Capitalist that I am, I have advertisements at the very bottom of this blog. If about a million of you click them, I think I get a dollar. A web device reads my posts and then chooses ads based on words I write up here, on the premise that my readers will be interested in buying products related to what I write about. Thanks to last Monday's entry, I have two ads from outfits seeking to protect us from the dreaded brown recluse.
To make matters worse, this man's wife stayed with us last night and recounted the time he was almost done in by one of those creepy little beasts.
Nightmares. Sensation of things crawling under my clothes. Excessive jumpiness. You give me something to worry about, and I will jump on it like a hobo on a ham sandwich.
But for once the worry was a good down payment, because tonight I found a brown recluse in the kids' bathtub. I got the magnifying glass and checked. Freaky eye pattern, violin on the back -- a brown recluse is basically a dangerous little bohemian arachnid -- yep, an eight-legged assassin was waiting for my children.
So I crushed half his legs, made him swim in a cup of water for an hour, and then put him down the disposal. As a warning to the others. And before you PETA sociopaths start sending me hate mail, be assured that I would have done exactly the same thing had I caught a human being in their bathtub.
We are now on high alert. Defcon four. Glue strips all over the house. Tomorrow we teach the kids the shake-before-you-put-on-your-shoes technique. And goodbye bed skirts. This last mitigation is only a sacrifice for one member of the family who shall remain nameless, though I'll note that she's the one who can't pee on a fence.
Speaking of the wife, I told her we may need to just go without clothes and blankets completely, since the little beasts like to hide in those places.
It's just as well. I've read that those little six-eyed freaky freaks can see in the dark.
So now it's spider hunting time. These night-crawlers have no idea who they're dealing with. I only need two hours of sleep a night, I'm a deadly aim with a newspaper, and I'm dangerously vindictive. No more Mister Ambivalent Regarding Arachnids. This time, it's personal.
Moving puts one in a consumerist mindset, sometimes forcibly. Along with the excitement of finding a new home that fits one's wants and wishes comes the depressing drudgery of coping with the varied organizations whose products are essential either to one's household or to the government's sense of what is necessary to fund itself while keeping the populace from killing, poisoning, or intolerably irritating one another. In the same day one can play the role of omnipotent customer and powerless supplicant, depending on the transaction. The key is to maintain your dignity. They can take your money and your liberty, but never let them have what separates us from the animals and the French.
Keeping one's dignity during a three-hour visit to the Division of Motor Vehicles with three small children in tow, however, is no small feat. So sometimes it's enough simply to refrain from killing a state employee in the exceedingly slow and surly performance of his rote and ill-considered tasks.
I noticed something during that ordeal, and to explain it properly I first need to make clear that I am not someone who believes the word "literally" was invented so that the inarticulate could express how much something is way, way more/less/better/worse, etc., than their limited words could otherwise convey. In other words, it has a literal meaning. And I mean it literally when I say that these people move slower, literally, than any other collection of non-injured, non-geriatric individuals whose proximity I've ever had the misfortune of sharing. It's as if they were coated in molasses and force-marched through the North Pole.
I'm sure many of them would disagree. They are tired when they get home, and they believe they earn their pay just like anyone else. But they move at about two-thirds the speed of a well-supervised or well-motivated person. I watched one woman schlep every few minutes from her seat in one corner to a fax machine in the opposite corner, walking parallel to the walls so she could stay behind the long counters protecting her co-workers from the irritated citizenry (though that last word may not be entirely accurate). She was the only person I saw using the fax. Not only did she travel at the speed of a tire rolling uphill, but it didn't seem to occur to her that perhaps the fax machine should be relocated. Will it ever occur to her? No, because her life is the same whether we wait three hours or three minutes, except in the latter scenario she has to move a little quicker and solve more problems.
This isn't limited to the DMV, of course -- any organization can let its workforce become a wasteland where the goals and motivation are as bizarre and meaningless as a Kofi Annan speech. I wandered into a sporting goods store a few days later (hanging up a heavy bag, going to teach the little men to bring the serious, Bruce Lee, jeet-kune-do-go-tell-your-mama-how-bad-you-just-got-whupped smack), and noticed several customers standing in different sections looking for non-existent help. Only when I made my way back to the front did I see a clump of teenagers wearing shirts implying that in some vague employment-law sense they actually worked there. I told them they had customers in guns and shoes and I needed help as well, and so they shuffled back to work. The store will go out of business soon, and the owner deserves to lose money. The DMV, however, will likely remain until we invent teleporting, though I suspect we'll all have to start getting inspections and tags for that as well.
Though the convenience of dealing with bureaucracy by phone is preferable to dwelling for hours in one of its waiting-area purgatories, there is the added haughtiness that immunity from a physical beating inspires in some functionaries. Consider a rough transcript of the conversation my wife had with a representative from our local water company:
"What do you mean we owe you money? We've been gone for three years."
"You had an unpaid bill for $19.00, which has been reported to a collection agency."
"But when we closed our account you told us what we owed and we paid it."
"There were subsequent charges."
"We weren't informed that there would be subsequent charges."
"We sent you a bill."
"That's odd, because our mail was forwarded for three months, and we never received a bill."
"We don't allow our bills to be forwarded."
"So let me get this straight. We asked you to disconnect our service because we were moving, and you expect us to know about a bill that got sent to the house weeks after we've vacated?"
"The bill is your responsibility."
"That's ridiculous. And let me tell you another thing: I don't know what collection agency you hired to fetch your 19 dollars, but they have to be the worst collectors in the world because not only have we never heard a peep from them, our credit report is completely clean."
"If you want your water connected, we will require a $75 deposit."
And then there's the phone company. Thought I had their number, pardon the pun, by way of Vonage, one of these voice-over-Internet outfits salivating over the residential telephony market. But no such luck. Things never worked right, we couldn't place calls, the cable modem got messed up as well, and their fleet of earnest help desk operators in India were terribly, terribly, terribly, terribly unable to help us.
So I called to fire them. I explained to the representative that I was canceling because a critical part of telephone service, for our family at least, is the ability to make telephone calls. She listened politely, then offered two free months of service if I would remain a customer. You don't understand, I explained, it doesn't work. You could give me a hundred years free, and it still wouldn't do me any good. So she upped the ante: "How about three months?"
Sigh. And now they are jacking us around (what a punster I am today!) by refusing to refund various start-up and equipment fees. My revenge, should it come to this, will be to write something exceedingly snippy and funny and beg Instapundit to link it. I'm not important, but I do have very important acquaintances.
But at least, after a hard day of wrestling the consequences of poor management and overweening government, I can always go to my favorite family restaurant, a little place you've never heard of called Barn'rds. They, at least, know my name, and they are always glad to see me.
And isn't that, in the end, all any of us are really asking?
There's little more humbling than squealing like a little girl in front of the youngsters you've been charged with raising into men. After the arduous task of dressing three little boys for church - a chore that, let me tell you, really does not put one in the frame of mind for contemplating Jesus, I set about getting dressed myself. I had an audience of three, each chattering as if the others were not talking, each intent on being heard.
Then I saw it - a creepy brown spider crawling up the inside of the very shirt I was about to put on. I couldn't tell if it was a brown recluse, given that these rotten little beasts are so, well, reclusive. But I wasn't taking any chances. "C'mon boys!" I boldly called to them, and we headed for the bathroom, where I shook the shirt over the toilet. The intruder was about to go to his grey-watery grave.
But after the shaking, I saw no spider in the toilet. Nor was he on it. Or on the floor beside it. "Back up boys," I said, decidedly less boldness in my voice. Somehow he had escaped. No matter, I thought - the wife will find him.
Back into the bedroom we went, talking about spiders - can they kill you, do they eat people, can they ride bicycles...
And then I looked down, and saw him crawling up my chest.
You know how in the movies, when somebody gets some kind of icky crawly creature on him, he slaps hysterically at it with both hands, making distinctly unmanly sounds?
This is exactly true to life. Hollywood, I salute you for getting this, at least, dead to rights.
The spider, rest his soul, was killed by my flurry of self-inflicted judo chops. He lay crumpled in a little heap on the carpet, to what would have been the endless fascination of the two older boys, had the youngest not tried to eat him.
Copious amounts of toilet paper for the pick-up and one flush later, I was ready to move on to other topics. Monsters, bicycles, wet dreams, the tribulation - anything but Dad's display of cowardice in the face of the enemy. The children, however, all seem to have a great talent for mimicry. Even the youngest began squawking in response to his brothers' re-enactments.
We revisited this inglorious moment throughout the day. Even later that evening, as we ate with friends, I looked over to see Caleb describing it to the little girl with whom he is quite infatuated. She, of course, thought this was hilarious. They had a wonderful laugh.
Such are the indignities of fatherhood. Sometimes we are warriors, sometimes we are teachers, and sometimes we are clowns.
And the next time this clown sees a spider in his closet, he's likely just to get the shotgun. Now that will give them a story to remember.