Goodbye 2020: The Year that Didn’t Happen

I don’t keep a scrapbook, but if I did, this untorn ticket stub is the only thing I’d put in it to symbolize 2020.  Scheduled for March 20, 2020, its abrupt cancellation with the promise of a reschedule was an early omen of all that was to come.

The NBA shut down the week before this concert was to have taken place.  Days later I was sent home from work with my laptop and assurances we’d be back in two weeks.

I haven’t seen the place since.

Mandy Moore never rescheduled.  The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust gave up in early November and refunded my money.

Goodbye 2020:  The Year that Didn’t Happen.

For some, 2020 has been marked by horrific loss—loss of a family member, a job, or a small business.  But for those of us lucky enough to have thus far avoided those fates, 2020 is going to be hard to remember.

I know what you’re thinking—how could we forget this unprecedented, crazy year?

But on the other hand, what is there to remember?  This is the year we didn’t go to concerts, or weddings, or dinners out with friends.  We didn’t celebrate birthdays or holidays together.  We didn’t go on vacation.  Sure, we Zoomed. 

But we all know deep down that Zoom doesn’t count.

“There was Trump and there was covid,” we’ll tell our great-grandkids about this year.  “And that’s all I remember.”

“But what did you do?” they’ll ask us.

“I have no idea,” we’ll say.

And isn’t it true already?  March seems so long ago and yet I cannot think of the things I’ve done in the past nine months.  I can only remember the things I didn’t do.

Five years from now, I won’t remember that I was ever planning to see Mandy Moore at all.

We’ll forget all our plans that never came to fruition.

I’ll bet you can’t even remember that when this all started you binged Tiger King.

Goodbye, 2020.  You won’t be missed and won’t you be remembered.

Here’s to 2021:  The Year of the Vaccine and the Roaring Twenties Redux.

See you then.

Slowing Down To Speed Up

I’ve got another rant.

Blame yourselves.  Readers responded so well to my rant about the spaghetti man and his ridiculous paper plate date, that I have no reason to hold back now.

I want to talk about podcasts. 

My beef is not with podcasts themselves.  I love getting regular updates on news, politics, entertainment, and inspiration from hosts I’ve come to think of as friends.  They say podcast listening is down in 2020 due to less commuting.  While I agree that driving is the ideal listening place for podcasts, I’m not sure how I would’ve survived 2020 without them.  While some people use radio or television for background noise while they’re working, I use podcasts.

So what’s the problem?

1.5x speed. 

For those not familiar with podcasting, there are settings on podcast player that allow you to speed up the sound.  You can literally listen to podcasts on fast forward.  The most common speed is 1.5x, which allows you to get through a 60 minute podcast in 45 minutes.

It takes some getting used to, or so people say.  People often work their way up to 1.75x speed, and even 2x in which a 60 minute podcast is played in 30 minutes with the hosts sounding like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Why do people do this?

To make sure they hear all of their favorite podcast during their morning commute?

To fit in more podcasts—to be better informed, more inspired, more entertained?

To—

Oh, let’s be honest.

People do this because they’re insane.

I had a great analogy to use here—that people could watch movies in fast forward to get more movies in, but they don’t do that because it’s crazy.

Except that there’s now a Chrome Plug-In that lets you watch Netflix on your computer at double speed.

To all the people who listen and watch on double-speed, I have a news flash for you:  you will never be able to watch and listen to everything good out there.

I guess it’s like trying to learn to speed read.  But speed reading is to get through boring school material.  You don’t speed read your favorite novel.

You savor it.

But really, people can do what they want.  If they want to listen to their podcasts on 2x speed, it’s no skin off my nose.

Except now it is.

Because I was listening to my favorite podcast host recently, and he mentioned that over the years he has learned to speak more slowly and take longer pauses during his podcasts.

Why?

So that people listening on 1.5x and 2x speed can understand him.

Podcasters now have to slow down so that we can speed them up.

And now those of us who listen on normal speed have to listen on slow-mo.

Are movies next?  Are directors going to have to make three hour cuts so we can watch them in an hour and a half?

This.  Is.  Lunacy.

Right?

Too Good To Be True

In late November, I wrote about a noise in my house that sounded like a train rumbling through the walls.  Before I decided to do anything about it, my local water municipality contacted me saying there was a problem with my water meter reading.

The meter man came to the house and fixed my water meter free of charge.

I had a house problem that cost me no time or money to fix.

I ended the blog with a question:  Can it really be this simple?

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our answer:  No.

No, when it comes to home repair, it can never be simple.

This is the second part of what I’d hoped would be a one-part story.

(To those of you who are older and wiser homeowners, this is likely a plot twist you saw coming a mile away.)

For forty hours after the meter man left, I lived without the sound, blissful in my delusion that the problem was fixed.

But then it came back.  As loud and as frequent as ever.

This was going to require a call to the plumber and a credit card after all.

For those of you who are interested, it was the water pressure regulator (as well as the water meter) that was the ultimate culprit.  The plumber had the problem diagnosed and replaced in a few hours, and we’re going on 168 hours—a full week—with no noise.

I think we’ve got it licked this time.

Let’s hope this is the end of the story.

My Visa card can’t take a part III.

Spaghetti Man

I try not to rant on this blog, but today, I must make an exception. 

I beg your pardon and forgiveness.

But have you seen this new idiotic commercial for Dixie paper plates?

Before my rant commences, please review the 30 second video below:

For those of you who didn’t watch, the commercial depicts a man who has spent all day cooking his grandmother’s special spaghetti and meatballs recipe to impress his girlfriend.  He serves her dinner on a paper plate, and spills it onto her lap before she takes a single bite.

This petulant man-child then has the audacity to leave the paper plates a one-star review.

“Ruined our meal,” he types furiously.  “I spent all day trying to master my nana’s recipe.  I got everything right, except for the plates.”

Everything right except for the plates!  Napoleon got everything right except Waterloo.  The 2007 New England Patriots got everything right except Super Bowl XLII.  The Titanic got everything right except for the iceberg. 

To repeat:  HE SERVED SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS ON A PAPER PLATE TO IMPRESS HIS GIRLFRIEND.

And by the way, there is nothing on the dinner table but a jug and a glass of water when he serves her the spaghetti.  No crusty Italian bread and butter.  No salad.  No napkins.  No charcuterie board (which is the way to my heart, in case anyone is wondering.)

No wine.  That’s right, ladies, this Casanova didn’t even buy her a drink first.

I’m guessing he has a football game on a television just behind her head.  No need to miss a play while you’re slurping up noodles.

If this is what passes for millennial romance, no wonder I’m still single.

Hey buddy, wanna know why you’ve never seen a girl naked?

IT’S BECAUSE YOU SERVE THEM SPAGHETTI ON PAPER PLATES.

I mean, nothing says one-night stand like paper plates.

If you want a woman to know you’re going to respect her in the morning, at the very least you use Chinet.

Everybody knows that.

Christmas Came Early

Is it me or did Christmas come early this year?

Traditionally, the Christmas decorating doesn’t start until after Thanksgiving—for many families, it’s part of a ritual weekend that kicks off the holiday season.  Thursday—Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends.  Friday—shopping!  Saturday—put up the Christmas tree.

Yet this year people got a jump on the holiday.

Last week, during my nightly evening walk, I passed a house with their Christmas tree lit and visible through a big bay window.  It was a beautiful tree, covered in twinkling white lights and topped with a star.

Pretty, I thought, but an earlier outlier.  It was still over a week to Thanksgiving.

I was wrong.

Two houses down, I saw another tree through the window.  Then I passed a manager scene set up on a front lawn.  Outdoor lights were everywhere.

Did I have my days mixed up?  Did I miss Thanksgiving?

It was confirmed that I didn’t when I passed a house with a huge blow up sleigh and reindeer lit in the front yard.  The house across the street still had their Halloween decorations up.  Another house had a tree in the window but pumpkins and a cornucopia on the front stoop.

It wasn’t me.  Christmas had come early.

Just about every other house had some sort of Christmas decoration up either inside or outside the house.

I too had the urge to put my tree up earlier than usual.  Normally, I’m lackadaisical about this project, sometimes skipping it altogether.  Thanksgiving weekend I start thinking about the tree, and sometimes get it up promptly, other times waiting until a week or two before Christmas.

But this year I had the urge to put it up in early November, despite the uncommonly warm, sunny weather that didn’t make it look a bit like Christmas. 

I put my tree up yesterday, and when I went for my evening walk yesterday, about three-quarters of the houses were decorated.  In fact, I’d bet that everyone who plans to decorate has done it already.

There’s something in the air.

I think it’s hope.

Things That Go Bump In The Night

I’ve been hearing things.

I was on the couch watching an old film and a sound like an oncoming train rumbled through the walls of my home.  It was a vibrating sound, and it seemed to come from everywhere at once.  It sent Blinker streaking to her safe space beneath the bed.

Hmm.

I reluctantly turned off Bette Davis and went into the basement.  By this time, the noise had stopped, but I examined the furnace, the water heater, and the main water lines.  There was nothing out of the ordinary to my inexpert eye.

I went back upstairs and finished the film.

Over the next few weeks, I heard the sound again and again.  It wasn’t always the same—sometimes it was the vibrating, other times it was a hiss and click, and other times it sounded like water rushing through the walls.

Each time I’d run around trying to figure out exactly where it was coming from to no avail.  It didn’t always seem to emanate from the same spot—sometimes I would swear it was coming from under the sink, other times from a heating vent.

I could find no pattern in when the noise would begin—it happened with the furnace on and off, the air conditioner on and off.  It happened when I’d recently flushed the toilet, or in the middle of the night when I hadn’t used the water for hours.

I wasn’t sure if it originated with the heating, cooling, or plumbing.

I had no idea what to do.

So, I did nothing.

Weeks stretched into months.  The sound would come and go as it pleased, and became so regular that Blinker would barely even lift her head from her nap when it began.

Who to call?  A plumber?  Heating and cooling?

I just kept ignoring the problem and waiting for it to resolve itself.

And then, an unexpected plot twist.

(If you’re thinking a pipe exploded and I woke up to a basement full of water, you’re wrong.  That would be completely expected after ignoring an obvious problem for months.)

Instead, like my very own Greek tragedy, a deux ex machine arrived in the nick of time.

I got a letter.  Snail mail.

It was my local municipal authority, telling me the meter man had visited.  It seems that since the last outdoor meter reading, the meter had not moved at all.  Either I had not used a drop of water in three months, or there was a problem with the meter.  The letter instructed me to call and schedule a time for the meter man to examine the meter inside the house.

A week later the meter man arrived.

“Definitely broken.  Needs completely changed,” he said.

“Could a broken meter make noise?”

“Sure.”

“Like a train rumbling through?”

“I guess.”

He was obviously the strong silent type, so I left him alone to replace the inside and outside meter.

It took him less than an hour and there was no charge to me.

I haven’t heard the noise in twenty-four hours.  Could it really be the simple?

The lesson I’m taking away from this experience is that when you have a problem you don’t know how to solve, you should ignore it until some unforeseen outside force presents the solution.

Can it really be this simple?

Who You Gonna Call? Leaf Busters

I don’t get leaf blowers.

Raking leaves is a two-part process.  Step One:  Rake leaves into a pile.  Step Two:  Bag leaves.

On a balmy Pittsburgh November morning, Step One can be downright pleasant.  The heat of the summer is behind you, and with a sweatshirt on you brave the crisp November air.  I’ve always thought they should add raking leaves sounds to those sleep machines that play waves crashing, birds chirping, and rain falling.  It’s every bit as soothing.

Step Two is the backbreaker.  Getting your lovely piles of leaves off your lawn and into trash bags will break your back and destroy your sanity.  Scooping the leaves into the bag requires you to bend over approximately one thousand times per bag.  No matter what method you use—pushing the leaves into the bag with a broom, or scooping them up with a rake, 75% of every scoop ends up back on the ground and not in the bag.  You can always get on your knees and pick up the leaves with your hands, but that adds about 5,000 more scoops to the process.

It’s enough to have you hauling out a chainsaw and cutting down every tree you see. 

The leaf blower takes pleasant Step One and replaces that soothing noise with a ridiculously loud motor that is interrupting all of your neighbor’s work-from-home conference calls. 

For Step Two, it does nothing at all.

I don’t need a leaf blower.  I need a leaf sucker.

Last week, I was out taking one of many walks while waiting for the election returns to come in when I saw what I longed for.

A leaf sucker.

They’re actually called leaf vacuums, and they’re leaf blowers with the ability to suck instead of just blow.  They have an attachment with a wide mouth to suck up the leaves, and a cloth backpack that holds the sucked-up leaves.

Yes, such a thing exists.  A neighbor had one, and after a brief conversation I was immediately off to Lowe’s to purchase one.

I strapped it on and looking like a Ghostbuster, I went to work, sucking every leaf in my yard and my neighbor’s yard, just for the fun of it.

No more bending over, no more scooping.  If you really want the joy of Step One, you can rake the leaves into the pile and then suck them up, but I just swept back and forth across the yard like a weirdo at the beach with a Geiger counter looking for loose change.

When I was through, I unstrapped the cloth backpack, unzipped it and dumped it into a waiting plastic trash bag…where half of the leaves missed the bag and ended up back on the ground.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Chick-fil-A and the Vaccine

Ladies and gentlemen, a modest proposal:  If and when a covid-19 vaccine is developed, let’s all agree to put Chick-fil-A in charge of its distribution.

Hear me out.

Back when I had a commute that involved more than the stairs leading into my home office, every morning I’d drive by a Dunkin’ Donuts.

If there were three cars or less in the drive-thru line, I’d pull in and order a dark roast coffee.  Even with only three cars ahead of me, there was still a significant chance I would be in line for over twenty minutes and they’d get my order wrong.

If there were five cars in line, I’d maybe get my coffee in time for lunch.

Now I acknowledge this Dunkin’ Donuts is universally recognized as exceptionally slow.

And yet contrast this with every single Chick-fil-A I have ever visited.  These people have the lunch time rush down to a science.

The Chick-fil-A drive-thru is always mobbed at lunch time, and that’s only increased since they’ve shut down their indoor dining.

But reader, I tell you, I would wait in a Chick-fil-A line with fifty cars in it, knowing I would get my lunch faster than my coffee at the three-car pile-up at Dunkin’.

(I believe I’m exaggerating for effect, but this might be factually true if we time tested it.)

At my local Chick-fil-A, there is a woman with a flag directing traffic.  They’ve made a two-lane drive-thru, with about six people along the way taking your order, your payment, and finally giving you your food.

They get approximately one million people served per location in a lunch hour, and they never make a mistake.  And not just the big stuff.

When I ask for three ketchups, I get three ketchups. 

I want to give these workers a cash tip, but there’s so many of them I’d go bankrupt.

This is how you adjust to covid restrictions and get the job done.

So why wouldn’t we put these folks in charge of the vaccine distribution?

I trust Chick-fil-A not to screw this up more than my local pharmacy or any level of government.

And can we cut out the insurance companies and have Chick-fil-A handle the billing too?

Then we could skip the ten-page explanation of benefits and go straight to combo orders.

“Yes, I’ll take a number one with cheese, fries, and a vaccine.  Three ketchups, please.”

You’d have your lunch and vaccine in five minutes flat.

There’s a lot of preliminary discussion about who should get the vaccine first—front line workers, vulnerable populations, etc.

But if we put Chick-fil-A in charge, we can have the whole country vaccinated in one lunch hour.

Okay, maybe two lunch hours.

Unless the vaccine is deployed on a Sunday.

Then we’re out of luck.

Pandemic Diet

Remember when we got cellphones?

Overnight, phone greetings changed.  After a brief hello, we inevitably asked, “Where are you?” because we could no longer take it for granted that the other party was at home.

We wanted to fix that person in our mind—to know when we were pouring our heart out over a recent breakup the other person was listening intently on their back deck and not rushing through a supermarket checkout line.

During the Great Pandemic of 2020, we don’t need to ask—we’re all at home, all the time, or at least it feels that way.

Instead, when catching up with friends and family we have a whole new crop of questions:

“Are you back in the office?  Any idea when?”

“How are the kids doing school?  Full remote, hybrid, or attendance with masks and plastic cones around their desks?”

“Did you skip Trick-or-Treat last night or shoot the candy to the kids through a six-foot pipe while wearing a hazmat suit?”

And if you thought politics, religion, and sex were taboo topics, try asking someone these controversy inflaming questions:

“What are your plans for Thanksgiving?  Oh, and what does your mother think about that?”

“Are you eating in restaurants?”

So since I haven’t done one of these Sunday blogs since July, here’s my covid condition:

I’ve been working from home since March 12, when we were sent home on a Thursday with the instruction to work from home for one day to test our IT systems “in case the virus progressed.”

Spoiler alert:  It progressed.

Since that time, I’ve been in my office for exactly ten minutes when I stopped by to pick up my Sam’s Club bulk box of oatmeal and my desktop monitor.

My feelings on working from home cycle like the seasons:  I go from loving the flexibility and quiet, to being indifferent, to longing to see my co-workers, even the ones I hate.

I’ve got newly hired co-workers I talk to everyday whom I’ve never met.

My house has never been cleaner:  if you’re boring me on a conference call, rest assured I am dusting something.  If you’re really irritating me, I’m drowning you out with the vacuum cleaner.

I worry most about how Blinker will react when I finally go back into the office.

I haven’t seen most of my friends since my friend Allison threw a prohibition-themed Leap Year Party.  If I knew then what I know now I would’ve played Jeopardy and drank sidecars until dawn.

My friend Ginger, who I’ve known since junior high school, was married in September and I wasn’t there.  That one, more than anything else I’ve missed, tears my guts out.

I swear off following the presidential election coverage five times a day but am always lured back in.

I tamed my desire to hoard through most of the summer, but with the prospect of a long winter I’m starting to obsessively acquire toilet paper, cat food, and coffee again.

I stopped cooking over the summer.  Back when I went into the office every day, I was disciplined in preparing all my meals for the week on Sunday.  Lunch and dinner, pre-made and packed into Tupperware containers.  But now that I was home all the time, I kept telling myself I would cook a brand-new lunch and dinner each night, like a normal person.

It would be wonderful, I thought, having something new at each meal.

It was not wonderful.  It was torture.  Thinking of something new to eat, every day, twice a day?

I don’t know how people do it.

So reader, I started eating toast.  Forget my bulk box of oatmeal, I had toast for breakfast.

Then one day I ran out of cheese and lunchmeat, so instead of having a sandwich for lunch, I had toast.  The next thing I knew I was eating toast for lunch all the time.

It wasn’t a plan, it just happened.

And since addiction only goes from bad to worse, eventually I started eating toast for dinner.

I’m here to tell you that woman can live on toast alone.

It’s hot, it’s easy, and it’s delicious smeared with butter.

And even though it’s butter and carbs, if you consume literally nothing but toast and black coffee, it doesn’t do much to your waistline.

But it’s also madness.

Fortunately, as the weather has cooled, my desire to cook—and my sanity—has returned.  I’m back to making a big batch of soup, stew, salad, or casserole on Sunday. 

And though I dread the upcoming winter, at least I have something to look forward to besides toast for dinner.

Tale As Old As Time Reversed

My Dad’s board is on the left, the professional on the right.

It’s a tale as old as time:  to save money and prevent potential covid germs from entering your home, homeowner attempts a desperately needed home repair herself.  The attempt goes poorly and ends with homeowner calling a professional to clean up the mess.

This is not that story.

This is the tale as old as time reversed.

Confused? 

As long term readers of this blog know, for a horrifying six hours in late June I had zero working toilets.  I quickly got one working, but the second is still a work in progress.

To recap:  the offending toilet leaked and water rotted out the subfloor.  The subfloor needed replacing, then new flooring laid, and only then can the plumber replace the flange and toilet.

Got it?

Today is the story of replacing the subfloor.

My Dad thought we could do the job ourselves.  He’s the best handyman I know, but he’d never done a subfloor and I figured it would cost a lot of time and frustration.  To be honest, I was lazy and just wanted to throw money at the problem to have it fixed quickly and without inconvenience.

Oh, the best laid plans.

It took a lot of phone calls to find someone willing to do the job.  It’s busy season for construction and no one wanted to waste a few hours on a tiny six- by-three-foot half bath when they have a mile long list of major renovation projects. 

I finally found someone through a handyman company and made the appointment.  The guy was here for six hours and I will bullet point the key factors to speed our story along:

  1. I asked for the entire subfloor to be replaced.  He ultimately installed a 25×25 inch square board around the toilet area, only replacing the rotted piece.
  2. He went to Lowe’s—twice—to buy wood and still ended up installing a piece that was a quarter inch thinner than the rest of the floor, resulting in:
  3. The replacement square not being flush with the rest of the floor.
  4. He removed my sink—ultimately unnecessary because he didn’t replace the floor beneath it—and informed me that he couldn’t get it to stop leaking when it was reattached.

The non-flush floor is a problem because you cannot install flooring or tile overtop it.  And I don’t know about you, but “Rural Outhouse” style flooring does not match my wallpaper.

As for the sink, at least the plumber is coming back anyway. 

You know what I did next.  I called dear old Dad.

In the end, we ripped out everything and started over. 

With a board of the correct width, properly measured cuts for the toilet flange, and a single shim, we had the floor flush and even.  It took us two hours less.

The job finally looked professional.

In the end, I paid the professional for cutting a hole in the floor, possibly breaking my sink, and wood that is now scraped and in my garage.

Oh, and the screwdriver he left behind beneath the floor, like a doctor who stitches up a body with the surgical scissors still inside.

I’m keeping it.  Even with the company’s partial refund after my complaints, it’s the most expensive screwdriver I—or anyone else—will ever own.

My Dad’s impeccable work cost four hours and a half gallon of ice cream to celebrate.

I guess you don’t always get what you pay for, after all.

A coda:  I was wary of having a stranger in my home with the covid spread, so I turned off the air and had all the windows open and fans going to keep the air moving while he was here.  It was a hot day and he was sweating profusely.

At the time, I felt bad.

I don’t anymore.