Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Just call me Buttercup

You may have noticed that it has been a while since I’ve blogged – nearly one month (gasp). There are several reasons for this, all of them connected to various problems encountered in the nearly one month (are you starting to see a connection here?) since Ron and I moved out to The Edge of Nowhere.

For the first couple of weeks after the big relocation I was flailing around in dial-up purgatory, not to mention carpal tunnel hell. Let’s cover purgatory first. Dial-up Internet out here in the sticks, or at least in our region of the sticks, is currently offered at a blazing 28.8-Kbps speed, turning even a simple email check into a chore (and possibly a hefty toll call as well; we have yet to receive our first phone bill but are dreading it). During the first week and a half that Ron and I were here, we constantly heard a giant sucking sound, and it was not the sound of jobs being siphoned out of the States and into Mexico, but the unmistakable noise of dial-up Internet doing the only thing it does excellently: sucking. It sucked our time, our energy, and our money. And it just sucked in general.

And even after Ron and I finally got high-speed Internet – via satellite, as we don’t get DSL out here – my computer still wasn’t getting a proper signal. So if it seems that I’ve been ignoring your emails and comments, believe me, it isn’t from choice. I have been able to publish most of the comments to my blog, but haven't taken the time to respond to them because it was just too time-consuming on my crippled computer system. I am finally trying to catch up now that Ron (after several shopping trips and countless hours of wrestling with the system) has apparently fixed the problem.

To some of you, not having high-speed Internet may seem like a lame excuse for not blogging. "Jeez, Cosmic Connie, why didn’t you come into the twenty-first century and just text your blog posts in from your cell phone or something?" you may be saying, with some degree of disdain. The truth – and I hope you will not lose all respect for me – is that just about the only thing I know how to do with my cell phone is make or receive calls, and I'm marginal at that. Even worse, I do not know how to text, and furthermore, I have little desire to do it. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m used to typing the normal way, and typing rapidly, and I am pretty good at it.

Furthermore – and here is where we get into the "hell" part – texting, as I understand it and have seen it done in the dramatizations on cell phone commercials, involves heavy usage of the thumbs. This apparently is the only way a person can type with reasonable efficiency on an itty-bitty keypad. If you’ve ever had carpal tunnel syndrome you know the thumbs are generally the first and the worst to go. All of the frantic packing and cleaning and box-lifting activities of the past few weeks have taken a toll on my hands, and I can barely type the normal way now.

One morning a few days after the Big Move, I woke up in utter despair because my hands were so numb and yet so painful that I could hardly move them, to say nothing of type a brilliant blog post. In fact blogging was the last thing on my mind, what with there being a whole huge house full of stuff – literally hundreds of boxes – yet to be unpacked. "Without my hands, I’m useless!" I cried.

"Not to worry," Ron assured me. "Just point at boxes and I’ll unpack them and put the stuff away." I admit that the idea had a certain appeal to me, inspiring visions of Buttercup and Westley in The Princess Bride. "Farm Boy*, unpack that small box over there and then arrange the contents neatly in my nightstand drawer!" I imagined myself haughtily saying. To which he would dutifully reply, "As you wish," and he would do it.

The reality, of course, is that Farm Boy had, and has, more than enough of his own stuff to do. His major task was setting our computers up so we could at least work. Work had to come first, and getting the Internet and network challenges taken care of became more than a full-time job for Ron.

Gradually, however, we have been getting our household things unpacked and organized as well. But we still have a long way to go.

There have been a few other rough edges too, which are to be expected when moving into an old ranch house that has been vacant for a while. For example, the huge heating and cooling unit that was installed recently wasn’t working properly, and when a cold spell hit a couple of nights after we moved in, Farm Boy and I froze our assets. We called our property manager and he said he’d get his electrician right on it. The very next day, a friendly guy with a mullet and a distinctive down-home accent showed up and clomped around up in our attic for a while.

"I bet there’s a lot of dust and Lord knows what else up there," I commented to him when he came back down.

"Nah, it’s not too bad," he said. "Saw a few snake skins, though."

I believe he thought he was shocking me, but as it turns out, I really like snakes, especially hognose snakes, which I think are incredibly cute with those little turned-up noses. And oh, those flicking tongues…

"What kind of snakes do you suppose were up there?" I asked him, my interest piqued.

"Prob’ly copperheads," he replied. Um…copperheads I don’t like so much, a fact that my facial expression might have betrayed. "Aw, don’t worry," he assured me. "’Round these parts, they go up in people’s attics all the time, shed their skins, and leave."

Well, that made me feel loads better. And it’s nothing to worry about, really; for years I’ve suspected there are bats in my belfry, so snakes in my attic are no big deal. Anyway, Mullet Man said that the people who had installed the gigantic new heating and cooling unit had failed to install new ducts and vents and other stuff to make it all work right, so fixing it would be a rather involved process. A few days later he showed up again with two assistants, and they all three clomped around up in the attic for several hours, putting new holes in our ceilings. They weren’t able to finish up that day and left several of the holes uncovered, including a big one in the kitchen, from which the return hung down like a giant prolapsed organ. That night Ron kept bumping his head on the prolapse, but at least the heat was working in part of the house. The next day the guys returned and finished the job, but, alas, that still didn’t do the trick. The heat still wasn’t working. We put in yet another call to our property manager, and then went to Home Depot and bought some small heaters.

After a couple more visits from our friend with the mullet, the problem was finally fixed, and everything seems to be working now. It’s very comforting to have the heat functioning again, now that the cold weather finally seems to be over.

We have had another issue regarding an intermittent but supremely awful smell that seems to be emanating from the walls near the bathroom areas. This time we haven’t been able to blame Rex The Farting Dog, because for some inexplicable reason he isn’t farting nearly as much here as he did in Houston. But the refreshing lack of dog gas has been more than counteracted by the putrid odor coming from the walls, or at least it seemed to be coming from the walls. I was convinced that various creatures – Rodents Of Unusual Size, perhaps – had crawled into the walls and died. Ron, however, says it is more than likely a septic-tank issue, which we’re now looking into ways to resolve. It's really no big deal – just another challenge of Living In The Country.

The Country is, in fact, a very fragrant place. It often smells as if someone is smoking some extraordinarily good weed around here, especially at night. Actually, however, there are these creatures called skunks… and believe me, there are plenty of them in this area. Not that they really bother us; although the olfactory evidence is everywhere and is really quite pleasant from a great distance, the only visual evidence I’ve seen of their presence thus far are the poor little critters who never made it across the road. Loudon Wainwright III might have found inspiration here.

At any rate, things are slowly but surely returning to normal, or, more accurately, they are morphing into a new normal. We have our high-speed Internet so we don’t have to go into town any more to upload huge graphics for our clients. Satellite Internet seems to be a little slower than DSL, and it sometimes goes out during a storm, but it’s the best we have right now. The important point is that we can work… and that I have most of my blogging capabilities back. Eventually all of the boxes will get unpacked, and as the weeks go by more things will fall into place. But I think it will be a while before I recover fully from this move.

I recall a moment on moving day, a day I will forever remember as Black Saturday. It was late morning, and Ron and the movers had left on the first of what would turn out to be four trips from Houston to The Edge of Nowhere. I was utterly exhausted and sleep-deprived to the point of nausea, and to make matters worse, one of the cats was missing and I couldn’t find her. Earlier we had corralled all three of the Feline-Americans into the main bathroom to keep them out of the way of the moving activity. We shut them in there with food, fresh water, a newly cleaned litter box, and a couple of toys.

Already traumatized from having their environment turned into a shambles, the cats were now indignant about their imprisonment. They spent the entire morning complaining loudly. "Get a grip, felines," I grumbled. "You’re getting the easy end of this deal. I wish Ron would lock ME in the bathroom and make you guys help with this gawd-awful move." (Not that I had really been very much help at all on this move. During an actual move I am generally about as useful as tits on a fish. Put it this way: Farm Boy has been doing more than his share of work throughout this ordeal. But Princess Buttercup does have her uses when it comes to organizing before and after the move.)

Anyway, Grace, the long-haired white cat, had managed to escape from her bathroom prison cell and was now at large in the house. For over an hour I looked for her, and finally found her crouched in a dark corner under a couch. I noticed a sticker clinging to the tangled fur on her head, and upon closer examination saw that it was one of those decals made to be slapped onto boxes so movers will know how to mistreat them.** The sticker read, "FRAGILE."

"You don’t have to remind me, sweetheart," I told her, looking around for a similar sticker to slap onto my own head. Indeed, of the three cats, Grace has taken the longest to come out of her relocation funk. For the first week or so she hid behind a stack of boxes and glared up at me whenever I peered down at her. But even she is coming around now. (She pretty much had to after I removed the boxes.) As for the dogs, they’ve had no trouble at all adjusting.

And despite the dial-up purgatory and carpal-tunnel hell (not to mention the smell hell), this place is, in many ways, heaven. Looking out of any of the numerous windows in this house, I never fail to be utterly delighted by the sights: the trees and the gently rolling land; the horses that I don’t have to care for – but get to pet and talk to – galloping across the fields; the cattle grazing in the distance. I walk out into our yard on a clear night and the sky is resplendent with more stars than I could ever see in Houston. And I look around inside, at this roomy old house (finally! Room for my books! Or most of them, anyway!), and I have to smile.

I love the way the rain smells out here. And I love the way the wind howls around this house; it’s a wild, romantic sound that is frequently accompanied by the howls of the purebred foxhounds and Malamute-wolf hybrids in the kennels right behind our place (not to mention the rabid coyotes, on certain nights). This would drive some people bonkers, but I have lived with wolves and wolf hybrids in the past, and to tell the truth I’ve kind of missed the howling. So I feel right at home, and confess that I have, on more than one occasion, joined in. My own dogs seem slightly embarrassed by this. In fact I believe they think I’m a bit off-balance, and they are very probably right. Off-balance I may be, but being out here is feeding a hunger I'd forgotten I had.

You may be relieved to know, however, that I am not going to gag you with corny homilies about the simple joys of a slower-paced life. The truth is, Ron and I are trying to create for ourselves the best of both worlds; like most people, we want to have our cake and eat it too. And Goddess knows there is no way either one of us wants to return to "the good old days" before the Internet. Internet entrepreneur Pat O’Bryan’s concept of a "Portable Empire" is a fine one, but it is, after all, dependent upon having the right technology.

Besides, there’s a lot to be said for living in big cities with conveniences just around the corner.

Yet one day a couple of weeks ago, during one of several trips into Houston to take care of business, there was a moment when Ron and I were stalled in rush hour traffic and both found ourselves gazing in horrified awe at the flustercuck around and above us: seven (!) layers of new freeway rising up into the sky like a tangle of snakes. I think I can safely speak for both Farm Boy and myself when I say that we will take the occasional serpent in our own country attic over that concrete snake pit any day. As long as we have our high-speed Internet, that is.

And now I’m more than ready to return to snarky mode. Believe me, there’s plenty to snark about, not the least of which is the fact that tomorrow, March 19, is the official release date of the New-Wage moviemercial, The Opus – which looks to be yet another showcase for people with Egos Of Unusual Size. Princess Buttercup is now putting her boots back on and is getting ready to return to the Swamp...

* A particularly apt nickname, in light of our new surroundings.
** In this case, that was merely for humorous effect. Our movers were wonderful – three hard-working guys who went way above and beyond the call of duty to move our tons of stuff at a very reasonable price.