A Scene From My Laundry Room, Earlier This Week

Inside the laundromat
Not my laundry room (except for one day last week).

The scene: a technician has come to my home to fix my dryer.

Dryer Technician (D.T.): What seems to be the problem?

Me: Well, it gets hot, but it doesn’t rotate. And it makes a noise.

D.T.: (turns dryer on)
Dryer: (works perfectly)
D.T.: Maybe it was a glitch?
D.T.: (tries various things)
Dryer: (works perfectly)
D.T.: How do you know it wasn’t rotating? It stops when you open the door, you know. (He somehow manages to say this without sounding condescending).

Me: There’s still some motion when you open the door, though. It doesn’t come to a complete stop immediately.
Me: (doubts own sanity)
Me: And it was making a noise.

D.T.: What kind of noise?

Me: Um, like, a, um, friction noise? I thought a belt had come loose, or something.
Future me: The word is “scraping”. A scraping noise. This isn’t difficult.

D.T.: Well, since I’m here, I might as well take a look inside.
D.T.: (removes drum and points at some stuff that looks like black gritty dust on the bottom of the dryer)
D.T.: Well, the belt is definitely worn. All that came off the belt. Oh, and see this part of the belt that’s jutting out? Something was definitely pulling on it there.

Me: Oh! I was drying a load of towels. They were heavy.
Me: (convinces self that dryer was only working today because there was no laundry weighing it down. Regains faith in own sanity).

D.T.: (fixes dryer)

Me: (lives happily ever after)

A dryer belt
For sale: one dryer belt, slightly used. Okay, very used.

The Delusional Homeowner’s Guide to Faucet Repair

My house was built in 1926, but I’m pretty sure the plumbing is older than that — the former owners appear to have found some ancient water pipes made of hollowed-out mastodon tusks and built a house around them. Some parts have been upgraded since then, but others haven’t, and the older ones have an unfortunate tendency to develop leaks whenever you sneeze on them, or breathe on them, or glance in their general direction.

What could be simpler?
What could be simpler?

The kitchen faucet developed some problems recently, and since it’s only seven years old, I decided I could probably fix it myself. The nice thing about modern faucets is that, according to approximately twenty thousand Internet sites, the solution to every faucet-related problem is the same: replace the cartridge (the cartridge is the heart of the faucet, or possibly the liver; whatever it is, it seems to be the only part that matters). And it’s easy! You just turn off the water supply, remove any non-cartridge faucet parts that are in the way, pop out the old cartridge, slide in the new cartridge, and then put back all the other parts and turn on the water supply. There are tons of instructional videos available; I watched one guy do the exact repair I needed to in six and a half minutes, and it only took that long because he kept stopping to explain things. Of course, I’m not a skilled plumber, so I estimated that it might take me as long as fifteen minutes.

I went out and bought a shiny new cartridge and then cleverly ate dinner and washed the dishes before starting on the repair. (I mean, it was clever that I did these things before dismantling the faucet, not that I ate dinner in a particularly clever way or came up with some new ingenious method for washing dishes). Then I took a picture of the new cartridge and posted it to my blog because, hey, I have a blog. Then I ran out of ways to procrastinate.

When I went to turn off the water valves under the sink, I noticed the hot water valve (or maybe one of the water supply pipes attached to it) was leaking. These are all old, original, mastodon-tusk parts. I considered giving up and calling a plumber at that point, but I decided against it because a) I’d already bought the replacement cartridge, so I was committed, b) I’d already posted on my blog about it, so I was even more committed, and c) the leak would probably fix itself, by magic.

I managed to remove all the parts in the way of the cartridge without too much difficulty. Then it was time to remove the cartridge. All the instructional videos say this is a two-step process: loosen the cartridge using the cartridge removal tool included with the new cartridge (this was actually pretty easy) and then pull the old cartridge straight out (this was impossible). So I googled some more, found out that there is such a thing as a “cartridge puller,” and rushed off to Home Depot to buy one (I got there literally 5 minutes before they closed). The cartridge puller works kind of like a corkscrew, except at the end, instead of getting wine, you get a corroded piece of faucet guts. But the important thing is that it worked, and I was able to pop in the new cartridge and reassemble the faucet.

Note that I didn’t say that I reassembled the faucet correctly. That took about half a dozen tries. Then I turned the water back on to verify that the faucet worked; I think it did, except that the hot/cold sides were reversed. But remember that leak I mentioned earlier? Somehow, it failed to magically fix itself (and I think I may have made it worse by jostling things during the faucet repair). So right now the water is off in the kitchen sink, and a plumber is coming to the house tomorrow. If he asks how the sink got into this state, I think I’m going to say that vandals did it.

My Cats Probably Don’t Have the Disease From the Movie “Contagion”

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This morning I found blood spatter stains on my bed. It wasn’t a huge amount – I was able to eliminate “maybe someone stabbed me while I was asleep” and “maybe I accidentally stabbed someone in my sleep” as theories right away. It was a collection of small drops that looked like the pattern a cat’s sneeze might make if a cat’s sneeze were made of blood, right in the spot where my cats like to sleep.

Spatter pattern from an apparent bloody cat sneeze
This week on CSI: Feline

I did what any rational person would do – I panicked. One of my cats was sneezing blood. I’m pretty sure that’s the first symptom of the disease from the movie Contagion. I knew exactly how the conversation with the vet would go:

“We’ll have to run some more tests, but it looks like your cat has the disease from the movie Contagion.”
“But… that was fiction.”
“That’s right. There’s no easy way to tell you this, but you and your cats are fictional characters.”
“Is it serious?”
“That depends on the genre. Based on your symptoms, the most likely candidates are Medical Thriller or Romantic Comedy. Can you think of anything in your recent history that might point to one or the other?”
“A guy made eye contact with me while I was being adorably clumsy in Whole Foods the other day.”
“This may be a romantic comedy. If so, you and the cats are fine, and the stain is from some red wine you spilled last night while watching an old black and white movie on TV.”
“But I wasn’t drinking wine last night. And I don’t have a TV in my bedroom.”
“Oh. Then you should probably focus on getting your affairs in order.”

I prepared for the appointment the way anyone would: I took a picture of the blood spatter on my phone to show to the vet, then I decided the phone display was too small, so I emailed the picture to myself and printed it out, but then I noticed that the color balance was off, so I took more pictures with my “good” camera, uploaded them to my laptop, and printed them. The vet appointment wasn’t quite as bad as I’d imagined, but in the end, she said the words I’d been dreading: “Give each cat one of these pills twice a day for a week.”

Wish me luck. I’ll need it.

The vet thinks Holly may have a sinus infection, but she’s not sure. We should get some lab results tomorrow.

Don’t Look a Zombie Chocolate Bunny in the Mouth

A few weeks ago, Thoughtsy from Thoughts Appear’s Blog sent me a lovely seasonally appropriate confection in the mail.

Cat inspecting a zombie chocolate bunny
Health and safety inspection

Of course, the first question one asks when presented with a chocolate zombie bunny is: will biting into this thing turn me into a zombie? After all, biting a rabid dog will give you the rabies virus (which is why you should never do that — also, rabid dogs taste terrible), so wouldn’t biting a zombie give you the zombie virus? And if it does, will I turn into a regular human zombie, or a zombie bunny, or what? And is the chocolate chocolaty enough to be worth it?

I turned to the bunny’s packaging for answers. The ingredient list didn’t include “zombie pathogens”, “zombie virus”, or anything else with “zombie” in the name, which was encouraging. But I also made a horrifying discovery: the main ingredient wasn’t dark chocolate or even milk chocolate. This bunny was made of white chocolate. A pale, lifeless imitation of real chocolate. Zombie chocolate.

That’s right — this wasn’t a chocolate zombie bunny at all; it was a zombie chocolate bunny. Instead of a zombie bunny made of chocolate, I was harboring a bunny made of zombie chocolate. And it turned out to be even more dangerous than I suspected: a few days later, I found evidence that it had been attacking my other chocolate.

I got this as a present a couple years ago. It’s designed to be eaten on backpacking trips, but I never go backpacking, so I was saving it for the zombie apocalypse. Which has, apparently, just started.

Clearly, it was time to act. Chopping off its head seemed like a reasonable precaution. And I’ve been trying to build up a natural immunity to the zombie chocolate virus by eating a little at a time.

A zombie chocolate bunny with a severed head.
Snapping the bunny’s neck was surprisingly easy. Please don’t quote me out of context.

So far I’ve only eaten an ear. A zombie chocolate bunny ear, not a human ear. It was delicious.

Three Scary Things In My House

Scary thing #1: creepy-looking insect.

I was going to use my cat's paw to show scale, but he wouldn't cooperate. You'll have to go by the carpet fibers instead.

What is this thing? What planet is it from? Why is it in my house? How many more of them are there? If my cats try to play with it, and it bites them, will they turn into mutant alien insect cats? Do mutant alien insect cats eat cat food, or what? (Actually, based on the pictures at whatsthatbug.com, a site that actually exists, this appears to be a potato bug. But my other questions still stand).

Scary thing #2: ambiguously-labelled water filter.

Sounds delicious, doesn't it?
Sounds delicious, doesn't it?

The scare quotes on the label do not fill me with confidence.

Scary thing #3: confusing condiments.

Sugar and spice.

On the left is a jar containing a mixture of crystallized sugar, chocolate, and coffee beans, with a built-in grinder; on the right is a jar of pepper with a built-in grinder. Alone, neither of these is scary — but I know that one day, when I least expect it, I’ll confuse the two. It’s like having a ticking time bomb in my kitchen.

Before There Was Spam…

I can't decide whether I blurred his name and contact info to protect his privacy or because I didn't want to give him any free advertising.

Before there was spam, there were advertising circulars. My front door is a magnet for these things — every day, I find flyers for real estate agents, restaurants, dry cleaners, and home improvement services. Occasionally, I’ll see one for an optometrist or a dental clinic — so I really shouldn’t have been surprised when I got one from a gynecologist.

I could tell right away that this guy is better than my regular doctor, because his flyer offers a menu of “Specialties and Procedures” including several that my doctor has never mentioned (for example, she’s never once asked me if I’d like to have “Major Surgery”). So of course I decided to make an appointment.

I did have some misgivings, though. The silhouette of a pregnant woman on the left side of the flyer didn’t fill me with confidence. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that having skin that particular shade of green is not a sign of a healthy pregnancy. Also, her hands look kind of ghostly and skeletal, although I may be biased because my own hands are freakishly small.

So I did extensive research (okay, five minutes of googling) on this physician and found a detail he’d forgotten to mention: he’s currently on probation in California for a “misdemeanor count of sexual exploitation of a patient” (his defense to the criminal charge was that no one ever told him he wasn’t supposed to have sex with his patients). This raised a question about the “Specialties and Procedures” listed on the flyer: at first, I’d thought that “STD’s” meant that treating STDs was one of his specialties, but now I think he may have meant that transmitting STDs is one of his more common procedures. I should probably ask for clarification when I call for my appointment.

That One Night It Got Really Windy

It’s official — I live in a disaster area. And for once, that’s not a reference to my housekeeping skills.

I’d tell you the name of the disaster, but it doesn’t have one. It probably never will. Other wind-related events, like tornadoes and hurricanes, get names. So do earthquakes and wildfires. We even named a scheduled three-day freeway shutdown — but not this windstorm. Is that fair? I don’t think so. It’s time to show it a little respect; from now on, I’ll be referring to it as That One Night It Got Really Windy.

I was completely unprepared for That One Night It Got Really Windy. When I left work that one night, I noticed that it was, in fact, really windy — windy enough that, on the way to my car, I had to put more than the usual amount of effort into standing upright and maintaining contact with the ground — but the significance didn’t really hit me until I reached my neighborhood and started seeing severed tree limbs everywhere.

My nearest street corner. It was a fun drive home.

I got home at about 9:30 pm, and the power was out on my block. But that was okay, because I have a super-fancy flashlight / lantern combination, and I knew exactly where it was. I went right to it, flipped the switch — and nothing happened. I decided to go to the store to get batteries for my flashlight and matches for my stove.

The three-block walk to the supermarket was amazing. Leaves were flying everywhere. Trees were moving in ways I’d never seen them move before. At one house, the festive holiday decorations had been beset by tragedy — one wireframe reindeer had a broken neck; the others lay, lifeless, on the ground, as though, in a senseless act of workplace violence, one of Santa’s elves had gone on a murderous rampage.

Three blocks from my house. This tree used to be bushier, and more vertical.
Same tree, from the front. I'm pretty sure the huge piles of greenery on each side were cut from the tree after it fell.

At the store, I bought batteries and, on impulse, two additional flashlights. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was the beginning of my descent into flashlight addiction. In the two weeks since That One Night It Got Really Windy, I’ve bought five flashlights. There was a practical reason for buying at least one of them — I used it on the walk home.

Flashlights I've bought since That Night It Got Really Windy

When I went to replace the battery on my lantern, I discovered that it actually has three switches, and the one I’d flipped in the dark earlier was the wrong one — the battery had been fine all along. I’d forgotten to get matches, so for dinner, I feasted on cheese and crackers, fruit, and chocolate.

I used my cell phone to check on the status of the power outage — something I’d be doing pretty frequently for the next day and a half. The power company has an “Outage Center” web page that shows the status of outages, but every time I looked at it, I’d momentarily think it said “Outrage Center”. I’m not sure whether that’s a reflection of my emotions or whether I have some sort of undiagnosed learning disability that causes me to see Rs where there are none. I’m leaning towards the latter explanation, because I also often misread the title of the Cute Overload web site as “Cute Overlord”.

Throughout the storm, my cats kept alternating between being a little freaked out by the howling winds and being fascinated by the flashlight beam as I moved from room to room. Eventually, I settled into bed with my Kindle (the case has a built-in light), with one cat on my lap and the other by my side. It was pretty cozy.

A cat, a comforter, and a Kindle -- what more do I need?

In the morning, the winds had died down, and the power was still out. I looked out my kitchen window and saw my neighbor’s back yard — which was odd, because there’s normally a fence separating our properties. A chunk of fence was missing on the other side as well, along with lots of roof shingles and some branches from a tree in the front of the house.

This fence is less effective than it once was at keeping my neighbor's dog in his yard.

On the bright side, my insurance company will soon be writing me a check for more money than I’ve paid in premiums over the years. I think that means I win at insurance.

Ten Warning Signs That You May Be Experiencing a Wind Storm

There's some damage to this fence. It's subtle, but if you look closely, you can just barely make it out.

1. When walking outside, you spend much more than the usual amount of effort staying on course, remaining upright, and not flying away.

2. Your car rocks from side to side, especially when parked or stopped at a light, and the motion feels all wrong for an earthquake.

3. In a festive move, your city has kicked up their fall decorations a notch by arranging a tasteful display of giant tree limbs in the middle of most of your local roads.

4. All the trees in your neighborhood are moving in ways you’ve never seen before, as if they’re taking part in some sort of frenzied tree dance.

5. You vaguely remember having electricity. And not living in a Starbucks.

6. The tree in your front yard has fewer branches than you remember.

7. The fence in your back yard is somewhat less continuous than you remember.

8. Your roof has fewer shingles than you remember.

9. The people who live in the house three houses down from yours appear to have made the unusual landscaping choice of scattering shingles across their lawn. You applaud their good taste in choosing lawn shingles identical to your roof shingles.

10. The next morning, you fail to wake up in Oz.

Update: the electricity came back on early Friday morning.

My Favorite Holiday Is Almost Here

Apologies to anyone who gets this in their mailbox twice — I’m not sure what happened the first time.

According to various unreliable sources on the Internet, tomorrow is National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. Although this holiday has some major flaws — I don’t get the day off from work, and I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to spend it cleaning out my refrigerator — it’s still my favorite. Why? Because its very existence implies that most people clean their refrigerators just once a year. I clean mine at least twice that often, which means my fridge is twice as clean as the national average, which makes me feel smug and superior, which is my favorite way to feel, which makes this my favorite holiday. Also, I don’t have to cook anything, buy presents, or give out candy. I don’t even have to clean out my refrigerator, really, because if anyone looks, I can just say I’m keeping stuff in there for National Science Experiment Week — which technically doesn’t exist, but who’s going to check?

Thunder and Holly operate the particle accelerator.

Actually, why isn’t there a National Science Experiment Week? Doesn’t that sound like it would be at least seven times as much fun as National Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day? I’d probably celebrate by running a small-scale version of that experiment where neutrinos probably didn’t travel faster than light, using the particle accelerator in my basement. Just kidding! I don’t have a basement. But I do have a particle accelerator, which I got for $19.95 at the pet store (it was marketed  as a cat toy, possibly because the particles that it accelerates are arranged in the form of a toy mouse). And my phone has a stopwatch app, so I’m all set — or I would be, if National Science Experiment Week really existed. But it doesn’t, so I guess I’ll just clean out my refrigerator instead.

A note to anyone reading this outside the US: apparently there is no International Clean Out Your Refrigerator Day. I’m sorry you have to miss out on all the fun.