Helen Chappell - July 2007

The Innate Cussedness of Inanimate Objects. And Ants.
by
Helen Chappell

   I have always figured that everyone should be allowed to whine for exactly one half hour a day. Then you have to get back to work and solve the problem, or at least learn to live with it. As a recovering drama queen, I try to be especially careful about measuring out my whining into small, manageable doses. But sometimes life hands you a series of incontinences that make you want to spend an entire day making a high-pitched, nasal wailing that can be heard three counties away and in Delaware if the wind is right.
    As sure as the mosquitoes returning, warm weather always brings a series of small disasters of the mechanical or technical or natural variety. I don’t know about you, but if one thing goes up in Casa Helen, two more things will follow closely behind. All of them will be beyond my ability to repair. All of them will require booking a professional to fix the problem.
    Why things should happen in threes is a mystery to me. Three is, of course, a magical number, as anyone who’s read a fairy tale as a kid knows. Three challenges, three witches, three golden fish, whatever.
    I don’t know why it should be, but things do happen in sets of three. If one famous person dies, two more will soon follow, for instance. Or so say the old wives. So if some ancient Hollywood icon ascends to that great Grauman’s Chinese Theater in the sky, two more celebrities will soon join him. One black bird will soon be joined at the feeder by two more. One movie you want to see hits town, with two more later that week. You get the idea. Maybe you’ve experienced this yourself.
    Mostly these mini disasters are disasters for two reasons. First, I’m not handy enough to fix them myself. And second, they will always require paying someone else to repair the problem. Why this conundrum is not mentioned in the Bible or Shakespeare, I do not know. I can’t be alone in this. Or was I singled out by three bad fairies at birth?
    Spring is the perfect time for inanimate objects to display their innate cussedness. Things that have been stored away since fall have had time to degenerate, or perhaps even plot a breakdown. I wouldn’t put it past them.
    Or maybe small disasters just happen in an unholy trio for no good reason, or some planetary conjunction I don’t get. And don’t want to get.
All I know is that last week, everything went up at once.
    So far I’ve been pretty good about not sitting down on the floor in a heap and wailing away, but I would really like to. And I know these petty malfunctions happen to all of us, and in the course of our 21st century life, when we’ve become adjusted – no, addicted to technology. Since time immemorial, we’ve also battled the forces of nature, which, as everyone should know by now, is a losing battle.
    The first small disaster comes every spring, and I should be used to it by now. As I’ve written in this space before, for the past few years, my neck of the neck has seen a steadily increasing invasion of ants. They don’t just march their little ant selves into my house. They invade everywhere around here – entire War and Peace armies of them. Even people I know whose homes are so immaculate you could eat off the floor are not immune to these tiny, disgusting pests.
    I blame global warming, because it’s gotten increasingly bad over the past few years. So, I fight them with Terro and spray, but it’s like trying to stop a flood with a sandbag. So every year, I end up calling the exterminator. The lady who answers the phone knows me by my voice now.
No sooner had I hung up with Miss Charlotte than the County Roads boys were outside reaming and backhoeing out the ditches. Well, they managed to sever the landline to my phone and computer. Bless their hearts, I don’t blame them – no one knew it was buried in the ditchbank but Verizon, and as usual, Verizon wasn’t telling. In fact, Verizon wasn’t telling when they would actually come out and fix the cable, in spite of the best efforts of me, the road boys and two very lovely ladies at the County Roads office.
    NO E-MAIL AND NO INTERNET MAKE HELEN GO CRAZY. Repeat three times and pretend I didn’t steal that line from The Simpsons.
Yes, I had my cell phone. And I counted my blessings that I had books, power and cable TV, because I needed something to fill up those hours I can waste on the ‘net and something to fill up those hours I can waste on the net and my e-mail. Oh, my e-mail is a salon of wit and literacy, I can tell you. I exchange bon mots with some of the best minds around here. Not to mention gossip and idle, if probably libelous speculation. Oh, like you’re any different. Don’t judge me.
    Sorry, I feel better now.
    Anyway, where was I? I was around here somewhere...
    Yeah, anyway, then we had the first hot day. It was up in the 90s, so I turned on the air conditioning. Well, if you guessed it wasn’t working, you are so right!
    So, there’s another begging call to another overextended repair person whose schedule is probably well into overdrive. Meanwhile, I’m appreciating my ceiling fans, but it’s not quite the same. I like cool. I keep better when it’s cool.
So, those are my three annoying little disasters. Compared to what some people are going through, they’re minor. And yes, I do feel fortunate that the ants will be gone, and the phone cable’s been repaired five days before Verizon said they’d be here.
    (Verizon is a whole story unto itself, and one for another time.)
    And soon the repair guy will come and look at the heat pump before it goes up into the humid, muggy 90s and stays there.
    Modern technology. It’s the innate cussedness of inanimate and animate objects that gets to me. I’m not a total klutz; I can do a lot of basic household and auto repairs. I do have a fatalistic attitude, because nothing in life has convinced me that the elves and brownies come in the night and pump Freon into your air conditioner. I ponder Thoreau’s philosophy of a simpler, less industrialized life. But I guess in the end, I like my comforts.
And I’m not sure even Thoreau would be thrilled to be invaded by ants out there at Walden Pond.
    So, as for my trio of malfunctions, well let’s just hope it’s a trio and it’s all over for now. Even as I type this, I know there are people out there whose lawnmowers won’t start, whose outboards refuse to wake up from their winter’s nap, whose storm windows won’t budge, and they’re probably just as annoyed as I am. So this one is for all of us. May the rest of our summers run smoothly.
    And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go scream into a pillow for a few minutes. Then I’ll feel much better. And that, my friends, was my half hour of whining for today. Thanks for listening. Now, go ye forth and do your half hour. I know you’ll feel much better afterwards.