Thursday, November 12, 2009

Seven Down, Four to Go

The children saved my life this morning.

No, really! Typically I leave the house around 7:30, but owing to Wifey's prolonged vacation in hell, I have to wait until 7:55 to leave. Today, I had to wait tons of time in a traffic jam on the interstate on the way to work, only to come by the smoking remains of a five-car collision between a giant SUV, a semi, a truck hauling lumber, and two smears of metal with eight wheels and a blood-spatter finish all over them.

It had happened at the exact time that I would have been driving through there if it hadn't been for me dropping off the children.

Now for the bad news: I started to worry that the specter of death would begin haunting me, just like it does with good-looking twenty-year-olds in one of the innumerable Final Destination movies.

Hey, don't laugh: I have a lot in common with those people. I'm attractive, I cheated death, and I have no acting ability. If I got naked in public and had low sexual standards I'd be taking out a "Grisly Death" life insurance policy even as we speak.

However, as an office worker with a career, I long ago had my soul crushed, so I figure that any spindling or mutilation is pretty much redundant and I have nothing to fear from the Grim Reaper.

Plus, if he can't pick off a bunch of dumbassed teenagers I have nothing to fear, right?

At work I decided not to go swim at the pool during lunch (which I usually do), mostly because I'm lazy. But also because I once saw this movie where a guy handcuffed a woman to the exit ladder and her head was like two inches below the water level and she drowned and I didn't want that to happen to me today.

I don't mind cheating death once, but twice is pushing my luck.

Speaking of cheating death, I decided to call Wifey this afternoon to see how her day yesterday went. That, and I wanted to check in on my cello, which for me was the only real purpose of this trip.

Among my many talents, I am a cellist. And I own a very valuable and expensive cello. I mean, it's not a Stradivarius or anything, but it's a nice instrument. And as part of our complex negotiations two months ago, I told her it was time to reunite me with my beloved cello. She, perhaps hallucinating or simply out of her mind, agreed to do this for me.

So I ordered a nice new hard-sided case for it and a new set of strings, and I gave her a six-page note on how to adequately pack, transfer, handle, and care for my cello during the three days that it is in her care. Because I love my cello, and it's very old, and I've been with it longer than her or the children.

To quote Groundskeeper Willie, were it not a violation of God's law, I'd marry it.

The joke, as always, is on her: it's a big heavy slab of wood festooned with metal that's as tall as she is in its case that she'll have to drag through the airport. Haw-haw! There's a reason that I never brought it back with me. I mean, I love it, but it's freaking unwieldy.

When she finally answered, her first question put me off guard a little bit: "Do you know what time it is?"

"Four thirty!" I said.

(This is a running joke in our marriage. Years ago when we moved from Tennessee to Virginia, we had an eight and a half hour car drive through mountains where you couldn't get any radio reception. We each had to drive our own car. We only had one tape between us, that stupid Spin Doctors tape with Jimmy Olson's Blues on it, and the second song started with the line "What time is it? Four thirty!" One of us would have the tape and listen to it until it drove us nuts, then we'd take a rest stop and exchange it.

When we finally reached our destination, she pulled out the tape and did donuts on it in her car until its atoms came apart, then told me never to mention the group or the song again. So I, of course, always answer the question "what time is it?" with "Four thirty!" It's cute!)

So she groans at me. "You moron. It's five in the morning here!"

"Oh," I said. "So I guess you're free to talk, then?"

"What do you want?"

"I just wanted to check on my baby," I said.

"Aww, that's sweet. I guess I'm fine except for you calling me at five in the morning."

"No, not you, my cello. How's my cello?" After an icy silence, I began to fear the connection had become damaged. "Hello? Are you still there? How's my valuable and expensive cello? Speak up, you lazy Sherpa."

"I'm sorry, I thought you might be worried about me."

"You?" I couldn't believe how selfish she was being. Doesn't she realize it's been five years without my cello? "I've got insurance on you. How's my cello?"

And I said the last part in that super-slow-mo voice that you use with idiots who don't happen to be savants that you have tired of. This was perhaps not the best motivational ploy I could have engaged.

"Fine. You want to know how your glorified violin is?" She knows I hate violins, so she just said that to be spiteful. "I'll tell you how it is: it's gonna cost you fifteen hundred bucks to bring it over there."

"WHAT? THAT'S AN OUTRAGE! You can't blackmail me, you, you, you," I was stalling here, because you never want to call your wife a name that she'll remember when you're getting amorous and her teeth are near your sensitive bits. So some names are right out, mostly those starting with "C" or "B". So I chose a fairly safe one.

"You scurrilous blackmailing she-panther!" See, there's nothing bad in there at all. "Besides, even if I pay you fifteen hundred bucks, it'll go into our joint bank account, so you'll gain nothing."

She sighed. "First of all, moron, I manage all the bank accounts, so if I wanted fifteen hundred bucks blackmail money I'd just transfer it from the account you know about to one of the accounts you don't even realize we have. And second of all, the money is because the airline requires that you buy a seat for the cello. It'll sit next to me on the flight back."

"But I don't want it to sit next to you," I said. "I want it to go in the cargo hold."

"They won't put it in the cargo hold," she said. "It has to ride in the plane."

"But they put dogs in the cargo hold," I said.

"It's not a dog." And she said it in that voice that you use to warn a child that the oven is hot.

"We'll see about this!" I fumed. "I'm gonna call the airline and give them a piece of my mind!"

So I called the airline, and after thirty-two minutes scrolling through various options (why the list isn't "press one for reservations, press two for questions about carrying large musical instruments" I have no idea) and got ahold of some lady.

"Hey, lady," I said. "I want to fly my cello on a transatlantic flight, but the man says I have to buy a seat for it."

"Yes, that's right," she said. "You have to purchase a seat for it."

"But I don't want it to sit up front. I want to put it in the cargo hold."

"We don't put large musical instruments into the cargo hold," she explained. "They have to have a seat."

"But you put dogs in the cargo hold," I said.

"Sir, a cello is not a dog."

"But it doesn't bark or vomit or die in the heat or anything, and yet you make it ride up front. This is, like, reverse racism. What would Rosa Parks say?"

"Sir, I don't think this is the same at all."

"It's exactly the same! First you make dogs sit under the plane, but a cello can't? It's not fair!"

"Can I help you with anything else today?"

"Yeah," I said. "If the plane gets delayed does the cello get a meal voucher? Does it get its own hotel room if it gets bumped overnight?"

"Sir, it would stay in the hotel room with you."


And with that the line went dead. There's something bad wrong with the connections today, I swear.

So I called Wifey back.

"What?" she said. "I was getting back to sleep."

"I wouldn't want to interrupt your dreams of naked David Hasselhoff," I said.

"What did you want?"

"Well, I wanted to tell you that thanks to your cock-up, they know that it's a cello and they absolutely insist that it rides in a seat."

"And what should I have done?"

I explained this like you explain how to turn on a light switch to a two-year-old. "The next time you have to travel with my cello, you wheel it up to the gate and tell them that it's a corpse. Then they'll certainly put it under the plane, because nobody wants to sit next to your dead uncle Duffy."

"Oh, yeah, that'll work."

"Well, not now that you've blabbed it's a cello. You're probably on a watch list. You'll have to ship it with the rest of the stuff."

"That reminds me," she said. "The car you rented me is too small. I can barely fit that giant case you ordered inside."

"Just drive it from on top of the roof like Mr. Bean," I said. "You're always bragging about what a good driver you are and-hello? Hello?"

The line went dead, but when I called back the operator told me it was busy. Weird.

So then I went and picked up the kids, and announced the good news. "We're going to the electronics store!"

"Gee, dad, I'd love to, but I can't," the girl said. "I've got too much homework."

"Me too," said the boy. "We've gotta go straight home."

I knew they were spending too much time with their mother! How dare they stiff me on the electronics store again! I mean, I only had three things I wanted to do while Wifey was gone: sleep on my back (which makes me snore), go without shaving for one day, and go to the electronics store.

Only I can't sleep on my back, because I discovered that I snore so much that I wake myself up. I went without shaving yesterday, but it itched too much and I had to go shave in the middle of the day. All I have left to declare my independence is the electronics store! I mean, it’s not like I'm going to buy anything, because Wifey would kill me. I just want to look!

"All right," I hissed. "But tomorrow we will go to the electronics store, because you'll have no excuses!"

"I'm going to be sick tomorrow," the boy said.

"Me too," the girl said.

Stupid kids.

When we got home the menu said "leftovers." Even though they'd stiffed me on the whole electronics store deal, I figured that I'd try to give them a break and make them a meal that they love which qualified as leftovers.

"Hey, the menu says leftovers, but what do you two think about scrambled eggs?" I asked.

"No thank you," they said. "We don't want to tempt fate."

"Are you sure you know how to make those?" the boy asked.

"They're eggs in a skillet!" I said. "I can make them in my sleep."

"Like your snoring?"

"Just shut up," I said.

"We're supposed to have leftovers, dad," the girl pleaded. "Just make some leftovers."

"Look, here's the egg carton. Only seven eggs are in here, out of a dozen. So there's only seven eggs left over!" I winked at her. "See? Leftovers?"

"I'm getting the fire extinguisher anyways," she said. "Just to be safe."

So I put on the skillet and tossed in some eggs. Then, to be fancy, I decided to throw in grated cheese (because cheese, like freedom, is better in abundance) as well as some cut up salami.

Now, I could have gotten out a whole new cutting board. We have twelve of them. But I figured that the cutting board already next to the stove, that I'd used that morning to slice strawberries on, was good enough. So I turned it over (to the clean side) and started slicing away at the ham.

All was well.

"Hey, that's nice," I said as the scent of strawberry vanilla filled the air. "Who lit a candle?"

I looked at the children. The girl's mouth worked but no sound came out. She only pointed in horror at me.

The boy, though, suddenly seized initiative. "FIRE!" he yelled. Snatching the extinguisher out of his sister's hands, he turned it on me and let rip with a torrent of white foamy chemical retardant.
Damn boy scouts and their safety courses. Who thought it was a good idea to teach a seven-year-old to use a fire extinguisher?

Briefly, before I was turned into a yeti, I saw that the cutting board had contacted the rear burner and began to melt. A small wisp of smoke had smouldered from the mildly deformed board.

Then everything went white.

When finally I could see again, all I knew was that the stove, the eggs, the clean dishes in the dish drainer, and me were all coated with whatever they put in flamethrowers. I hope the rumor about masturbating elephants isn't true.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm saving your life!" the boy yelled at me. "You should thank me!"

I hurled the cutting board into the sink. Other than looking like a Dali-inspired cutting board, it's actually no worse for the wear. I put the eggs aside for the moment and wondered if the chemical was harmful to eat. Then I pulled out a rag and started wiping down the stovetop to get the chemical off.

Fun fact: did you know that an electric eye left on with fire retardant chemical on it is still really, really hot? Yeah, it'll burn your hand and make you yell all sorts of words like "son of a piss!" and "gosh darn cocksucking mother ball licking criminy gobsoccers" because you're trying to hold in all the swearwords but still some leak out and your children stand there in teary-eyed horror as you hop around like an idiot.

So finally I get the whole mess cleaned up and my hand bandaged, and we're sitting around our peanut butter sandwiches and the girl looks at her brother and she says:

"I told you he didn't know how to make them."

Sigh. If they hadn't saved my life earlier, I'd murder them in their sleep.

Seven down, four to go.

[UPDATE: I realized this morning that I never went back and verified the name of the group and the album, so it appeared as XXXXX in the original post. It was the Spin Doctors, and I've corrected that now. Sadly, the anecdote is completely true.]

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