Thursday, January 28, 2010
A Day in Hell-sort of
Alarm clock goes off, gotta take the Basset Hound for her morning walk, before we scatter before the wind. Stick to a tight schedule, get all my stuff into the Celica, so that I can take the boy to school. The weather is much nicer, today, but the boy is going to a pajama party in school, today. I decide to turn on the car, and start the heater so that the boy won't be cold. As I turn the key, I remember that I better stop at the gas station to fill up the very empty tank. Also, that back left tire that has been leaking air for a month is low, again. Well, shit, at this point, I better take the boy to school, and then go to the gas station. I chase the boy out of the house and into the Celica. While he is buckling himself in ("I can do it ALL BY MYSELF, Dada!") the Celica's engine sputters and dies. OH MY GOD. I have been driving cars since 1984, and I have never, ever, EVER run out of gas. Only idiots do that, not me. I work in science.
Did I mention that both the wife and I have doctor's appointments this morning, at two distant locations?
The wife says, "Don't worry, I'll call AAA, you take the Tundra (The environmental antithesis of my Celica: she is 5'4" and drives a truck built for sweaty 8 foot tall construction workers, while at 5'9" and 273 lbs I wedge myself into a car designed for vegan Kamikaze pilots). Good plan. Despite the hiccup, the boy gets to school on time, so I stop at the gas station with one of those red plastic gas cans, and my tired middle-aged eyes are assualted by a Cadillac P.O.S. with tape in the windows. What exactly am I supposed to envy, Billy Bob?
Get home, the wife tells me that she called the mechanic, who instructed her in the fine art of re-starting fuel-injected engines. Apparently, the trick is to put in 1 or 2 gallons of gas, turn the key, but do not start the engine. Leave the key like this for 2 minutes. Repeat. After the third repition, start the car. Voila. Apparently, doing this tricks the car into sucking fuel all the way up the fuel line. Excellent. Now I will almost get to my 9:00 doctors appointment on time , with the girl in tow. Remarkably, we get there on time.
Done at the doctor's office (he doesn't think I have what I thought I had, but took a sample, and sent it off to a special lab that will take 6 weeks to tell us what they think). Go pick up the boy, and off we go to the hospital where I work on the weekends, so that I can get re-trained on how to use the hospital's billing system.
Previous weekend, I didn't unclick the 80 year old lady's name on the list when I clicked the 23 year old girl's name, and charged both of them for the same chest x-ray. Once I did it, I couldn't undo it. Of course, when do mistakes like this occur? Ten o'clock at night, when there is no one around to help me fix it. Blondie that I am, I forgot to leave a note for the day crew, when there are clerks who know how to do these things. After the training, I sign papers that inform me that billing errors of this magnitude may lead to castration, after which I will be forced to watch re-runs of Survivor. A fate worse than death. Out in the parking lot, the girl holds my hand as we walk toward the Celica (full gas tank & inflated tires), and I hear these small brown birds making bizarre sounds. What the hell are those? Sparrow-shaped, but their call is unlike any North American bird that I know. I get the Swearoffskis out of the trunk. Bingo. Nutmeg Mannikins. Native to some place in the Pacific Ocean where men wear skirts and walk barefoot. They (the mannikins, not the barefoot islanders) have been spreading along California's rivers, creeks, and lakes. Another non-native introduced species.
Off we go to to Monrovia. First stop will be The Fountain Pen Shop. I don't know why I torture myself in this way. Unlike all of the other "real" fountain pen shops in California or elsehwere, they don't put pictures on their website of new & used pens for sale. The place is owned by a cranky old guy. First time I walked in there a year ago, they were playing Rush Limbaugh at full volume in the shop. In the shop. The pre-requisite Ronald Reagan in a Cowboy Hat portrait smiled down at me. I literally almost turned around and walked out without talking to them. I figured, "Hey, I'm already here. I might as well see what they got." Wound up buying a mid 1950s Parker 51. This was after I convinced the owner's wife or sister ("My mother! My sister! My mother AND my sister!") to stop watching Dr Phil with her back turned to me.
This time, we walked in (me and the kids) and I looked at the Pelikans. I've been thinking about the M200 Blue Demonstrator. Mother-sister kept her "screw the customer" position, back turned to us, while she watched The Food Network. I guess they really don't want to sell anything here, do they? Holding it in my hand, I see that the blue demonstrator is not as classy-looking as it is in the catalogues they mail me, or on the web sites. The plastic looks inexpensive. Not cheap, not shoddy, but certainly not worth the $88 the various web sites want for it. Standing there in the shop, I look at the sticker on the pen. $110, a mere $22 more than the web-based shops. Hell no. I would pay maybe $45 for this pen, retail. The M400 black-on the other hand-looks exactly like what I expect a high-end Pelikan to look like. It isn't just esthetics, or the M400's gold nib vs the M200's stainless steel nib. The M400 is made of better quality plastic called acrylic resin. I'll have to save up for it.
Okay, I left something out: The day before we went, I emailed the old guy, and asked him to match the other on-line shops' price of at or near $88. I politely explained that I understood that he might have difficulty matching the price if he has a real shop vs the virtual shops on the web, that don't pay rent for their shop space. He never answered. While I was in the shop, I didn't tell him that I'm the guy who wanted a discount. I didn't want him to call me a hippie or a commie, or even worse: a commie hippie.
We leave for the bank. The wife calls and says she has been in the doctor's parking lot (her 2nd appointment, at another location), listening to music so long that she has killed the battery. I ask her "Do you have your AAA card?" She says, "Yes." Okay, good luck.
We drive north on Myrtle, and find that it's been blocked off by cops. Sitting in the car, I use the Swearoffskis to look down the street. SWAT Team carrying assault rifles. Bomb squad truck. Two helicopters hover overhead. The cop in the intersection catches me using the binoculars, and unsnaps his holster. He walks closer, and sees the kids strapped in the back seat. Okay, this guy's just a lookie-loo. He walks back to the patrol car.
"Okay," I think, "I'll just drive around the neighborhood to get to my bank. After a Machiavellian series of right turns, it appears that in fact my bank is being robbed. Great. Today I found out that it wasn't my bank, it was the bank next to my bank. Well, that's a relief.
Okay, let's go up the hill into the base of the mountains, to look for the Painted Redstart at Monrovia Canyon Park. Stop at what I think is the Nature Center (wrong!). No Painted Redstart. Also, no playground for small children, which leads to screams of "Dada you said we could play in the playground!" accompanied by tears streaming down cheeks. We get out of the car, and the kids clamber up two boulders, sticks in hand, where they proclaim, "Ahoy, matey. I'm the pirate captain!" for half an hour while I search fruitlessly for the Painted Redstart. Back in the car, we keep driving uphill, and run across Ranger Rick, who not only is wearing the same radioactive Luminox watch as me, but also the same Buck Knife. He tells me where the nature center really is. I drive forward on a stunningly beautiful road in a steep, wooded canyon with oaks and pines along a mountain stream. This time, I park at the real nature center. At first, there are neither a Painted Redstart, nor the previously reported Hairy Woodpeckers.
Well, this day certainly hasn't turned out as planned. No Pelikan Blue Demonstrator for me, no bank business taken care of, and now, no birds. What's that honking noise? Geese? Nah...can't be. This canyon is way the hell too steep for geese to walk around. The honking gets louder, and I look up. Two hundred fifty Snow Geese fly right overhead, in a drawn-out V formation. Wow, even if I don't see the Hairy Woodpeckers or the Painted Redstart, that was worth it. To see a flock of over 200 Snow Geese in suburban L.A. County is a very big deal. Then I hear a Hairy Woodpecker up-slope. Then I hear another one behind me. And another one. And another one. Two more. One of them poses beautifully on the trunk of a pine tree. Then I hear the Painted Redstart, who works his way down the canyon, cruising right by me.