Why I Have No Christmas Tree Lights (and other seasonal revelations…)

Okay, perhaps it was a mistake to watch Martha Stewart’s Christmas Special. Martha has led me astray before. In retrospect, choosing Martha’s caramel recipe as my first-ever candy-making attempt last year might have been a bit ambitious. Though my friends assured me the results were well worth the effort, I have my doubts. Some of my friends might just say that to make me feel better. Others are known to be highly sarcastic (you know who you are!).

I thought I’d be OK. I was, after all, hanging hand-crocheted all-cotton snowflakes in all the windows. (No, I did NOT crochet them myself. That would be depriving Kathie Lee Gifford’s child sweatshops of much-needed revenues.) But then Martha was making swizzle sticks for her punch out of orange peels, swirled around sticks and cured in sugar water. Suddenly my efforts seemed, well, inadequate.
I did plan ahead. I found a catalog (yes, my nickname is still Janine, Janine, Direct Mail Queen) that had artificial trees with the lights permanently attached. No wires to string, just unfold it and plug it in, then fold it up and stow it away when you’re done. I’m thinking of adopting this approach for boyfriends. They told me 3-5 shipping days. I was excited–I donated all my old tree lights to charity, sorted the ornaments, and got ready. Continue reading

Flying Bananas

For some time I’ve had a little problem with exploding banana trees. OK, they’re not really banana trees, they’re giant bird of paradise plants. It’s more fun to say “exploding banana trees.” And the trees themselves didn’t explode, but their roots regularly blew out the sides of their terra cotta pots. We tried replacing the pots with new ones, but the trees just blew out the new ones. So I contacted Syndesis, the makers of Syndecrete. It’s twice as strong and half as heavy as concrete. They made me some lovely planters. The only problem was getting them into the back yard.

You haven’t lived as a homeowner until you’ve seen a 6′ Syndecrete planter dangling inches from your house, while guys scream at each other in several languages and try to remember what the hand signals might be for the guy running the crane . Since Crane Guy’s behind a big wall and can’t see what’s going on, you don’t really want to give him the wrong signal. (I’m now pretty fluent in crane myself.) I told everyone if I heard a big splash, it had better be a workman going into the pool.

The planter guys didn’t really know how to get the straps out from under the planters once they were in place. Sitting right on the straps. You would think this would have come up before, but no. So my poor gardeners had to try to slide shovels under each (1500-lb!!) planter, lift it a few inches and slide the straps out. This took some time. Then the banana trees were up in the air getting put into the planters, with my old dog Bailey right behind them, wagging her tail and waiting for someone to notice that this was all a VERY BAD IDEA. Nothing big got broken and my back yard looks much better, but it was a busy morning. Continue reading

Banana Wars

I know you’ve been worried. But we may have finally solved the problem of the exploding banana trees. Those three out by the pool have been bursting their terra cotta pots regularly ever since I got them. I’ll be inside and hear this big “WHUMP!” as one side of the pot falls off and hits the deck. Can’t put the trees in the ground because there’s a huge cement footing coming out from the wall. I was worried that I’d have to build permanent cinderblock planters, which is more work than I feel like doing on this. Also, we’re scheduled to sandblast and replaster and repaint the wall behind them next month, so I’m a little pressed for time. I’ve been putting off a decision because I was dreading what that might be. I just knew, whatever it was, it would involve a crane.

Which reminded me of the guys who built my Syndecrete bathtub. Syndecrete is a material similar to concrete, but twice as strong and half as heavy. They can build just about anything out of it by making a custom mold. My bathtub is massive, and features custom Basset tracks across the top. It was indeed craned up over the wall from the street and in the window. Thirteen very happy construction guys in my bathroom playing with their biggest toy truck ever. I had a feeling they could come up with a solution to the banana tree problem. I also had an ulterior motive here, because water that runs down the shower door has been pooling on the step and sometimes running down onto the carpet. There was lots of bad blood between David (head Syndecrete guy) and my contractors–late delivery, late payments, I don’t know what all. So I was worried he’d be reluctant to work with me again. Continue reading

The Natives are Getting Restless

It’s spring and the natives are getting restless. We noticed that two doves were in the garage one day, so I chased them out. The next day they were back. Every time the door opened, they’d rush in. I looked for a nest, but couldn’t find one. The kept pooping on the Jaguar, which I took to be a critical statement, and one I could certainly agree with sometimes. One day my assistant, Paula, took the Jaguar to the car wash, and the attendant handed her the nest. That had been inside the car, in the pocket on the passenger-side door. I think this could be the new slogan Jaguar is looking for: “It may not run all the time, but it makes a dandy bird sanctuary!”

The finches were more successful at setting up housekeeping. Every year fifty or so gather on my bedroom terrace and screech at each other for a couple of days (this is very restful for me). The lucky winners move into a side vent outside my fireplace. The sound really echoes around in the fireplace, but it’s only noisy at feeding time. However, there are a lot of feeding times, beginning before dawn. I noticed that something was eating the peaches on my peach tree. We checked and found a huge hole in the bird netting I had put over it. So we repaired the hole, but then I felt guilty. What if the little baby birds were depending on those peaches? So I took out all the damaged ones and left them by the nest. Yup, I’m not only losing sleep over my new neighbors, I’m catering the whole thing.

Birds aren’t the only critters stirring. Two squirrels have moved in nearby, and they stage daily torment-the-Basset sessions. She’ll go barreling down the hill, barking furiously, while they scamper up the trees and laugh at her. One day I couldn’t hear Hennessy, so I looked down the hill, where she was pointing in the vegetable garden. At the four-foot snake. So I shrieked, got both dogs inside, and called Animal Control. They said they’d be right over, and don’t let it leave. I don’t know about you, but the schools I went to don’t teach rattlesnake restraining. I thought about putting out a nice buffet of peaches. Turned out it was a gopher snake that had gotten caught in the bird netting (see how well that works? Doesn’t stop birds, keeps snakes trapped in your garden!). So we released him. I told Hennessy, “Good girl. Don’t find any more snakes.”

The snake wasn’t the first visitor to get stuck. One day I walked downstairs and Pedrina, my housekeeper, announced, “There’s an owl.” Turned out a great horned owl had gotten stuck to a piece of trash by the trash cans and couldn’t get loose. Pedrina said, “Don’t worry, little bird, I’ll help you.” Little Bird hissed and lunged at her. I thought if I could just hold down the trash, he’d have the leverage to get free. So I hid behind a can (owls are pretty vicious), and held down the trash with a pole. Then I had a really angry owl stuck to my pole. From now on I leave the predators to Animal Control.

And it’s not just L.A. I was driving on the freeway, south of Tucson, when I heard a funny vibration. Pulled over, found the back gate had come loose. I closed and locked it, but a few miles away it happened again. Closed it again, drove another few miles, and something flew off the truck. I walked back to see what it was, and two Border Patrol guys pulled over to help me. We realized that my rear roof rack had come loose, snapped off, and pulled up the track. The truck’s three weeks old. Border Guys said, “Ford should pay for that.” I assured them Ford would.

Well, you know where this is going. The two Ford dealerships in Santa Monica both assessed the situation and solemnly assured my assistant, Paula that it simply could not have happened. Paula stood before the twisted wreckage and assured them that it did. They insisted I must have hit something. It was on the freeway. In the middle of the desert. There was nothing to hit. I know it was a pretty windy day, but I do expect my vehicles not to fly apart in the wind. Well, the Jaguar maybe, but not the Ford.

I thought it over and decided there was only one explanation. Remember, I was in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing to hit. Who pulled over to help? The Border Patrol, whose job it is to stem illegal immigration. The answer is obvious. Aliens ate my roof rack. Probably illegal ones.

So we took it back to Star Ford, where I bought it. They were glad to fix it, no charge. They made an appointment with Paula. They were there early waiting for her. They offered her any car on the lot as a loaner. The car was ready when they said it would be. They actually fixed what they said they were going to.

We’re a little bit in shock. Then I understood. Polite, helpful reliable service from a Ford dealer? One named “Star” Ford? Obviously the place is run by aliens.

Copyright 1997 by Janine Smith. Not to be reproduced or distributed without permission

Car Karma, Which I Haven’t Got


Well, I’m off to my cosmic chiropractor, since I obviously need an adjustment to my car karma.

Though I never got a notice, a friend heard Ford Explorers were being recalled for defective brakes. Since I often use my brakes, my assistant, Paula, made an appointment at Santa Monica Ford, brought it in, and left it overnight. The next day she went to pick it up and was informed they hadn’t done the repair, since they didn’t have the parts. You’re probably wondering why they didn’t tell her this the night before. We’ll never know for sure, but we think the folks at SMF are either incurable optimists (believing FedEx would show up during the night) or impossible romantics (believing in the Parts Fairy). Either way, Paula decided to try another dealership.

Metro Ford was delighted to schedule the repair. She left it overnight. The next morning, they asked her to wait a few minutes while they finished the work (a good sign: no evidence of fairy dust on the floor). She brought it home, and I drove it happily, braking with wild abandon. About three weeks later, I got a notice asking when I was bringing it back to Metro to get the work done. Paula called and inquired, and was referred to Tom. Tom explained that they never actually did the work. “This was a miscommunication between Russell, who no longer is employed at this location, and myself,” he explained. Apparently Russell was supposed to tell Tom to do the repair. He didn’t and didn’t ask anyone whether it had been done, but released the car. However, if Paula would return the next day, she would have “first priority” to get it done.

Well, we were a little disconcerted by this. Is it some sort of Ford corporate policy to schedule and charge for, but not perform, repairs? Some sort of ancient Druidian ritual, or perhaps a Zen concept (the repairs are visualized and empowered by the scheduling, and do not need to be done by actual mechanics)? Is Ford even CAPABLE of a corporate policy, considering their apparent dependence on fairies and former employees named Russell? Now, the other disturbing thing is the notice we received. Metro is so disorganized that they release a car without knowing whether the work has been done, but so organized they send out a notice that it hasn’t? If so, can we do the repair by mail? (This recalls a disturbing experience I had with Jaguar, where they apparently expected me to fix the parking brake myself and notify them so they could bill me. Jaguar is now owned by Ford. Coincidence? I think not.)

Paula duly showed up the next day, waited an hour (thank god we had “first priority!”), and they took the car in the back. Two minutes later they were back to inform her the work had already been done, and why had she brought it in?

So the car may or may not have functional brakes. I suggest, if you’re in front of any Ford Explorer in a traffic situation, you pull over and get out of the way. Personally, I’m keeping a bottle of Jack Daniels in the glove compartment–it doesn’t make the brakes work any better, but I find I don’t care as much. (This may be another reason to avoid Explorers…) And this week they announced that some Fords (including–surprise!–Explorers) may spontaneously burst into flame at any moment. They’re not recalling them because they’re not sure why it happens. For some reason this does not astonish me.

Now, during all this, my car phone developed an annoying tendency to hang itself up as soon as I dialed it. So we called Carphone Guys, who came out and were mystified. They finally decided to send the whole thing back east (where I guess the repairmen who actually know how to repair must live). So Paula asked if we could get a loaner. “I don’t know.” Well, could they find out? “I don’t know.” Apparently this is the first time in the history of car phones that this question has come up. I love being a pioneer. It only took three visits from Carphone Guys to get a working loaner phone. One can only imagine how long it will take to get my own phone back and working. I’m lighting a candle to the Phone Phairy.

And you’re thinking, at least the Jaguar is working. HA!!! The thermostat on the heating/air conditioning system is on drugs–it’s either Arctic or Saharan. The driver’s seat occasionally adjusts itself up or back an inch on a whim. The rear antenna doesn’t retract all the way (possibly to continue to receive alien transmissions? I’ll believe anything at this point). However, it’s got a working phone, and I’m so grateful it’s not spontaneously combusting, I don’t mind at all. You may remember my friendly but Kato-esque Jaguar service manager, Sam. I have instructed Paula to call Hornburg Jaguar and ask for Russell. If they say just a minute, be afraid. If they put you on hold and disconnect you, be very afraid. A Sam/Russell collaboration is too frightening to contemplate.

My friend JoAnn went to her psychic facialist (don’t ask) and discovered the root of our problems. (No, it’s not that troubling Ben-&-Jerry’s dependency, which we will address when we’re ready. We can quit whenever we want to. Really.) You see, the moon currently has a “wobble”, and it especially affects those of us in Aries. The last big moon wobble was 19 years ago, when the biggest earthquakes ever recorded occurred (assuming we accept facialist as seismic experts, and hey, I go to Metro Ford so call me gullible). Moon wobbles especially affect transportation (duh), moving (which I’m doing in two weeks) and dental work. I can practically guarantee a broken filling at any moment.

Now she didn’t mention moon wobbles affecting communing with the earth, but she should have. I just spent the best birthday of my life. (Well, yeah, it was the first after my divorce, but that’s not why. Though it didn’t hurt…) It’s because I spent it at Two Bunch Palms Resort, in Desert Hot Springs, California. WHY didn’t anyone tell me about this place before???? By the second day I was so relaxed I couldn’t walk straight. There were 3 bunnies in my private back yard. I was sunbathing, looking up at a palm tree on one side, and a snow-covered mountain on the other. I was in heaven.

The only unusual event was my mud bath. I’d never had one before, and I loved it. I’m outdoors, soaking in hot wet mud, looking up at the trees whipping around in the wind overhead. This is very relaxing. I’m all blissed-out. I might stay here forever. Then the attendant, Joseph, wanders in and announces, “We have a problem.” He points up, to where the tree has fallen on the power line directly above us. The lesson we learned here is: there is NO graceful way for a naked woman to climb out of a vat of hot mud while in danger of imminent electrocution. However, it does not matter, because your faithful attendant has long since fled to save himself, leaving you to your muddy demise.

As I drove home, the temperature in the Jaguar at 30, at 90, at 30, I resolved to read up on this moon wobble business. Perhaps I could change my astrological sign, to one of the not-in-danger-of-auto-immolation signs? Though, if the astrologer is named Russell, count me out.
Names changed: “Sam”. He means well….

Copyright 1997 by Jzine. Not to be reproduced or distributed without permission