However, the sequence of texts for a cancellation is just sad.

Getting Ready to Go

Reminder: Flight AA1492 CMH-DFW on Jun22, 2:45 PM out of Gate B19. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 ON TIME
Arrives DFW 4:20P Gate A10 Bag A15
Departs 2:45P
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

At the Airport, at the gate, no plane.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:10 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:10P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 4:47P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

The Plane has just arrived, so we’re boarding 100+ people in ten minutes?
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:25 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:25P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:02P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

If we start boarding ten minutes ago, we might make this.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 3:45 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:45P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:22P Gate A10 Bag Claim A15
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

Thinking this is a doomed flight.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 3:55P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:32P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

I called the Gold Desk.
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 4:20 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:20P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 5:57P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

On Hold with the Gold Desk
Flight AA1492, CMH-DFW on Jun22, departure time has changed. New time of departure is 4:35 PM. Check airport monitors for updates.

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:35P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 6:12P Gate A36 Bag Claim A29
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 4:35P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 6:12P Gate C4 Bag Claim C4
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

At this point, we were rebooked.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 Departs CMH 6:00P Gate B19
Arrives DFW 7:37P Gate C4 Bag Claim C4
WiFi avail onboard
Reply HELP for Help
Reply STOP to Cancel

Good thing we took the Delta flights. Look at that line forming.
FLYAA Info
AA1492 22Jun 6:00P CMH to DFW is
CANCELED.
Please call 800-433-7300 for assistance.
Local rates apply outside U.S.
http://www.aa.com/PHONE for help

Uh, I haven’t driven it much

So, this is probably a contender for the ultimate White People Problem, but my car wouldn’t start, so I had to call for help. I am the first to admit I’m not mechanically-minded, so in times of crises, like warning lights turning on or off on the dash, or cars not starting, I find a professional.

My car is a 2017 Ford Fusion that we got specifically so I would have something to drive to the office, and then (as you may recall) my office got eliminated. So, it hasn’t gotten nearly the usage we expected. In fact, the insurance company kept calling me to tell me their tracking device (that gave me a policy discount) obviously needed replacement because it wasn’t sending any data.

So, the Fusion has been resting quietly in the driveway. For some time.

It rested so long, that when I finally needed it, I couldn’t get into the car.

What I mean is that the automated key clicker-thingie wouldn’t open the door, so I couldn’t get into it the easy way, and at that point, I didn’t know that there’s a secret old-school key hidden in the automated key clicker-thingie, so I was stuck.

Eventually, I found the secret manual key documented on YouTube, but I was afraid I was pushing too hard on the secret manual key (to pry off the secret manual cover), so I gave up.

That was a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been to Ohio and back. Actually, we’ve been a lot of places, but since Virginia is usually with me, we just take her car (which used to be my car.)

So, I’m not really sure when I drove it last, but it’s been a while. I could estimate it, but my attorney has advised against it.

Hey, I lost my job, I’ve been looking for a new one, I was accepted as a SCORE volunteer mentor, we’ve been on a couple of trips, the Spousal Unit had surgery. I’ve been busy.

Let’s just say it’s been a while.

So, I assumed the battery was dead. When the automated key clicker-thingie didn’t work, that confirmed my assumption to me. That is the extent of my automotive debugging skills. It was time to consult a professional.

It occurs to me that if we had driven it to Ohio, my son (who is not a mechanic, but is amazing with tools) probably could have fixed it, but if we could have driven it to Ohio, there wouldn’t have been anything to fix.

So, I called AAA. Well, I filled in the online form. Then, I remembered the last time I had a dead battery, the mechanic sold me a new one, so I canceled the call. Then, I called Ford Roadside Assistance, since their new battery would be under my warranty. I hoped.

I’m not really sure why I have AAA when Roadside Assistance comes with our cars, but so it goes. Call both, have them race to the house. I’m pretty sure some mechanics work for both, anyway.

Ford Roadside Assistance is great. The 800-number texts you for the address, so you don’t have to read the address to a voice-recognition system. The operator can figure out much of your life from the last eight digits of the VIN. They text you a URL where you can track the tow truck from when it is dispatched until your injured car arrives at the dealer.

They dispatched someone to tow my car in, which seemed like overkill, but having just been to the ER and then admitted overnight for a vertigo attack, I’m used to overkill.

When the mechanic called to verify the address, he said he’d just jump it first, since it sounded like a dead battery. (Dead battery, you say? Maybe I should be a mechanic!)

So, this should be simple.

However, it’s my life. Simple, it is not.

The mechanic was a lovely gentleman who managed to get the secret key to remove the secret cover, and got the driver’s door open. When I told him I was afraid it would break, he laughed in that not-at-all-condescending mechanic laugh, and told me I couldn’t break it.

Sir, may I remind you that you are standing in front of a broken car to which I have done nothing?

(I didn’t say that, because I still needed him on my side.)

With the door open at last, we could try to start the car, which didn’t work, as expected. I was afraid he was going to show me a secret way to use the secret key when the push button didn’t work, but either there isn’t one, or he spared me.

So, once in the car, we popped the hood.

Hmm.

He said, “This car has not run in a long time.”

So, I admitted it may have been a short while since last usage.

He said, “You know how I can tell? Look at those nuts in here.”

It really helps if you’re familiar with the Southern/Texan African-American accent, because the soft lilt of horror is what makes this conversation the fun ordeal it was.

I looked where he was pointing. These were not “nuts and bolts” nuts. These were pecans.

“They’ve been chewing on some of these wires. Something was livin‘ in here.”

Pause.

“I don’t know if this will jump. I can’t tell if any of these wires have been chewed through.”

Pause.

“See where these are chewed?”

Pause.

“If this jumps at all, you’re very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

So, now I’m ashamed, and I started quietly removing the half-chewed pecans and empty shells from the platform in front of the battery. I’m beginning to understand why there didn’t seem to be as many squirrels in the yard this winter.

He attached the jumper cables, and the car started right up.

“You got very lucky.”

I nodded.

Very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

More shame duly noted.

So, he ran it until there was enough of a charge for the “Check Engine” light to come on, and then he decided towing it would be the best course of action.

I think he really just wanted to give the car some quality time away from me.

It’s at the dealer now. If he’s a character witness, I may never see the Fusion again.

On the other hand, I drove it from the driveway to the front of the house, so he could drive it onto the flatbed. (In his not-at-all-condescending voice, he said, “I’ll take it from here” as I pulled up next to the flatbed.) So, when the dealer asks the last time I drove it, I can just say, “Today.”

On the Walk of Shame back from the car, my flip-flop strap broke. Yes, I blew out my flip-flop, without even stepping on a pop-top. Broken Flip-Flop

So, now I can’t walk or drive.

At least, there’s Uber.

*** Update ***

The “rodent” chewed through the windshield washer fluid reservoir. It is called a “reservoir” because you can’t, in good faith, charge $337 for a plastic jug. Rodent damage is not covered by the warranty.

Worse news? Apparently, the squirrel in question needs braces.

The investigation continues. For $74. So, if they’re charging, you know they’ll be finding. More updates as available.

*** Update #2 ***

He chewed through the coolant reservoir, as well. So, we’re past $700 now, but at least if I see a stoned squirrel, I will have the suspect.

Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce

So, I spent the night in the hospital last night, just so I could be reminded than Bono doesn’t know how to count to four in Spanish.

I’m in a place called Vertigo.

In the beginning, on Tuesday evening, we went to see Noel Gallagher (I’m pretty sure Noel couldn’t count in Spanish unless he learned the expletives first) down at the Majestic. Pretty good show, but as we were driving home, I felt a little dizzy. As I was driving, I decided mentioning this would not be a good idea.

Had this been a concert in my college days, I would have suspected various fumes in the concert hall, but you can’t smoke anymore and I didn’t have my usual drink, so that wasn’t it.

Had dinner, felt a bit better, made it home, everything seemed to have passed.

Murphy woke me up just before six to visit the yard, and I couldn’t walk straight. I was staggering around the bedroom, and I needed to find something to hold onto just to walk a straight line.

Here’s the definition of being old: my first thought was not, “I’m walking like a drunk.” My thought was, “This is like being on a cruise ship in rough seas.”

On the bright side, we learned on a ship in rough seas, the rule is, “One hand for you, one hand for the ship.” That helped getting around – even if we don’t have handrails all over the house. (Note to self: Handrails around the house.)

An hour later, Murphy woke me up again, and I was staggering again. Perhaps worse.

At this point, I was a bit freaked out. I didn’t have chest pains, so it probably wasn’t a heart attack. I could yell at Murphy without slurring my speech, so it probably wasn’t a stroke, unless yelling at the dogs is a learned reflex. What else is there?

After I woke up and explained to Virginia what was going on, she diagnosed the flu. This is because I religiously refuse to get a flu shot, so she is desperately hoping I will learn my lesson. Not by dying from flu (probably), but suffering a bit. OK, a lot. So, I could break a leg during flu season, and she would look at the protruding bone, and say, “See? Flu.”

Off to our family doctor. Of course, my doctor was out of town this week, so off to his Nurse Practitioner. We sat in the waiting room for a bit, while Virginia did my annual paperwork, which is six pages of crap without a “no changes” option. Rachael Ray was on the TV, making some eggplant dish, and it sounded like a compound butter or something. I was having trouble concentrating, actually. It’s just the third time she said “eggplant” in two minutes, I felt a twinge in the belly. I like eggplant, but the word has always disturbed me.

So, after another “eggplant”, she had a byproduct from the recipe you could “slather on toast.”

Slather.

That’s the evacuation word!

So, I puked into a handy trash can. Of course, I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, so it wasn’t very productive, but apparently, some of my beer belly is actually phlegm.

Note for the future: if the service at the doctor’s office seems particularly slow, puke into a trash can. I was taken into an exam room almost immediately.

I like the Nurse Practitioner. She did a lot of checks in a very short time, was one of the first people to admit she couldn’t get test results as quickly as she would like, but she wanted tests to prove her non-diagnosis was correct.

She wanted tests, but knew she couldn’t get results as quickly as … the Emergency Room.

That’s where I had thought about going in the first place, so next time, I’ll eliminate the middle man.

I actually thought the Nurse Practitioner did a fab job, I just don’t like “probably nothing”, “just in case” and “life and death” in the same paragraph.

She wanted the tests to prove I wasn’t having the stroke she was pretty sure I wasn’t having.

Just working out the logic in that sentence will make some people start staggering.

Virginia asked if it could be the flu, with just a bit too much relish in her voice, and was told there was no possible way it was the flu. Ha!

Off to the ER. Luckily, it’s only one building over from my doctor’s office – but still the longest wheel-chair ride I’ve been pushed on.

I’m pretty sure I heard whimpering from behind me on the uphill parts of the ride.

The ER did some early checks just to make me think everything was progressing because this was an emergency, and then they sent me to the waiting room to remind me I’m not really that important. Or dying (hopefully.)

After the mandatory wait period (and a nap in the waiting room), I was taken back to a room. We had to wait for Virginia to come back from the vending machines before we went back. I wonder if she had gone for snacks earlier, the wait would have been shorter.

First, the mandatory question list, many of which were in the doctor’s list and the ER check-in list.

Then, an EKG – just like the one I’d had in the doctor’s office two hours before. Next, we wait for results.

At this point, I needed a potty break, so one of the nurses helped me stagger down the hall and back.

Then, off for a CAT scan. I would have mentioned I had three dog scans before I left the house, but I was too tired.

I always wonder about tests where the administrators all have to leave the room, and they’re pointing something at your head, or rolling your head in a tube.

Still, CAT scans are very pleasant compared to an MRI. Well, except for the contrast dye they put through an IV, so you feel like you wet your pants.

So, you wait for the CAT scan to get scheduled, then wait to get it done, and then you wait for the results.

After the results came back negative for a stroke, I figured I was ready to go home. The last time I was dizzy with a good CAT scan, I was freed.

Unfortunately, I needed another potty break. This time, the nurse just pointed me down the hall, but I knew where it was, so that was fine. Hands on the wall all the way down.

However, while staggering back to my room, I passed the nurses’ station where the doctor was talking to someone. She saw my graceful ballet steps, and decided she really wanted an MRI, after all.

Ugh.

So, time to sit and wait for scheduling again.

In the meantime, I learned an interesting side effect if I sat up too quickly.

I puked again.

This time, there were puke bags available, so I didn’t need to use the trash can. However, the official hospital puke bags have measurements on the side, so while you’re puking, the patient in you is thinking, “Please stop! This is gross!” and the competitor in you is thinking, “Come on! You can do 500ml easy!”

After that incident, I was given anti-nausea drugs. Afterwards? Really?

Off to the MRI, my least-favorite test of all, and that includes my eighth-grade Spanish final.

For those who have never had the pleasure, an MRI is a large tube that you are slid into so they can take photos or sound images or police sketches – I’m not really sure what comes out, except it always takes a half-hour and you’re strapped down, you can’t move and you have a panic button. Any time you’re given a panic button, it means it is so bad, somebody needed one, and it wasn’t installed yet. I assume that person died of fright. Lovely.

The MRI guys all have the same soothing speech: “This is the panic button. Press it, and I’ll get you right out. Even if you’re just a couple of minutes from the end. Of course, if you come out early … we have to start from the beginning.” So, basically, your one way out is a really bad option. Fun.

They have headphones with music to drown out the noise of the machine. The headphones are the equivalent of your wife whispering to you as the Blue Angels fly over your head. Three feet over your head. And your wife is in the next county.

The good thing about the music is you spend so much time trying to figure out what bloody song is playing, that the time does pass rather quickly.

I assume they don’t turn the music up since loud noises can hurt your ears. Wait.

This was my third MRI. My first was on my knee, and I didn’t understand my wife’s fear and hatred of them – but then I realized I had gone in feet first. My second was the last time I was having dizzy spells, and that was quite different, as in worse, but is was an OpenMRI (code for “chubby or claustrophobic patients”), and it was delayed a while because the patient before me was having panic attacks. Maybe they didn’t explain about the panic button.

This was an old-school MRI – and when I was wheeled into the room, I noticed a couple of braces in the machine. Hmm.

Virginia had asked if they had an OpenMRI, and was told “No”, but was assured I would fit. She was talking about the claustrophobic group – the chubby group is just a bonus.

So, I lay back on the platform, and was asked if I wanted to listen to music. Sure. On go the headphones.

Warm blanket? Yes, please.

Pillow under my knees? Yes, please.

I have learned that if someone in a hospital offers you something, just accept it. There’s a reason it’s an option.

Why is he being so nice?

Ah, the braces.

So, the operator started putting the head cage in place. “Clarice?”

So, let me get this straight. You’re putting me in a tube for a half-hour where I can’t move, you’ve wrapped in a blanket like an Irish burrito and now you’re going to lock my head down. Where is this panic button of which you spoke?

Placing the cage was one thing. Screwing it down was just excessive. The OpenMRI people just took my word when I said I wouldn’t run. They didn’t screw my head down.

I survived by trying to calculate how far (and fast) Virginia would have run when she saw the cage coming down.

The music starts. “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Really? The first line is:

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Interesting way to start a half-hour sliding around in a loud tube.

Plus, in the middle of it, I had contrast dye pushed down my IV. Lovely. At least it was just a warm sensation, not like the CAT scan “wet your pants” dye.

I had asked for Classic Rock. This was a bad choice. Last time, I asked for Adele, not because I particularly love Adele, but because she has a lot of five minute songs, so it was easy to predict how far along I was.

Eventually, the rack slid me out. I didn’t believe it at first, since there were other times where it would back out slightly and then plunge me further into the tube. I could see out the other end (as promised), once I learned to squint around the cage.

Mainly, I kept my eyes shut. A non-metallic rosary would have been appreciated.

Still, I slid out, my head was freed, and I was told they had “gotten a lot of good pictures.” Well, that’s good, especially if that means I don’t have to start over.

Back to my room, where I realized I had forgotten my glasses and seasick patch. They took the patch off, since it has aluminum in it, and it could “heat up” in an MRI.

When they mentioned the tiny circular patch could “heat up”, I understood why they had asked if I had a penile implant. Ouch.

After the missing items were recovered, Virginia said I was being admitted.

So, family doctor to ER to hospital. A medical double-play.

Now, I’m waiting for results and a new room assignment.

The MRI results? No stroke.

In the hospital room, I had yet another questionnaire to complete. So, this time, when asked if I had any chronic pain, I just pointed at Virginia and asked, “Besides her?” The nurse laughed so hard, I got a three-minute break. (I can’t believe I’m the first husband to say that. It’s such a great setup line.)

It was a nice room, but I now had a PulseOx monitor on one hand, and an IV in the other arm. So, potty breaks require assistance just to unplug everything.

The nursing staff was great. They got my nighttime drugs, got me ice chips, got me pretty much anything I needed. It may have helped that I was in a staging room and at that point, I was the only patient in the area.

I even got a CPAP so Virginia didn’t have to retrieve one from home. A CPAP is great, not only because it keeps me alive, but because it is an obvious signal (the mask) that you’re trying to sleep. It doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get poked when you get poked, but still.

At this point, Virginia went home to tend to the dogs and get some sleep.

(Of course, when she stayed in the hospital overnight after her shoulder surgery, I went to walk the dogs, and went back to stay with her. She just stayed home. I’m a giver. It’s what I do.)

I woke up at one point, rolled over, and ten minutes later, alarms went off. Loud alarms. Why is it illegal to sleep on my left side? Apparently, I had slept on my IV and cut off the flow. Oops. Right side sleeping only.

I slept well, considering, until someone came in to draw blood.

Back to sleep, until someone else needed more blood.

Don’t they have blood in a hospital? Why do they need so much of mine?

I finally gave up on sleep about 7am, which was good, since the day nurse came in to check on me and introduce herself.

She showed me the menu for breakfast. The diabetic menu. I didn’t know I was diabetic, but I was starving. The omelet was very good. The sausage sucked. The toast was one whole slice, because, diabetes. The apple slices had more carbs than anything, because, tasty. The iced tea was in the same size cup my dentist uses when he asks me to rinse.

Still, very tasty, given it was my first food in 30-something hours.

Virginia arrived in time for physical therapy.

I changed clothes. This was the longest either of us had been in a hospital without wearing a gown.

I guess “Well, he’s just here for tests”, followed by “Well, he’s just being observed” means no gown required. Maybe they were selling all my blood to buy more gowns, and the new supplies hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe I have cooties, but it wasn’t on my chart.

With the physical therapist, I got to answer more questions and I got to walk with a belt around me, held by the therapist. Not awkward at all. She said I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was.

With the occupational therapist, I got to hang my head over the side of the bed so she could move my head around and see if she could determine where the issue was. (I think she was secretly disappointed I didn’t puke, since she had warned about it.)

The fun part of the occupational therapy session was the explanation of the condition I might have – BPPV (Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.)

Here’s the short version, and this is from memory, but I’m not making this up: there are three concentric circles in the inner ear which have hairs in them (probably cilia, but who’s counting?) On the hairs are crystals. The hairs move as you do, and the crystals help keep you in balance. I was thinking “cheap gyroscope.”

To hear someone with a beautiful Southern lilt say, “If the crystals fall off the hairs, due to injury or accident, you will have balance issues, and that’s vertigo.”

Crystals falling off hairs?

Is this like having your chakras out of alignment?

Is this just bullshit because I can’t handle the truth?

Existential thought, which meant I missed some of her lecture:

How drunk was our Creator?

“Let’s see. We could just have a small bone balancing on another one, or We could have a bunch of hairs in a circle of goo with crystals balancing on them in both ears, so you have to check two places.”

“Oh, and if one of the crystals falls, you can turn the patient’s head from side to side and see if his eyes start beading.”

Even Virginia could see my eyes whipping around.

After she left, we had lunch. The person on the phone has hearing problems because my turkey was tuna salad. She probably has bad crystals or something.

So, I’m in a place called Vertigo.

I’m home now. I never wore a gown. I’m learning to stop standing up quickly.

I’m trying to rebalance my crystals.

Next week, I see my doctor, and remind him the interesting stuff always happens when he’s out of town. Then, I will ask him for a crystal referral.

Kick ‘em when they’re down

A job search is a very painful process when you’re an old, white guy who has spent the last 19 years inside the same company (especially when the company is often an industry punching bag.) So, I should be used to rejection letters by now. I usually don’t mind rejection letters that much, since at least it’s closure, and it’s a chance to think, “I didn’t want to work there, anyway.” With today’s automated application systems, much of the time, your application and resume just go into the bit bucket and you never hear anything at all.

However, some rejection letters are really unnecessarily detailed. Like today’s.

I got an email from a corporate recruiter last week, thanking me for my application (I actually thought I was a reasonable fit for the job), and asking me for some times for us to discuss the position. (I was lucky I saw it, since it was in my spam folder, but I check my spam all the time because I can’t afford to lose a lead.)

It got my hopes up. I should know better by now, but hope spring eternal.

So, I replied, and heard nothing. It’s not a mega corporation, so I thought, “His mail went in my spam folder, maybe mine went in his.” So, I replied again.

This morning, I got a reply.

I reviewed your resume with the manager and compare to the job description and requirements we decided to not move forward.  This system email was sent in error.

Ouch.

So, rejected before the screening call. A new low.

I’m not really sure why this hurt more than the others. I’ve gone through three levels of interviews in before getting rejected twice, but this one really hurts.

I think it’s the implicit “we were wasting our time reviewing your resume.” After all, the erroneous system email was the bright, cheery note that asked me for available times to chat.

So, their applicant system failed twice. First, it told them they might give a shit about me, and then it told me they might actually give a shit about me.

They don’t give a shit about me.

For any other recruiters who may be reviewing my resume, I really don’t need two reasons why I was rejected for your company. Just one is plenty, and is one more than the apparent industry standard of zero. Also, if your system is sending emails in error, an apology would be nice. You’ve wasted my time now.

I sent a “thank you for letting me know” note, but I really wanted to say, “If you would like someone to come review your recruiting system to determine why it’s sending emails to obviously unqualified candidates, please just let me know.”

Also, I wanted to say, “If your system email is a bright, cheery, personalized email from your internal recruiter, but the core system can’t accurately match candidates to positions, you’re customizing the wrong part of the system.”

The search continues.

Has any Italian ever written a complete recipe?

There’s a story one of my nieces tells about her Grandmother (aka my late Mom-in-law who defeated the Instant Pot from the Great Beyond earlier this week.) She was making Grandma’s Baked Beans, and followed the recipe but they didn’t taste right. She called Grandma for advice, and they walked through the recipe over the phone. After the list of ingredients, Grandma asked, “What about the mustard?” My niece said, “What mustard?” It wasn’t in the recipe, it was “implied.” Actually, everyone else knew it was in there, because everyone else in the family that made baked beans had learned by watching, not reading.

Now, I’m sure people are tired of hearing about my magical Instant Pot, but I made pot roast tonight. There were actually some free Instant Pot cookbooks for my Nook, so I just took the first recipe that I found, because it was short.

First thing, I scanned through the recipe to make sure we had all the ingredients (we did, for once) and that I could execute successfully while recovering from a stressful day (seemed possible.)

So, I began.

First, assemble all the ingredients. (I’m probably not experienced enough to say mise en place yet.) Once everything was assembled, I started browning the roast. The recipe said two tablespoons of olive oil. I begin wondering about the author. That’s not enough to cover the bottom of the pot, and everybody knows you need at least that much. So, I eyeballed it. (If I ever write a cookbook, I’m going to use “Chuck Roast” as my nom de plume.) (Two French phrases in one paragraph? Really?)

After the meat was browned, the recipe said to take it out and sauté the onions. Then, add the tomato paste and mushrooms, and continue stirring. Done.

Add the broth, put the roast back in, seal it, bring it up to pressure, cook for an hour. Second existential crisis. You can’t pressure cook on sauté mode. When was I supposed to have turned it off?

I was in the middle of that step and the existential crisis when I noticed the potatoes, sitting lonely and abandoned on the counter. Hmm. Those must go in the pot eventually. Did I miss a step?

So, I re-read the recipe to that point. No potatoes, except in the ingredients. I read through the rest of the recipe. The last step was to “serve the gravy with the meat and potatoes.” Raw potatoes?

This was my “What mustard?” moment. (Jen, I now feel your pain.)

How was that step left out? Who wrote this? Why, look. The author is from Tuscany. This recipe is probably just copied from his Nana’s notebook.

I threw the potatoes in with the meat, after consulting with the wife, since we don’t like raw potatoes. Crisis averted, but I’m worried about the quality of the recipe and it’s almost ten dollars of meat, and the good delivery restaurants are closing. I hope the rest of this was right.

This was the longest pressure cook I’ve done to date. An hour at pressure, followed by a natural release (which took another 20+ minutes, then a fifteen minute rest with the lid off. (Natural release followed by a rest sounds kinda dirty, now that I think about it.)

Hmm. What was that about pressure cookers and time savings?

(Since I never made most of these things in a pressure-free environment, I’m really not sure if an hour and a half is good or bad.)

Come to think of it, I’ve often had the wife or dogs (or both) waiting on whatever I’m cooking, and they’re usually staring (or growling) at me, so I’ve always cooked under pressure. It’s just now I use a pressure cooker.

Gravy time. Add the water and flour (water? Wait. What water? How much water?) to the pot (Do you take the meat out first? What about the potatoes? Were they really supposed to be in there? Am I really mixing gravy around a three-pound roast?)

I asked the Spousal Unit for advice. She said “it must mean a slurry.” Shouldn’t it say a slurry, then? I’m assuming that’s what she learned from watching her Mom, not read.

Finally, I just pretended my Mom-in-law wrote the recipe and added some mustard.

Actually, I just fished the meat and potatoes out (fishing meat?), and made a basic gravy. It was decent, but it would have been better if I had cooked the flour first(or just used cornstarch.) I suppose that was implied, as well. Thanks, author’s Nana.

I need a new cookbook.

Mom-in-law 1, Instant Pot 0

My mother-in-law defeated my Instant Pot from the Great Beyond last night. She’s been gone almost ten years, but I’ve always been pretty sure she’s still watching us, and now I have proof.

My wife still has her right arm immobilized, so I’m still the chef of the house. Yesterday afternoon, the patient requested chili, so I got some ground beef from the freezer, and a couple hours later, when I started assembling ingredients, I discovered that was pretty much the only chili ingredient I had. Oops.

Plan B was goulash, but we were also missing ingredients for that.

My goal while I’m running the kitchen is to prove people can eat before 8pm and survive, so this was not looking good.

Finally, my wife said, “Make sauce.”

This is where my Mom-in-law comes in.

“Sauce” when I was growing up came in a jar, and it was called spaghetti sauce. My in-laws are New York Italians and sauce is a not in a jar. It is in a number of cans and cloves and shakers that have their contents combined in a large stockpot. It takes all day to make. All damn day. Also, it’s not “spaghetti sauce” because it’s not just for spaghetti – you use the same sauce for all kinds of pasta, on entrees, on bread for a snack, as a substitute for plasma in blood transfusions…

As an aside, for some people from the frozen North, sauce is called “gravy.” I grew up in Texas, where there is cream gravy for chicken-fried steak, enchilada gravy for enchiladas and brown gravy for everything else.

My mom-in-law lived with us for six years before she passed away, and the most upset she ever got was when Rachael Ray made sauce as part of a thirty-minute meal, adding beef stock to get that “all-day flavor”. She was more upset about half-hour sauce than she was the day one of the dogs peed on her walker. Twice. Pee? Slightly Annoyed. Sauce in a half-hour? Ballistic.

So, making sauce “quickly” put me on shaky ground, but I figured, I’m Irish, she should expect me not to know better, and it’s not like she’s haunting us or anything.

For the record, my mom-in-law’s sauce must cook for at least four hours, or it tastes “raw.” To me, sauce tastes like tomato and uncooked sauce also tastes like tomato, but I learned early on to not argue with her about cooking.

So, I was going to make sauce quickly (which is different than “quick sauce”), and my Instant Pot had never let me down in the two times I had used it. Plus, I was cooking for an invalid.

So, first step, brown the garlic. Then, brown the ground beef. Add the tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste. Stir it all up. Seal the pot.

Wait for the pot to come up to pressure, wait a half-hour, make some pasta, dinner is served.

“Beep!”

I had never heard a “beep” that just sounded unhappy.

The display said, “Burn.”

This is apparently a well-known issue, “the infamous Burn message.”

It means something is sticking to the bottom of the inner pot. (Thanks, Google.)

So, I opened the pot, stirred everything around, resealed and started again.

“Beep.” Burn.

Uh, Google?

So, something may be stuck. Check. There may not be enough “thin” liquid in the pot. Don’t stir in “heavy” liquids (like tomato paste.) Oops.

This was also when my wife mentioned she usually adds a can of water (28oz!) to her sauce. Hmm.. Water would be a very thin liquid. That would have been a helpful reminder a half-hour ago.

Let’s try this again. Scrape the bottom, add the water (note how close we are to the Maximum Fill line), stir all the heavy stuff to the top (consider that logic), seal and pray.

“Beep.” Burn.

I really should have learned to say, “Dammit” in Italian.

I admitted defeat. I moved all the raw sauce into a stockpot on the stove. Four hours later (after we had BBQ delivered), dinner was ready. For tomorrow.

So, “Burn” is apparently just short for “You will burn in Hell for trying to make sauce quickly.

I miss my mom-in-law. I might have had a bruise today, but she would have stopped the madness much sooner.

In the Hospital

So, I spent the night in the hospital last night. Not for me, for my wife.

She had shoulder surgery yesterday. The surgery went well, but she has a difficult time coming out of anesthesia. She told her doctor, she told her anesthesiologist, she told the nurses, she told the mailman (he was concerned), but it doesn’t matter. When she can’t wake up, people are amazed – because they are never the people she’s told.

In their defense, when a normal person, say me, has any day surgery that ends at 3:30pm, I will be coherent at 4:00pm, and out the door by 4:30pm – at the latest.

She will be out of surgery at 3:30pm, cranky by 4:30pm and barely awake at 7pm, assuming a good tailwind.

Here’s the issue: with more and more day surgery “hospitals”, they really want you out by six because they’re closing for the evening.

To get her out by six, surgery should have started last Tuesday.

So, her shoulder surgery started at 3pm, she was admitted to the hospital by 7pm and at 9pm, she was ordering Dominos because the cafeteria was closed. (Yes, they deliver to the hospital.)

I’m waiting to see the diagnosis for her admittance because I think it will be “couldn’t wake up.” Usually, “couldn’t wake up” in a hospital means people with paddles yelling “Clear!” and pressing on your chest and blowing in your mouth.

In this case, it was a nurse who had a bus to catch, and said, “If you can’t get up, we have to admit you.”

This is a stupid threat to make to someone who likes being waited on, and spends a lot of her spare time with various doctors.

It is a doubly stupid threat to make when the other person in the room is trying to postpone being the caregiver as long as possible.

So, she was admitted for “sleepiness”, and then she sent me off home to gather the four tons of supplies she doesn’t carry in her purse – which is probably what weakened her shoulder in the first place.

By the time I ate dinner, got home, walked the dogs, medicated the dogs, corralled the dogs, gathered up the four ton laundry list from the four corners of the house and got back to the hospital, it was after midnight, so I decided to just stay.

This gets many good husband points, and a crick in the neck.

I almost never sleep in a chair, except on Thanksgiving or in meetings, but the recliner was like a business class seat without the annoying person blocking the aisle.

I never use blankets on a plane, but when I woke up at four with my teeth chattering, I decided to make an exception.

(It turned out it was in the 60s in the room, so either the A/C works or the heat doesn’t.)

I slept like a baby, which is to say I woke up every couple of hours to pee and spent the rest of the time sobbing quietly, wrapped in my blankie.

So, it’s morning and we’re waiting for discharge papers. After that, we have to get the four tons of equipment I retrieved plus all of her new medical equipment home and unpacked.

Then, we set her up in a chair and teach the dogs, “No! Not on Mommy’s shoulder!”

Then, I’m taking a nap.