Mmmmmm Co’Cola

There is nothing I like better than an icy Classic Coke when my throat’s as dry as unbuttered toast. So here it is after 10 p.m. and I’m sucking it down as fast as the straw will deliver.

Why am I so parched? Well. There’s a story.

It begins with bread baking.

Well, now. No. That wouldn’t be true.

It begins with the Boorish Ass (who has since gone out of business) that flimflammed me on flooring installation. It’s taken me several years to get around to undoing the travesty inflicted upon my floors.

Boorish Ass convinced me that I could indeed have sheet linoleum in places that several contractors have said no way. Foolish Me wanted to believe and plunked down the cash. Boorish Ass took the cash and then discovered he could not lay linoleum in the Barn due to the composition and construction of the subfloors. Now I had mentioned, indeed explained at length, what professionals had said about the state of the Barn’s subflooring to Boorish Ass.

Boorish Ass insisted it was doable. I insisted Boorish Ass come look at my floors. He did. He pontificated upon the improvements of flooring technology. Blah blah blah. I have witnesses.

Boorish Ass abandoned the installation with the attitude of “Listen, Lady, I told you this couldn’t be done.” [Truly, I don’t know how he got out of here alive.]

What Boorish Ass left in my house was badly installed underlayment which I have been trodding upon for way too long. Each time I look at it, I want to jump in my car, do bodily harm to him, and hang some of his body parts from my rear-view mirror. I imagine you can guess which body parts.

So, it’s pert near 2012 and this nonsense and I have co-existed way way past what any sane person would regard as too long.

Which brings us to bread. (Kind of.)

I’ve been a wee bit stressed lately. Upon the advice of myself and those in the “helping professions,” I decided to take up a hobby. There was a clear and present need for fun in my life.

Learning to make scrumptious, earthy (ahem) “artisan” bread sounded like a peachy idea. I like bread. HMO’Keefe likes bread. Everybody likes bread. It’s inexpensive (hah!) and I could do it in the comfort of my own home (whichever of the two I happened to be in).

I’m no bread-making virgin. I’ve been a competent baker for a good 30 years. However, I’ve come across one-too-many website and way-too-many cookbooks that detail recipes that take days and sometimes weeks to produce a finished loaf. In short, I took up the kind of bread baking that makes what I used to do akin to the difference between tomato plants bought at a discount store and tomato plants grown from heirloom seeds in a painstakingly built home greenhouse with strict climate control features.

[There was an interlude with “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” which will someday be a blog post of its own.]

The bread-making thing GOT TO BE OUTRAGEOUS quickly and after out-growing every pair of pants I own, I reconsidered this hobby. It was a peachy for stress relief, but I’m mightily stressed and three or four loaves of bread every other day or so for months, well, you can see the problem.

This led me to join the gym. Everybody says exercise is a wonderful stress reliever.

Well. It is. Sort of. But I can make bread (1) at home, (2) at any hour of the day, (3) even if I’m tired and (4) I don’t have to make polite chit-chat to dough.

Flippin’ everybody I know goes to the gym. It’s hard to smile and say, “Well! Hi! And how are you?” when you’re trying to inflict all the indignities of the day on an innocent treadmill. Or worse, while hiding unshaven legs behind a meager towel while waiting for a swimming lane.

So, while still going to the gym but less frequently, I returned to bread which led me to a new super-discount store (Ollie’s) in search of affordable bread pans. (Contrary to the above, bread-making is not cheap if you’re a personality type that tends to over-do.)

[BTW, Ollie’s started the whole bread-making thing in the first place when they sold me The Culinary Institute of America’s At Home Series bread making cookbook – which is riddled with errors and not much good for anything other than some nice photos.]

I’m wandering around too-narrow aisles just browsing after discovering a dearth of bread pans when I happen upon peel’n’stick floor tile that would look great in the Cow Bathroom. I pondered. I looked at the price, looked again, and hollered, “What the hell!” after ciphering it would cost $20 to cover the hideous underlayment left by Boorish Ass.

I blew another $20 at Lowe’s for various accoutrements. After a couple of hours of very easy work, I had a splendid floor in the half-bath. It’s cheap tile. It won’t last but a few years, but it makes me happy. That $40 floor did more for stress reduction than bread and squats did. I am woman, hear me roar.

After the pie-making, bread-making extravaganza that was Thanksgiving, I found myself in the flooring aisle of Lowe’s. There was this nifty peel-and-stick tile in 6” x 48” planks that offer a textured wood finish to mimic hardwood floors. I pondered and ciphered. To do the kitchen, hallway and laundry room to cover the underlayment Boorish Ass left behind was a Big Number. While it was a much better grade of flooring than the $20 Ollie’s marvel, I can’t afford it right now and I wouldn’t afford it even I could without a test run.

The floor in the master bath is an utter travesty that harkens back to the Ex’s and my days of do-it-yourselfing. This old-time era did not include professional advice, the reading of instructions, or proper tools.

I hauled out of the Lowe’s enough faux-wood plastic planks for the master bath floor. According to the instructions, I could clean that old floor, peel’n’stick and enjoy the view from my bathtub in a matter of hours. Since that jibed with the Ollie’s/Cow experience, I drank the Kool-Aid.

[I’ve been doing stuff to this Barn for 25 years. You’d think I would have learned by now. Ancient Burial Ground.]

The first thing that went wrong was the cleaning of the floor. Between paint spatters, scuffs, this and that, a heavy-duty cleaning was required to ensure maximum adhesion.

One heavy-duty cleaning was more than that old floor could take. It gave up the ghost, shriveled, unstuck itself from the subfloor (in parts) and crumbled (in other parts).  After a stream of profanity and the lobbing of a coffee cup, I resigned myself to pulling up the old flooring. Of course, only parts of it would pull up. The remainder was stuck to the floor like bread calories on my hips.  Fused.  Welded.  Married.  Not-to-be-divorced.

Out came the scraper. No good. More profanity. Out came the steam cleaner. Nope. Out came the sander. Some progress. If I peeled the thin plastic layer off the top and then scraped and sanded, the subfloor would appear.

This was very slow. And I couldn’t really get into the Zen of peel, scrape, sand, repeat, because what I really wanted was a long bubble bath with a glass of wine and the glorious vista of faux-wood planks.

I went to the Lowe’s and returned with super-duper, silly-expensive sandpaper. (And a cute, tiny shop vac.)

[I’ve left out the part about removing molding, the sides of the whirlpool, the toilet and the sink pedestal. My boudoir is one tremendous mess as well as a study in contrasts.]

At 9:55 p.m., the floor was finally removed and the sub-floor ready for the primer I bought to ensure those peel’n’sticks stick. (I do, sometimes, do the prudent thing.)

I started at noon yesterday and worked until 8 p.m. I started again at noon today and worked until 9:55 p.m. The last 7 hours of today’s adventure included me, a mouse sander, sandpaper so expensive we must import it from Kuwait, and heaps, myriads, plethoras, mountains, stacks and whirlwinds of dust.

There is dust in my hair, my ears, my eyes, my wrinkles, and wedged into the dimples of my cellulite (dimples greatly increased by bread to the point of craters.) There is also dust between my teeth, coating my tongue and wall-papering my throat.

Mmmmmm. Co’Cola.

(Provided I can stand upright, I plan on peel’n’sticking tomorrow evening.)

Busier than a one-armed paper-hanger on a unicycle in a hurricane. (And no FEMA in sight.)

I don’t think I’ve ever been as busy as I am now.  And Lord knows, I’ve led a busy life.  But if something doesn’t give soon, I’m going to collapse in a quivering heap of twitchy woman.

I’d list it all, but it’s too depressing.  But no matter what it is I’m doing at any given time, somebody wants me doing something else.  If everything is urgent, then nothing is.  Ya know?

Word!

I’m too tired to lean over and drink the glass of wine I poured 3 hours ago.  Ain’t that sad?

It was recently suggested that I needed a hobby to help reduce stress in my life.  So, I’ve taken up “artisan bread” baking.  (Doesn’t that just sound pretentious?)  I was having fun (and gaining weight) with the breadmaking, but I’ve been too busy to do any baking for more than a week.  There’s something very satisfying about kneading bread when you start out preferring primal scream therapy.

But a friend sent me a 14-year-old South African sourdough starter (and a bodacious copper tea kettle!) and I’ve been busy (ahem) cultivating starter for my first attempt at sourdough bread.

This bread thing is addictive.  First of all, I’ve always had a thing for for kitchen toys and I’ve now acquired a baking stone, a lame` thingie, dough scraper/cutter thingie, thermometer, bowls, breadboard,bowl scraper etc. etc.  (This “artisan” thing requires accoutrements.)

I’ve also always had a thing for cookbooks.  Boy howdy, y’all probably don’t know how many bread books there are out there.  It’s probably a good thing Borders closed.

So.  There you have it.  Me.  Whining again.

(I think I’ll be drinking that wine now.)

It’s hot. Have a gin and tonic.

Hot Summer Nights

There are some who might say, perhaps rightly so, that I’m just a malcontent. And there’s no use trying to make or keep me happy. I might be one of those people who might, perhaps rightly so, describe myself as such.

However, I’ve been right proud of myself.

In spite of vexatious challenges, I have, mostly, kept last winter’s vow that I would not complain about the heat.

Now it was touch and go here for a couple of days, but I neutralized the pressure of pent-up whining by talking about the pent-up whining and what might be the imminent danger of my spontaneously combusting.

Still and all, other than a few Lawsy, Miz Scarlett, it sure be hot, I have not let the Inner Brat run free with her tantrums.

I hadn't noticed it left.

It is hot. It’s all over the news. Millions of us have become very learned about the heat index which for those of you not sweltering is summer’s version of wind chill. [I have been cogitating on whether damp and cold feels colder than dry and cold and wondering if there’s a corresponding cold index and also wondering about wind chill as it relates to stagnant, putrefying air versus summer breezes, but Lawsy, Miz Scarlett it be too hot for heavy thinking.]

The primary reason I haven’t volleyed a heat-induced rant on the topic of heat is that the Pied-a-Terre has air conditioning.

The sounds and sights of summer nights.

Now back to that malcontent descriptor. I have lived for so long now without air conditioning in my abode, I find it disconcerting. With air conditioning, I lose the white noise of fans and the flutter of my hair. I lose the fragrance of night-blooming lovelies. But mostly, it’s the sound of summer nights that I miss. In the cool confines of the apartment, I cannot hear the peepers or the breeze ruffling the tree canopies or the cat knocking over the pot of mint (again). It’s unnatural. And sort of creepy.

While it’s true, air conditioning at the apartment has probably kept me sane, I have very much enjoyed the past few days here at the barn. As long as one doesn’t move too fast, wears a minimum of clothes, and keeps an iced drink at hand at all times, it really hasn’t been that bad.

The iced drink thing leads me to my next topic. Chef Boy R’ Mine has made a liar out of me again. It’s a long boring story, but years ago I tried some alcoholic libations made with gin. Ack. Spit. Yuck! [gag]

Tangueray 10

Online, somewhere, somebody said something like, “gin is like sipping last year’s Christmas tree through rubbing alcohol.” Prior to reading that analogy, I ran around saying gin tastes like juniper-infused kerosene. I like the Christmas tree thing better – there’s pathos embedded that kerosene doesn’t invoke.

Child of Mine has been waxing rhapsodic about gin and fine wines for a time now. The sommelier at his club has been sharing some Truly Great Vin and, once in awhile (far too infrequently), I get to partake of some wines that I can’t envision ever being able to afford.

The gin thing I pooh-poohed as youthful indiscretion.

T10 and Lime

On his latest trip home, The Boy came bearing Tanqueray 10. We were here at The Barn. There was a heat index of 115F. He was cooking. We were talking. One thing led to another and I was fishing rocks glasses out of the china cabinet. [I’m a stickler for the right glass for the drink.]

I was prepared to be a good sport.

Oh my. OH MY.

I was astonished. I’m not much for mixed drinks – particularly those involving carbonated mixers. I had, once again, to admit I hadn’t known what I was talking about when I threw around descriptors like kerosene.

Chef Boy R’ Mine tells me that Hendricks gin is even better and that if I try it, I must garnish it with cucumber rather than lime. The cucumber thing rather intrigued me given that one of my favorite summer meals is tomato-cucumber-avocado salad with fresh ground pepper and sea salt.

Yes. I do like a little tomato, cucumber and avocado with my salt and pepper.

Still and all, I was kind of puzzled. I honestly don’t like juniper which is the flavoring that makes gin gin. I went web-surfing and found a host of folks, including the Christmas tree guy, that weren’t fond of traditional gin, but liked T-10.

It seems this “premium” gin is made not only with juniper, but also with Florida oranges, Mexican limes, grapefruits and coriander. Mixed with tonic, these beautiful botanicals combine with the quinine to protect me from malaria and the quinine also acts as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory. As I ponder whether to have a third gin and tonic, I tell myself it’s medicinal.

Lime and Cucumber

So. I’ve had two gin and tonics this evening and am pondering a third. One with lime. And one with lime and cucumber. The latter is a real winner. It’s pretty in the glass, it’s tasty on the tongue, and it’s refreshing like a scented summer breeze in the cool of the evening after a blazing hot day.

[Aw, hell, hang on, it’s not like it takes a long time to make one of these things. And it is medicinal.]

I still haven’t whined.

Damn, this is a fine drink.

Chili Today, Clean Tomorrow

First sock of the season!

I have on socks AND a sweatshirt.

There are rain puddles, as well as leaves and acorns, on the patio.

I have closed all the windows and doors. Put the fans away.

The remains of chili and cornbread litter the kitchen counter.

I am happy.

After the horrible winter last, I vowed not to complain of summer’s heat. I made it about 6 weeks before that vow was trashed. In my defense, it was one of the hottest Junes on record. The rest of the summer didn’t relent. Oh how I have whined.

I never complain about spring or fall lest they’re too wet. I love both seasons – one for it’s advent of outdoor living; the other for domestic nesting.

Years ago I read somewhere that it’s more efficient to do heavy cleaning in the fall rather than the traditional spring cleaning. The reason centered on the fact that most of us spend a great deal of time outside in the summer and track in dirt and sand followed by pressing our sweaty bodies into the upholstery. That is certainly true of me. Couple that with window fans, a dirt road, and my general disdain for cleaning, and one might understand how flippin’ grimy my house is.

This is especially disheartening given the work I did last fall and spring to clean. Except for the kitchen, the house was cleaner than it had been since before the car accident. All summer I have tried to summon the gumption to tackle the kitchen. It’s just been too hot to attack cupboards, walls, and appliances with bleach and caustic substances. Hell, it’s been too hot to do damn near anything.

Besides the filth, there was the invasion of the spiders. An arachnophobe would need a straitjacket should he or she wander into my home. While all the varieties common to this area are represented, Daddy Longlegs have had a population explosion.

I have giant Daddy Longlegs and baby Daddy Longlegs and teenagers, old folks and middle-agers. It’s the cat’s opinion that they were imported for her amusement.

Periodically, I suck some of them into the vacuum cleaner, but my ethnic cleansing did little to stem the tide of uninvited immigration. Since they don’t bother me and they do keep the other insect population down, I adopted a principle of peaceful coexistence provided webs weren’t built in doorways. (Nobody likes a face full of spider web.)

Today would have been a good day for fall cleaning other than the fact it was a perfect day to snuggle in blankets and read a trashy novel. The day was cool and rainy; and Babette was cuddly. I should have slung bleach around, vacuumed spiders, put the summer clothes away, and so on and so forth ad nauseam infinitus. But I didn’t. And I’m not sorry.

I’ve got on socks and a sweatshirt. It’s chill in this house and I’m fixin’ to make hot chocolate. Viva la Fall.

An open letter to Ken who may not have been thinking straight.

Ken Arndt
President
Frontier Communications Inc.
39 Public Square
Wilkes-Barre, PA 18773

Dear Mr. Arndt:

I think we’re off to a bad start.

For reasons I didn’t understand, Frontier decided to buy the customer base and infrastructure of Verizon’s troubled dealings in West Virginia. I can’t imagine what you folks were thinking. While on a smaller scale (by far), it’s akin to someone buying BP’s gulf operations. Perhaps y’all needed a tax loss. Anyhoo, y’all took over the reins on July 1st.

In any event, you’ve inherited me. And hundreds like me – the same folks that overwhelmed the Public Service Commission and the Attorney General of West Virginia with complaints about Verizon’s equipment and nonresponsive customer service. Your website greeting indicates that you were aware of at least some of the problems.

The State’s response was to fine Verizon and impose sanctions that included proof of improved customer service and a significant outlay of cash to improve equipment and coverage. Verizon, responsible corporate citizens that they are, effectively said, “Hell, no” and sold you their mess.

I have to ask. What were you thinking?

My problems with Verizon span about 20 years at a single address with a single phone number. The most concise synopsis of the problem is: when it rains, the equipment doesn’t work. West Virginia boasts possession of the largest rain forest in North America or maybe just a big rain forest.  I can’t quite remember.   Either way, it rains here. A lot. And, by the way, we’re having a fabulously wet July.

A few years ago, Verizon sent me an email taunting me with the news that I could have a DSL connection in my home. I was dubious. At that stage of my relationship with Verizon and their equipment, I could not make an outgoing phone call more than half the time for 3 years. On a somewhat irregular basis, I called the phone number that connected me to what was euphemistically known as Verizon Customer Service and reported, yet again, the problem. With varying degrees of civility, I was told a technician would be dispatched to my house.

Of perhaps the 45 service calls I had in that 3 year period, a technician showed up at my house maybe half-a-dozen times. The technician always arrived when it wasn’t raining and couldn’t find a problem.

Far more often, the technician didn’t show. I would burn vacation time to be at my home between 8 and noon, or 10 and 2, or 12 and 4 or some other four-hour window of time I’d been instructed to be here at risk of having my ticket cancelled if I was not.

The four hours would come and go. I would call. Someone would tell me they’d peered at my phone line from a distance, determined it was working fine and cancelled the ticket.

I was not a happy camper as you might imagine.

So. When I got the invitation to sign up for DSL, I did. I did so in part because I knew they had to send someone to my house to hook it up.

I almost felt sorry for that guy. First of all, it was raining. Nothing worked. He left. He came back. He talked to people at Verizon. He scratched his head. He did this. He did that. He brought in another guy. Another modem. One thing led to another and they assembled things in a nonstandard way that worked around whatever the problem was. It took about a month. They told me, definitively, they didn’t know what the problem was but that this “fix” seemed to allow me use of my phone and DSL connection.

I was happy. For roughly three years things have been peachy. In the most violent of thunderstorms, provided I keep power, I can cruise YouTube while talking to my Sweet Baboo on the telephone.

Well. All coinkydinky, beginning with the first rain after July 1st and continuing through the present, any time it rains there is so much noise on my line that I lose my internet connection altogether. Voice works, but there’s a lot of static on the line that renders it pretty much useless.

Color me unhappy.

It’s a long story that isn’t particularly flattering to me and I won’t bore you with it, but I ended up even replacing the DSL wiring which ensures the problem isn’t on my end. I did it correctly (or at least as correctly as Verizon did) because it worked just peachy until it rained again on Sunday.

I called Frontier Sunday afternoon.

But first let me just copy a quote from your website here real quick. (You’ll want to refer to this often while thinking about me and West Virginia and Verizon and my mastery of Public Service Commission complaint forms.)

Welcome, West Virginia.

We are excited to be serving you.

Over the next few months, you will see that we do things a little differently than your previous Service Provider. Because for us, serving you is more than just a day-to-day operation. Our work is all about you, our customer. We have an ongoing commitment to servicing the communities we work and live in. It is about giving back, growing with our communities and supporting your needs.

It is remembering that you are a person, not just a customer.

I was heartened by those words, though not too much. I am a realist.

(Goodness! What were you people thinking?)

I talked with a very nice gentleman who actually did listen to what I was telling him. He and I agreed I had an unusual setup and he would put through a ticket for a technician to come to my home. I was instructed to be sure and be here between 8 and noon today.

Having to get up at 0’dark thirty so as to be sufficiently caffeinated to be articulate while technically on “vacation time” from my employer is kind of annoying, but I did it cheerfully high on the fact that y’all remember that I’m a person, not just a customer and that y’all are all about supporting my needs.

Well noon came and went.

So I called, my ticket number handy, and was told decisively there was never any intention for anyone to come to my home as my call had been lumped together with a bunch of others in another town for what y’all are calling a widespread outage. Through gritted teeth, I explained the situation and explained that my internet wasn’t out at the moment, but would be the minute it rained and that I had been told unequivocally that I had be here from 8 AM to NOON so that a TECHNICIAN could LOOK at my equipment.

In that false, ever-so-annoying, “I’m sorry for your inconvenience, ma’am” tone of voice, I was told nobody was coming to my house. And that no, I couldn’t schedule a visit because there was a widespread outage in a town near me and my problem had been lumped into that problem without anyone, it seems, reading the ticket or looking at the name of the town I live in.

Did y’all hire all those Verizon people?

What were you thinking?

So. It’s been my experience that online chat with tech support is a better way to go. I chatted with a guy who refuted what the woman on the phone said. He and I went rounds for awhile about my wanting to speak with someone who could unravel why I was being told two different things. Here’s part of the chat transcript:

12:40 PM Connie: James, I took off work to be here. It is after noon and I’ve heard from no one. When I called Frontier, a woman told me there had never been any need for me to be here.

12:40 PM Connie: I’m a wee-bit perturbed.

12:41 PM James A: I definitely understand, and I do apologize for any trouble you have experienced.

12:42 PM Connie: Moreover, the tech I spoke to on Sunday went through my history of connectivity problems with Verizon and the “fix” they finally settled on. He agreed this necessitated an inspection of the outside box.

12:43 PM James A: The engineers will determine the need for onsite access, after diagnosing the lines and equipment on our end of things. That is all the information I have. I apologize.

12:44 PM Connie: I don’t mean to take this out on you. What I do need is the contact information, etc. to file a formal complaint.

12:45 PM James A: I understand. Complaints should be directed to our Customer Service department at 800-921-8101. You can also discuss possible reimbursement for the time that your internet was down.

12:46 PM Connie: I believe that’s the number I just called and was given erroneous information. I’d like a contact name, please.

12:46 PM James A: I do not know what name to give you…

12:47 PM Connie: Is your supervisor available?

12:47 PM James A: We have many Customer Service representatives. I do not know any of them by name.

12:48 PM James A: Unfortunately, supervisor request via our chat platform, are difficult to comply with. If you’d like, you can call our Internet Help Desk at 877-352-7011 opt 2, and speak with one of our supervisors, or you may try Customer Service aswell.

So. I called that number (Option 2, mind you) and spoke with a very pleasant woman who I warned up front that I had my Super Bitch cape on. I vowed silently to myself. I was going to read your website statement to her if she started in with robot speech, but turns out it wasn’t necessary.

She listened (always a good thing) and apologized (without sounding smarmy) and (gasp) called dispatch to find out what she should tell me. I now have a third version of the story of my ticket. She tells me there is a ticket to come to my house, the widespread outage takes precedence, but there are plans to have someone at my house before 8 PM unless they call me. I just fervently hope that technician isn’t wandering around that town I don’t live in looking for my address.

So, um, it’s now 3:00 and I haven’t heard from anyone, but there are miles to go before we all sleep. With any luck, y’all will be here before the 72 hour legally mandated response period is up. And before I’m out of vacation time.

I’ll keep you posted.

And, um, by the way. You should probably make arrangements for your customer service folks to meet their supervisors and learn their names. It’s got to be damn confusing to not have a clue what to tell people like me who can get rather insistent. I once had a Verizon guy tell me that yes, indeedy, he had a time card, but at the end of the pay period he didn’t know who he gave it to, but that, yes, he did give it to someone. And he’d worked at Verizon for 12 years. Imagine! Twelve years and not a clue as to your boss’s name.

And co-workers! A company picnic maybe? Poor James tells me he doesn’t know a single one of his co-workers’ names. (Is this like a sweatshop or something? Or was today his first day?)

Oh. There’s an old geology principle that states the past predicts the future. I know from past experience, the more vacation time I burn, the more PSC complaints I file. Just sayin’.

Sincerely. . .