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Friday, February 29, 2008

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Getting screwed: The Live Blog

9:00am: Two days ago, my wife told me both of our uptairs toilets had problems. By problems, she meant they were flushing, but doing so all over the damned floor. I accused her of being unlucky and told her to buy some Drano. No Home Depot product worked. A day later, she called the plumbers. I started to get cranky.

9:20am: The plumber arrived. I am already disappointed because the guy is not fat and I doubt there will be any butt crack joke availability. In fact, he's thin, fairly good looking, has a stylish haircut and makes a point of covering his shoes before he walks on my floors. He smells like chewing gum and cigarettes. I fear I might be headed toward some sort of alternative lifestyle fantasy fodder, so I'll leave it at that.

9:28am: I take the guy on a tour of the upstairs. The wife has cleaned up, I guess just in case we want to impress the plumber. I tell the guy the toilets won't flush. I don't think he's listening.

9:32am: Here are a few of the quotes from the plumber over the past few minutes.

  • "You really want to stay away from toilets with rounded fronts."
  • "You really want to stay away from Drano. There's acid in that. Not a lot. I mean they can sell it at Home Depot. But there's acid in there and that can cause you problems."
  • "You really want to go for a toilet with a square front. They are a bit enlongated and, if you know what I mean, a little more man-friendly."

  • Yeah, I don't know if he was hitting on me or not.

    9:34am: Wow, why the hell didn't I see this coming? You call a plumber to fix your toilet and he tries to sell you a new toilet? Really? This happens? Now, I'm no fan of my cheap toilets. I'd even buy some new ones to replace these if I thought it was going to save us any time and plumber fees. So, this guy thinks I'm buying what he's selling. And I'm probably going to make the purchase until Mr. Man-Friendly tells me the new johns are going to run me more than $600. Apiece.

    9:35am: Using smelling salts and a few kicks in the ribs, Mr. Man-Friendly gets me up off the hardwoods. I try to find a way to play off my lack of consciousness. "And, so how much just to fix the ones I have?" I ask. And then I get it. They try to sell you on the NASA Space Shuttle toilets and quote you the price. So, when you get the actual quote for the repairs, you are actually happy about what would normally be sticker shock. In fact, by now, I am downright excited to spending $400 for what is certainly a couple minutes of witchcraft and probably some generic Drano. And somewhere along the way, I buy the Ben Franklin service plan, titled cleverly enough, "The Ben Society." A stich in time and all.

    9:41am: I leave the guy to "snake" my toliets. The "snake" looks more like a military-grade weapon. It sounds like it, too. What's happening upstairs sounds like the plumber destroying everything on the second level of my house. I hear running water and a lot of banging. Before this is over, I feel certain I will need a new toilet after all.

    9:57am: Man-Friendly is really putting on a show. He's made more noise than any service person in the history of our house. I've heard the two upstairs toilets flush three or four times apiece. Somehow, I feel certain, the guy is going to come down and tell me, despite his best efforts, he's going to have to sell me some $600 toilets.

    10:00am: I think this guy actually hates my family. As he comes downstairs, he quietly says, "They are unclogged." The sound in Man-Friendly's voice sounds like a guy who just watched five of his buddies die in battle. He has a 1,000-yard stare and quietly says as he goes to his truck, "No more baby wipes."

    10:02am: I actually feel bad for Man-Friendly. "I've never pulled so many out," he says. I'm sort of glad my kid isn't here, because the guy will realize the boy is now three years old and ask why there are still baby wipes around. I protest briefly, "They are called flushable wipes." Man-Friendly responds, "They are not."

    10:09am: The guy seems to have come back to reality. "I think they call them flushable just so they can sell more of them. They don't disintegrate. Anything they can get hung up on, they will." I am actually disturbed by the concept of what the wipes could possibly get hung up on. I find myself actually happy writing a check for $400.

    10:20am: Mr. Man-Friendly is gone and everything seems to be in working order. I'm pretty sure that means we're going to have a major plumbing disaster in about six hours.

    Thank goodness I joined the Ben Society.


    Sunday, February 17, 2008


    I am not on a diet.

    I probably need to be. Beginning in early July, I started to notice that my lifestyle (fast drinks, fast food, no exercise, etc.) was starting to manifest itself in tighter pants. Those once roomy blue jeans started to feel a tad tighter around the man-parts.

    I am loathe to exercise, though. I don't mind getting exercise by accident, but making myself sore for the purpose of making myself sore just doesn't jibe with my generally lazy attitude toward life.

    The wife, however, is more than a tad into a new self improvement program. The early results are fairly striking. I don't dare go into specifics, but suffice it to say that the other night I felt like I was cheating on her when I stole a peek as she was getting ready for bed. Who is that woman?

    The upshot of all of this is that I haven't been eating much either. Our frequent trips to the local Mexican joint have been cut back to almost none. Take-out? Haven't seen it. A huge meal slathered in butter and bacon from my devil-may-care hands? Haven't cooked one. What's more, I've had a grand total of four beers in the past 23 days and I've gone out to play cards once. Finally, I've reduced my diet soda intake by 80%.

    Combine all of that with the fact that my buddies have either been ill, busy, or, in one case, caring for a newborn, and you have an Otis that has not been tending to his hendonistic side.

    Frequent readers will note that my hedonistic side is, in a word, significant. I like huge, fatty meals. I like to take a drink or six. I like to be...okay, I'll say it. I like to be irresponsible. The combined factors above, however, have led me to a rather quiet lifestyle that, albeit healthy, leaves me wanting. For everything.

    So, take a trip into my bedroom, if you will. The hard wood floors are shiny. The bed is soft. The pillows are feathery. The TV, while inadequate, is packed with hundreds of channels of DirecTV goodness. On any given night, I have choice upon choice of what I can watch before I go to sleep.

    Every night I settle on pornography.

    At first, I didn't think my wife would be interested. That kind of programming has never really suited her more delicate side. When I first turned it on, I expected her to sigh, roll over, put on a sleeping mask, and go to sleep. Instead, she grabbed my hand and squeezed. A small gasp escaped her lips.

    "I want that," she said as a man with nimble fingers worked on TV.

    I didn't respond at first and just watched her watch the TV. It was sexy and dirty and touched off every unsated nerve in my body. I heard her breathing quicken and had to steal a glance for myself.

    Sure, Alton Brown was no John Holmes, but he would have to do.

    For the past three weeks, the Mt. Otis television sets have been filled with little other than food porn. From Anthony Bourdain's exotica to Alton Brown's Dr. Ruth-style science, we have lapped up every bit of it. We've watched chocolate sculpting, how Pop Rocks get made, and reruns of Iron Chef (during which I developed an inexplicable crush on Iron Chef Cora as she berated her help for not removing the scales from a sea bass). If it weren't for an active Netflix account (make me your Netflix friend by clicking HERE) and an ongoing love affair with the Coen Brothers, we would be watching nothing but food programming.

    I know what the experts say. This Food TV is a gateway activity. Before long, my wife is going to find me at 3am, naked in front of the fridge and eating sticks of butter whole. But I can't stop. Not right now.

    I think Julia Child is coming on.

    She gets me so hot.

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    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    The marriage bed

    My wife and I have a problem in the bedroom.

    I've slept in more places than I can count--from five-star hotels to hammocks, I've seen it all. I've woken up on bare mattresses in houses I didn't recognize, in a bed with two other guys in New Orleans, and once or twice on a bar stool. I've slept on waterbeds, car seats, futon mattresses, and sleeping bags. For going on 12 years, I've shared these surfaces with the same woman.

    My wife put up with my sleeping choices for a long time. I'm one who objects to change for the purpose of change. For the first few years of our marriage, we slept on a bed I bought in college from my then-bed-salesman buddy. He told me a got a "deal" on it, but I'm pretty sure I just paid enough commission for him to buy a dime bag. Regardless, since I dropped the cash, I figured to be buried with the mattress.

    Several years back, my wife started complaining about quality of our sleeping surface. She begged me to actually buy a big boy bed. I fought her for months, but finally acquiesced after waking up impaled on a bed spring. It was time. The new mattress was perfect. I kicked myself for not giving in sooner.

    The bed has served us well, as evidenced by the kid who runs around the house singing about the condition of his underwear and calling himself Mr. Incredible. Recently, though, superhero performances between mommy and daddy Incredible have been a bit off-kilter. As I said, my wife and I have a problem in the bedroom.

    Across the fruited plains, couples will use this Valentines Day to celebrate the fruits of their marriage. Some might even do it with fruit. For many folks, this might be one of a few times they get it on all year long. Some of the more adventurous couples might get a hotel room, park bench, or back seat of a Chevette. Most people, though, will light a few Polo cologne scented candles, break out a can of Redi Whip, and head to the marriage bed.

    I'm no engineer. My bedroom activity is more art than science. So, I don't know what's wrong. For whatever reason--excessive use, neglect, tectonic movement--the Mt. Otis bed is an unsafe place. The danger doesn't lie only in the freaky-freaky times. My wife and I can be sitting quietly in bed watching Alton Brown and, without notice, the mattress will fall off the bed rails and crash to the floor. When it happens during Good Eats, it's annoying. When it happens at other times, I almost feel the need to say, "I don't know what's wrong. This has never happened before."

    There is a sound that perfectly describes the moment. While hard to put into words, imagine a trombone playing three descending notes of dispair. Wonh, wonh, wonnnnnnnnnh. If there ever was a picture of bad naked, it's me struggling against the weight of a giant mattress while trying to re-adjust the box springs in just such a way that the sleeping surface will not slip off the rails and crash to the floor.

    The problem has been going on for a few months now. We tried everything to fix the problem. We employed our deepest knowledge of physics, our most spiritual pleas to higher powers, and--just once--called a shaman in to chant over our love nest. The bed would hold for days at a time. Then, at the most inconvenient of times, it would tilt, slip, and collapse like a house of cards.

    My wife and I are adventurous to a degree. I mean, we've not yet joined a swingers club or anything, but we don't mind sleeping on a semi-dangerous surface. However, when the bed hits the hardwood in the middle of Good Eats, I stand a good chance of missing once of Alton Brown's witticisms. Nobody wants that.

    In the spirit of Valentines Day, I trudged up to the bedroom this morning and wrestled the mattress and box springs off the bed frame (I was fully clothed this time). I opened my tool box, broke out the socket set, and prentended I knew what to do with with man-things. Thirty minutes later, I was jumping up and down on the bed, daring the mattress to collapse. It appears, for the moment, I have fixed the problem. However, with issues like this, the more you think about it, the bigger a problem it becomes. So, I'm trying not to think about it.

    My wife and I made a deal for this fake holiday. No gifts, no flowers, no candy, no cards. We only plan to spend the evening together and, maybe, watch the decidedly romantic "Miller's Crossing" in bed. And I swear to Gabriel Byrne, if the bed hits the floor in flagrante delicto, I'm going to cry. Like a little baby.

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    Wednesday, February 13, 2008

    Barack Obama: A different kind of popular vote

    I come from a generation of people who immediately disregard anything that gains any popularity among the general public. It's cool until other people like it. Then, "It's played, man. Played." These are the kind of people who support the Electoral College because they don't want to get caught supporting the popular vote. My, wouldn't that be embarrassing.

    The only way for my generation to like something past its peak of favor is to hope for its death. If the anti-popularity crowd feels comfortable that which they like can be martyred, they won't feel embarassed about supporting it. There's no chance the object of their affections will sell out (see Kurt Cobain circa the Buckshot Overdose Years).

    Hence, if something--anything--stays around too long, it runs out of cool fuel. A priest told me the other day (me and about 50 other people, but still) that we live in a throwaway society. Most of the things we like these days are disposable. We have neither the patience nor the will to make a commitment to something that will be around for longer than Britney Spears' sense of self worth.

    Columnists with hipster backgrounds have started using perjorative words like "cult" and "religion" to describe what is happening in our nation. It is hard for a culture that eschews anything popular to accept what's happening to the Barack Obama campaign.

    I understand this. Even I, a fairly reasonable guy, tend to disregard Oprah-picks. I, like most people, don't like being told what I should like and what I shouldn't. And really, when somebody suggests I'd really enjoy a Nicholas Sparks book, I have a hard time taking the recommendation or person behind it seriously.

    That's what makes what's happening right now so important and interesting. This is something we 18-35 year olds (admittedly, I'm in the long-tooth end of the curve) have not seen our our lifetimes and something we likely won't see again. If Obama can find a way to court the important Old Racist and Institutional Washington voting blocks, he could very well be the next President.

    Yeah, it's odd. It's strange to see people crying and falling out when Obama speaks. We, as a country, are naturally skeptical when people talk about being "inspired." We expect those folks to start speaking in tongues or bombing abortion clinics. Because "inspiration" too-often translates to "fanaticism." Fortunately for all of us, Obama isn't running with Eric Robert Rudolph. He's simply speaking a language a lot of us want to hear--and not in tongues.

    If Barack Obama told me to put on a pair of Nikes and off myself, I'd say no. If Obama suggested it would be a good idea if I killed Sharon Tate, I'd say no--after reminding him the poor lady has had enough killing in her life. Hell, if Obama had an open house in Waco, I probably wouldn't attend.

    But, if Obama suggests he will be the candidate who seeks to change the Washington paradigm and be a candidate for a generation of people who have never believed in anything, well, the guy has my vote.

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    Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
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