2/25/10

Winter can (snow)blow me.

When you have 33 inches of freshly fallen, heavy, wet snow in your 200 foot-long driveway, and haven't had electricity for 14 hours, this is not how you want your snow blower to be:


Unfortunately, you are looking at the state of my snow blower at approximately 7 pm last night.

The day before, I had noticed that this giant behemoth monster snow-thrower (that I bought with my approximate life savings two winters ago) was kind of laying down on the job and not so much "throwing" as it was "dribbling." Whereas it used to throw snow to the other side of the street, now what it was doing was more akin to what a baby does when it doesn't like its creamed spinach, or what toothpaste looks like coming out of the tube or -- well, I'll just stop right there because you are all perverted and you will take it to weird places in your collective heads. It seemed ok as long as I wasn't pushing it hard and it wasn't under load. As I was taking tiny little nibbles at the snow bank to avoid jamming the chute, I thought, Well, the snow is really heavy and sticky so what can I really expect? and then I realized I was making excuses for my man-machine. (It's not the first time, and it won't be the last.)

After about the 5th time the chute plugged up and I had to stop it and manually eject a solid tube of slush with my frozen hand, I decided that there was no way that this is how it should work, regardless of how heavy the snow was. Something was clearly wrong in the underpants of my snow blower. I sighed and broke out the wrenches.

I flipped it up into the sad position you see it in the picture, and unbolted some stuff. I've never had it apart before, but when I looked in there I could see that the drive belt was loose and partially shredded, so using all of my mechanical aptitude in one fell swoop, I deduced that was the problem. After a few more minutes of poking and prodding, I managed to get the old belt off. I knew that I didn't have a shot at finding an Ariens dealer that was open, so I did what anyone would do in my shoes. I went to Lowes. I reasoned a belt is a belt is a belt, and they sell snow blowers so what the hell. I planned on going there first, and then hitting the auto parts store on the way home if I didn't have any luck.

When I walked in the door at Lowes, it looked like a someone had chucked a cow carcass in a piranha pond. You'd think it was a one-day sale at Macy's or something. Apparently, there were a lot of people who had shitty snow blowers at home. Who knew? Lowes had a guy standing at the door acting as the Blower Greeter. As far as I could tell, his entire job consisted of asking people "Snow blower parts?" and then pointing them down the aisle to another guy standing in front of two metal shelving units full of nothing but shear pins and snow blower belts of all sizes. He took one look at me standing there holding my owners manual and old, cracked belt, and he just pointed and said, "See the guy in the red."

"The guy in red" was a little confusing since Hello? All the fucking Lowes employees wear red and there were about 4 or 5 of them standing around in this crowd of people. So I headed for the guy in red who was yelling like a short order cook taking orders on a busy lunch shift.

I walked toward him, and from ten paces away he made eye contact with me and demanded, "Belt or Shear pin?" I held up my disgusting belt in my blackened paw. "Manufacturer and Model Number!" He caught me off-guard so I said, "Uhhhhhh...." and that was it. He was on to the next guy. "Make and model!" "MTD! Model 2810, Tecumseh engine!" someone yelled back. The snow blower savant would then roll his eyes up into his head, and yell out things like, "V-groove, MTD28PD!" and one of the other guys would grab the correct belt and toss it to the customer. It was a sight to behold. He was the Rain Man of Snow blowers.

As I stood there with my belt in my hand and my thumb up my ass, I realized something: The belt supply was quickly diminishing. I ran over and started pawing through them like Tallahassee looking for a Twinkie in a sea of Snowballs. Since they were all made for models of snow blowers that I didn't own, I was really just hoping to find one that was close. I knew my old one was stretched out and too big, so I was trying to find one slightly smaller. I just eyeballed one from the dwindling supply, snagged it and decided I'd buy it since, at worst, it was head and shoulders above the one I had. As I turn to leave, Rain Man catches my eye and says, "Won't work! V-groove is different on the Ariens. It'll jump out. Definitely. Definitely jump out." OK, so I added that last part.

For a second I wondered how the hell he could tell I had an Ariens by looking at my crappy old belt, and was suitably impressed. Then I remembered I was holding the owner's manual in my other hand. I thanked him, and told him I was going to try it anyway. He said, "Auto parts store! Bring the old one!" and then turned away to help the next person waving a broken belt in the air. I was half expecting him to add something like "83 Buick LeSabre! Air conditioner compressor belt!" but he didn't.

I stopped at the auto parts store, and when I walked in there were two people behind the counter -- a bored, cynical, jaded looking guy on the phone, who clearly wanted to be anywhere else but there, and a young, clean-cut college-age kid bouncing off the walls. While I normally gravitate toward the assholes who know what they're doing, in this case I figured the kid was the better bet. I walked up to the counter and said, "Dude, you gotta save my life." then I tossed the snow blower belt on the desk and added, "Snow blower."

He immediately grabbed onto this challenge with claws and teeth, and I knew my snow blower was going to be working again shortly. We went through a few different belts until I found one that I thought was the right size. Slightly smaller than the one I bought at Lowes, but with the correct V-groove. He had a pretty good sense of humor, or maybe it was just late. At one point I asked him how much it was going to be, and he said, "Just give me all your money." We then had a five minute conversation about how it would be really funny to stand behind the counter with a gun and just rob the random people who came into the store to buy stuff. I'm sure the grizzled old dickhead he was working with probably hated his guts, but he liked his job and was friendly and helpful, so I give him +5000 JV points.

I bought the belt and headed out to my car to make the 20 minute drive home. By this time it was getting pretty late, but the rumor was we could get another 16" of snow tonight, so I knew I'd have to install it before I went to bed. When I got home, I measured the pulleys, and ended up installing the belt from the auto parts store. I flipped it back onto its wheels and started my man-machine up. It stunk a little bit like burning flesh, but I ignored that and immediately ran it full-speed into a snowbank -- and was completely amazed. Holy crap, what an improvement. It was no longer throwing snow like Richard Simmons in a snowball fight with a group of high school boys. It was throwing snow like...like...someone who throws baseballs really fast and strikes lots of people out. Yes, it was that good, and yes, sometimes I wish I watched sports just so I could use sports analogies effectively. Also, I've realized that any sentence that includes Richard Simmons and high school boys sound dirty regardless of what they're doing.

Winter can officially suck it. I am trying and failing to learn some rudimentary Spanish for our trip to Mexico, but I haven't learned how to say that yet. I'd like to, because they'd probably get a kick out of some pale white gringo running around screaming that phrase at the top of his lungs.

Lastly, my wife got this e-mail from her website "contact me" page today:

Me has sent you a message using your contact form at: www.ANNIESORIGINALS.COM
Senders email:
google@gmail.com
Subject: WTF are you selling?
Message: Seriously? What is it you are selling, the little flower thing on the itchy hat, just the hat or both?

I would just like to thank you, whoever you are, for your constructive criticism. I'm guessing from the bogus return e-mail address you provided and the assholish tone of your message that the entire purpose of this exercise was to try to make someone else feel like shit, and in the process, feel slightly better about yourself.

I'd like to take this opportunity to say I'm sorry for your small, petty existence. Good luck in the future, and please don't jump in front of a bus. That would have the unfortunate consequence of making everyone on the bus late, and that's just plain inconsiderate. I suggest pills.

To everyone else, thanks for the kind words. She's doing it for the same reason I write this blog. It's fun, dammit!

2/17/10

Giz. It's what's for dinner.

I was driving home the other day, and passed this truck:


I know it's a crappy picture and you can't tell what he's hauling, so I'll just tell you what it is.

Milk.

Jugs and jugs of milk. I'm not sure what he was planning to do with it, but if you see a really great sale on milk somewhere in upstate NY over the next couple of days, I'd probably pass.

And speaking of great sales at the grocery store, they were practically giving this away:


Chicken Gizzards & Hearts? Why?

There has to be a cook or three out there reading this right now, so riddle me this: What does one actually do with gizzards and hearts? I'm guessing that you don't deep fry them and eat them like juicy little tater tots, and I'm pretty sure you probably aren't supposed to boil them and then toss them lightly with angel hair pasta and olive oil.

As far as I can tell, the only possible use for these things would be to give them to your kid on Halloween so he can chuck them at girls and stuff them in mailboxes. Yes, I would be a bad parent, but that's beside the point.

So it's up to you, gourmet chefs of the world. Tell me what's up with these things. And while you're at it, please explain to me the allure of head cheese. Thank you.


2/8/10

What my wife likes to do in her spare time.

OK, as you all know, I've pimped other websites and products here and there, mostly either for fun or some sort of freebie giveaway (I never did get an assbrella, those bastards). I don't get many offers for that kind of thing, probably because I tell them upfront that I'll likely make fun of them, and that doesn't sit well with some of the blog advertising outfits.

Not this time. This time, to do so would cost me dearly.

So with all seriousness, I ask you to please check out my wife's website. No, it's not P0rn, unless you happen to be into the whole holding-down-animals-and shaving-them-bare-and-then-making-yarn-out-of-the-shavings kind of thing.

Dammit. I knew I couldn't be completely serious. I am definitely not getting laid tonight.


2/7/10

My eyes followed my mind into the gutter.

I think my new glasses are adversely affecting my ability to see without them. Yesterday, I was eating lunch standing at the kitchen counter and thumbing through a mail order catalog (the way I probably eat 85% of my lunches when I'm at home) and I saw a shirt in the Signals catalog and immediately thought, "Wow, you'd have to have no doubts at all about your status as a whore to wear that one."


Somehow my less than stellar vision worked with my twisted brain and translated that to "I HEART JUNK."

I guess I really *do* need reading glasses. My version of the shirt is more interesting though.

2/4/10

Planet Witless.

I joined this gym recently because it was too cheap to pass up. It's called Planet Fitness, and it's about 6 minutes from my office. For ten bucks a month, I figured that even if I only get over there three times a month it would still be worth it. Yort joined too, although a bit more grudgingly than I did. Still, we've managed to do OK and go at least once a week so far. It's harder than it sounds because we;re only in the office three days a week since we work remotely the other two days.

The first time I went, when I got back to the office I realized I left my combination lock hanging open on the locker because I'm an idiot. On a return visit, I asked the counter girl if she had any locks in the Lost & Found and she pulled out three. She looked at me and said, "I'm not sure how you'll know which one is yours." I looked up to see if she was kidding, but she wasn't, so I said, "Um, I'll open it?" She allowed that this was a good way to figure out which one was mine, and the second one I tried opened.

My combination is a pretty easy one, and I will tell it to you now since it's integral to this story. It's 1-3-17. There. Now you can steal all my shit while I'm working out. Take my blackberry, will you? I have pager duty this week.

So today, Yort and I headed to the gym around 12:30. We supposedly get an hour for lunch, but on most days we end up taking a ten minute break and eating at our desks, so we figure on the days we actually make it out of the building we can stretch it a bit. Normally we can work out, grab a shower and be back at the office in about 60 minutes.

The locker room is kind of cramped, and there are only a handful of long lockers. Most of them are more like cubbyholes with doors. The long lockers are popular, and the majority of the time when you open them, they are full of people's stuff. I guess those people are either more trusting than I am, or don't have anything worth stealing. After checking three, I get lucky and find an empty one near the corner. I change into my gym clothes, lock up all my stuff and get through a pretty good workout. After we're done, I decide I'm going to grab a quick shower. Yort didn't break a sweat because he is apparently more efficient than I am, so he just gets dressed and goes outside to wait.

I stuff my gym clothes in my bag, and because I'm not one of those free-dangle dudes who just walks around stark naked, I wrap my towel around me. I lock up my stuff and head for the shower. The thing about the towel is, the gym doesn't provide them so you have to bring your own. Last time, I brought a bath towel from home, but my wife buys these giant fluffy white things that you need a suitcase to carry around, and it didn't fit well in my small duffel. This time, I rooted around in the bottom of the closet and opted for a blue towel I found in the back that is closer in size to a large-ish hand towel. It barely covers my ass, in other words, and when I wrap it around me, it looks sorta like a mini skirt with a slit in it. It's very sexy.

After my shower, I dry off and wrap my towel back around my waist and go to my locker. Only problem is, the frigging lock won't open. I try it ten times. 1-3-17. Did I go past the three? Let me try again. 1-3-17. Wait, am I supposed to go past it twice? I forget. Or is it 3-1-17? No, I can't be that brain damaged. I just opened this fucking thing 5 minutes ago. I can feel it, and it wants to open. On the last number it drops down, but then won't disengage.

I look around to make sure I've got the right locker. I do. I open the lockers to either side, and they are both full of stuff. I wonder for a second if I've picked up someone else's lock that was sitting on the bench. Unlikely, but you never know. The place is crowded. I try it a few more times. I curse MasterLock and their shitty quality control.

Finally, after I'm standing there like an idiot in my terry cloth miniskirt for about ten minutes screwing with this lock, this nice old guy next to me says, "Do you want me to try?" I tell him the combination, feeling like a freshman on the first day of school, except it's more like one of those dreams where you show up for class and realize you're naked. He tries it and fails too. So now there's about three naked guys giving me suggestions. One guy who is just about dressed to leave says, "I'm on my way out -- you want me to tell the guy at the front desk? I don't think you want to go out there like that." I agree that it's probably not the best idea. So he leaves, and help is imminent.

Ten minutes later, I'm still standing there and there's exactly nobody from the front desk showing up. I'm getting tired of holding my towel closed with one hand, so I sit down on the bench. The towel is really short, so I sit with my legs pressed together like a grade school girl, trying to make sure my junk doesn't fall out. Another guy gets ready to leave, and as he passes me, I ask him to tell the front desk to send someone in.

This time it works, and they send in a kid with bolt cutters. I stand up. He comes over to the locker and says, "You the guy who needs the lock cut off?" I affirm that this is so, and he asks me for the combination. I tell him, and he tries it. "If it opens, I'll have to kill you," I say. Lucky for him, it didn't.

At this point, there doesn't seem to be any other recourse. Yort has been outside waiting by the car for at least twenty minutes, I'm late for work, and I have no dignity left. "You're sure you want me to cut the lock off?" the kid asks. "Yeah," I reply. "It won't be the first six bucks I've wasted."

He hits it with the bolt cutters, and it falls open, and I can finally get dressed and get to work.

Or I could have, if the locker hadn't been full of someone else's shit.

He looks at my confused expression, then says, "That's not your stuff, is it?" "Oh man," I say, feeling my face turn beet red. He just stares at me for a few seconds, and though I've never believed in telepathy until today, I clearly hear his thoughts. You are a fucking idiot, he thinks loudly. Oh yes, definitely, I think back, then look around.

My locker is on the exact opposite corner of the locker room. I slowly realize that the shower area has two entrances, and I walked into one, and after my shower, I walked out of the other. The identical lockers are on all four walls, and somehow I got turned around. Yes, I managed to get lost in a 15' x 15' room. I had simply walked out of the shower, and made a beeline for the first locked locker in the corner that I saw.

I get dressed, then I pay the counter guy six bucks to replace the lock of the poor unknown bastard who now needs to memorize a new combination.

As I am leaving, some guy says, "Hey, make sure you get into the right car!"

I think I'm going to work out at home from now on.



2/1/10

Five years of this? Holy crap.

Hey! So I turned five, and I totally missed it. January 14th, 2005. That's when I started this blog. Out the original "work" crew, only me, Sarah and Shamus are still at it. It seems like so long ago, yet at the same time it seems like no time at all. Blogging was pretty new to us back then, and more people were into them, I think.

Five years is an eternity in the computer industry. Since I am jaded and old, and bought my first computer back in the late 80's (an Atari 1040ST), I view blogging as Rock and Roll, and consider Facebook and Twitter as the social networking equivalent of Disco and Rap. I'm not sure I really like them, and at various times I wish they'd go away, but they probably won't. The father of a friend of mine made an astute observation at dinner a while back -- as everyone at the table was checking their Blackberries and iPhones, he said, "You know, social networking isn't very social since everyone is always looking down at their phones." He has a point, I think. I always find myself wondering what's next after twitter and facebook fade. What do I know? Maybe they won't. Does anyone remember Friendster? Yeah, me neither. That being said, I have to admit that the 140 character limit in Twitter can be a fun challenge.

What does that have to do with anything? Nothing. Just a rant. In fact, I started this blog as a place to rant about stuff that drove me nuts, and over the years I've done my share. But somewhere along the line, it became more than that. It became a place for me to share a bit of my life with kindred strangers. It became a place for me to collect the stories of my childhood, and talk about some of the things that make me laugh on a daily basis. And sometimes, it allowed me to spill my guts and sort through some fairly complex feelings about what was happening in my life.

I really just wanted to take a few minutes to thank all of the people who read my blog from the beginning, and all the people who stumbled on it for various reasons and decided to stick around. I appreciate the comments, and I love reading them. I enjoy laughing at your own stories and memories, and it makes me realize that so many of us could have been great friends if we grew up together, or if the years and geography had fallen differently.

In five years of writing this thing, I've received very few obnoxious comments. I'm sure that's just a result of my writing not being very controversial, but even so, it restores my faith in humanity just a tiny bit.

So thanks, everyone. Here's to five more years of this hot mess. Four and a half years ago, I figured I wouldn't have anything else to write about. I guess I was wrong. I'm going to have to start making shit up soon, though, because I think I'm running out of childhood.

On the outside, anyway.