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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Applications Not Found On the New iPhone

Before leaving on vacation I briefly included a post “There’s a Nap For That.” While the title was a bit of a pun on the iPhone “Apps” commercials, it also spawned a shirt design, which I prominently displayed smack dab in the middle of the post. Of course, it could never end there, could it?

Far be it from me to have only one offering for the iMongo Smash Phone. There are several opportunities to rhyme your way into a coma with this and while silly, I just couldn't resist. You can find the entire section called There's a _____ for that at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store.

We'll start out with the inspiration for this mess, Nap for .
I apologize for some of the fuzziness in the images, I didn't reduce their size and just adjusted the html to make them smaller.

Monday, June 29, 2009

I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Into Protective Custody

Ok, by now we know that Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson have died, but just a couple days later, pitchman and Western Pennsylvania native, Billy Mays, died in his sleep. Now, I don’t foresee Billy Mays taking the media spotlight away from Michael Jackson as if her were applying OxiClean to a stain, but his passing gives one pause. It’s been a bad week to be famous.

To say Billy Mays was a famous celebrity in comparison to Farrah or Michael is like saying that Britney Spears is as good a singer as Mariah Carey. But, as far as pitchmen for infomercials and other “As Seen On TV” products Billy was, as least, better than Taylor Swift. His in your face loud voice and perfectly manscaped beard was his trademark and he knew how to sell a product. From what has been publicized, Mays was on US Airways Flight 1241 when it had to make an emergency landing in Tampa. During the landing objects fell from the overheads striking Mays but he claimed to be fine. If this wasn't a strong case for some Mighty Putty, I don't know what is. Later, not feeling well, he went to bed and was found unresponsive the next morning. Apparently, we've learned nothing from Natasha Richardson.

But his death along with everybody else these past couple of weeks probably has everybody in News Media Outlets scrambling to put together a tribute video package just in case Patrick Swayze coughs. Hang in there Patrick, I’m really pulling for you.

Billy Mays is gone, yet Vince Shlomi is still getting injured on a regular basis with hookers and car wrecks. There is no justice.

Why not get your own SlapChop a Ho shirt today?

You can also
Slap Your Troubles Away with this shirt.

Both designs are available
Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The store.

Doing a little surfing of the web brought up a ton of celebrity dead pool sites and a bunch of “Filtered by Websense” pages, sure to have some IT guys wondering what I’m doing on my lunch. However, looking at a few pages in Wikipedia, which is more reliable than CNN and more fair and balanced than Fox Newsit’s sarcasm people, go with me… I've come up with a short and incomplete list of famous people who shouldn’t be running with scissors anytime soon.

Phyllis Diller – 91
Carol Channing – 88
Andy Rooney – 90
Elizabeth Taylor – 77
Betty White 87
Abe Vigoda – 88… wait he’s dead… sorry, he’s still alive…. must check my sources again
Richard Dawson – 76 Oddly enough, I forgot he was alive and as Randy as ever.
Kim Jong-il – 67 He could soon have a run in with a very large metal object that explodes on impact…
If he does die, someone find me Yoko Ono and prove to me that they aren’t the same person
Fidel Casto – 82
Half of television’s fall lineup - leaving only Wife Swap and Donald Trump to irritate me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Death of Childhood Pop Culture: Looking Back at Michael Jackson, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and more

This saddened installment marks my 200th post.

I was just getting ready to settle in for a couple hours of DVR space reclamation when I saw a status update on Facebook saying that “Michael Jackson was in cardiac arrest. Will probably die this evening.” I immediately stopped watching recorded television and went straight to live television. Thankfully my daughter was napping at the time or I would have been stuck watching Sprout instead of CNN, ABC, and other news outlets. Before the television could update his condition, Facebook had already declared him dead via TMZ. While everyone else had him hospitalized or in a coma, more status updates came out saying he was dead via other news sources. The news, while rather shocking, only served to bring to an end a fantastic life of a pop icon who first came to prominence during my early childhood years. Oh, and yeah, Farrah Fawcett died, too.

Well, that’s what it felt like yesterday. There was this switch in reporting, like a shift change at a factory or plant. Farrah had died in the morning and all the reporting was about her, then Michael died and it switched like a light. Soon the media machine went nuts and everything came to a screeching halt around the world with the death of an icon.

If ever there was a case of best evidence for “Death Comes in Threes,” this week was it. First Ed McMahon died, then Farrah Fawcett and MJ on the same day. Three of the biggest names from my childhood pop culture upbringing gone, all prominent spokespeople for products, all having a tumultuous era of their lives displayed in the media. Ed McMahon had lived a full life, dying at the age of 86, MJ and Farrah both died relatively young. Still, Hollywood deaths no matter how expected are still jarring to our senses.

The deaths of this Madison Avenue Three are not a summary of my childhood, but more of a coda, or perhaps a bridge in my life stretching between the first half of my life and heading into the second or middle portion of my life. Throughout the years there has been a systematic disintegration of pop culture land marks along the road of my life. Looking back makes you laugh, cry, and wonder, “Too soon or too late” for some.

For my parents, Elvis was probably the last celebrity death that marked their youth. I say that, not from the standpoint that nobody else died after 1977 but that everyone associated with their childhood during the baby boom generation was heading into their later years and death was an expectance, not a shock. They had already experienced the death of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and Martin Luther King more than 10 years before that. Now into their 30s, my parents had probably pared away the last few layers of their childhood when Elvis died at 42. Also, consider that prominent icons from the media or pop culture that had existed in the mainstream at this time also carried into mine and my siblings’ lives. For example, George Burns, was a very prominent fixture in my parents’ lives as a radio and vaudeville star, but in my life he played God and was a comedian I’d see on television chomping a cigar and peering out of huge glasses. When he died in 1996 a very big piece of my childhood died.

Two years prior to Burns death at 100, the first huge gap formed in my childhood memory, John Candy. Now, one could argue that River Phoenix was the first, but spanning the entire three decades I can relate to these kinds of events, River had a brief run. He never really got a chance to expand into his full potential, much like James Dean, in my parents’ generation. No, for me, River Phoenix was a tremendous actor and person but his impact was not realized yet, so I have to go with John Candy. From an overall Pop Culture perspective, I think the Challenger Disaster ranks number one in my life, but from a pure Hollywood Entertainment standpoint, it’s Candy.

Growing up, I loved him in SCTV and films like The Blues Brothers, Vacation, and Stripes as well as Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors, Home Alone, and Planes, Trains & Automobiles. I could go on and on about his career but it’s just a rehash of what has already been said about his enormous comedic presence. Another big media presence surrounding a celebrity’s death came in 1997. I was spending the day at a local amusement park just before the Labor Day holiday when I returned home to see my parents’ television fixated on CNN. There had been a car wreck in a Parisian tunnel which claimed the life of Princess Diana. A media frenzy surrounding the event and most likely helped to cause the accident was sprawled across television stations up and down the dial. I think this was the first huge impact the media had on a person’s death either in attributing to or reporting on it. Her marriage had become an iconic moment in television pop culture and so would her death.

Soon the flood gates opened and a slew of iconic actors, comedians, and other entertainers from my childhood followed suit. There was Alec Guinness, Charles Schultz, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Ray Walston, Frank Sinatra, Jason Robards, and many more. These deaths bridged the gap between my parents’ generation and my own. A true testament to their impact was this transition from one to the other.

That’s kind of how Michael Jackson’s legacy will be viewed, in some sense, a legacy of change. In his youth, he was an amazing talent and performer, even topping Diana Ross in her own show. As a young adult, he blazed a pop music trail selling more copies of a single album than anyone else in the world. On my birthday, this year, Thriller was certified 28x platinum by the RIAA. In the U.S. the Eagles still hold the distinction of having the Best Selling Album at 29 million copies sold of Their Greatest Hits album, but expect that to be shattered with the news of MJ’s death.

As Jackson rocketed further into stardom, his life became a media circus. The chimp, the bones, the catching on fire, the chamber, the ranch, and into the 90s came the allegations of him molesting a child at his home. Soon, the talent became overshadowed by the tarnish. Overseas, MJ was still a sensation, but in America, people began to get a sense of discomfort. Domestically, record sales suffered. His appearance changed much over his 50 years and that lead to even more head scratching. “How could someone so talented do all that to himself?” Allegations of abuse by his father, Joe, gave little explanation to his behavior and a disclosure of suffering from a disease called vitiligo and also lupus was documented as the cause of his lightened appearance. Still all this seemed a departure from the MJ from the last two decades.

Failed marriages, artificially inseminated children, dangling babies, and a new investigation following a documentary done by Martin Bashir plague the pop star’s career as he now heads to court over the allegations. Impromptu roof top dance numbers in cars, halting traffic, pajamas in the courtroom, and a not guilty verdict all bring the icon’s growing weirdness into the end of the new millennium’s first decade. Reports of financial troubles, lawsuits, and a new concert tour mark the last years of the star’s life as he is rushed to the hospital suffering a cardiac arrest at age 50 on June 25th, 2009.

That’s a very modest and condensed list of events in the life of Michael Jackson. As always, I never claim to be an expert on anything but I do offer a theory as to why MJ was the way he was. Total arrested development. I think that the impact of his father and fame on him led to Jackson displaying a psychological neoteny. The allegations of abuse during an interview with Oprah and on other biographical depictions of his family life on television suggest that maybe he just never grew up because something in him never evolved socially. He was a child star and that led to him staying that way, socially. Perhaps abuse from his father led to a child like state, fearing adult hood or fearing adults for that matter, reverting him to only trust and want to interact with children.

There is an old saying that Mother is the word for God on the lips of children. Even fathers are viewed as Godlike in the eyes of a child. Maybe this destruction of that notion of “Parents as God” prompted him to adopt the ideology that he sees the face of God in children. Further theorizing may suggest that perhaps the supposed abuse by his father led to his changes in appearance more so than any disease could. Rumors that Joe would constantly hold Michael’s nose closed to change the flattened appearance. Others speculate that plastic surgery was to erase the image of Joe Jackson in his son’s looks. Whatever the case, I believe his behavior can be attributed to his growing up in the spotlight and in that house. As far as the trigger for this transition. Maybe it was that first initial surgery to fix a broken nose at 19. Maybe it was the proliferation of his image everywhere that haunted MJ. Everywhere he looked he saw this face, his father’s face, and it made him feel ugly. With surgery and coloring he could attain or retain a childlike appearance different from his family and in a sense, timeless, like a doll’s face.

I also believe that he was mismanaged in a financial and PR sense on top of having a childlike disposition. Let’s put it this way, my two year old daughter will carry around a baby doll. She will dote on it and nurture it with a bottle. She will lay it down on the couch and cover it with a blanket. Then she’ll grab it by the arm and run down the hall, banging the doll’s head into walls, doors, and other objects. Is she a bad person? No, she doesn’t understand certain concepts and behaviors associated with parenting. I think MJ did not develop and understand these concepts fully, leading to the bizarre dangling of his child over a balcony and the even more bizarre relationships he had with children at his home, prompting the allegations of molestation. I don’t think MJ had an evil bone in his body or malicious intentions towards children. In fact, while it clinically could be called molestation, if there was any inappropriate contact with these children, I don’t he understood or conducted himself in such a way. He simply acted as a child would with other children. The fact that he was 45 at the time didn’t help his case.

Also, look at his behavior with financial matters. Go watch Tom Hanks in Big. Specifically look at the behavior of his character when he starts getting paid at his job. He goes out and buys a lot of toys, and novelty items like a Soda Vending Machine, to decorate his apartment. He even has a set of bunk beds. Now, take MJ and give someone with the personality and thought process of a child. I’d buy an amusement park, too. Go interview any child and ask them what they would do with a million dollars. The imagination is limitless and I think the understanding of how much a million dollars really is escaped MJ. His finances were such a complex layered system that I don’t think he knew how much he really had or at least understood it. He had too many ‘yes’ men around and not enough concern over his personal being. They may have guarded his celebrity, and their source of income, but I don’t think their intentions were to help Michael manage his life.

Now of course, this is all speculation on my part and like I said, I don’t claim any expertise but go back and look at his life and his work. It’s almost as if he off stage persona was the puppet and his on stage one was the master. Iit was a very polished and ferocious one. MJ as a performer and artist was light years more developed than his role as a human being off stage. Perhaps this is where he felt most comfortable and the switch went on in his brain that brought out the adult.

His life has been and will be looked at under a microscope for a long time. Regardless of what new information may come out in the wake of his death, you cannot argue that as a recording artist and performer, he was a talented individual and hopefully that image will stay with people instead of the ones we are all familiar with now. Yes, the jokes will come about the manner of death, “How can you perform CPR on a person with no nose?” It’s inevitable and also sickening in a sense. 23 years ago, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded after takeoff there was a slew of jokes done in poor taste over the disaster and teacher / astronaut, Christa Maculiffe.

Michael Jackson is the Elvis of our generation and while people see a dead fat white guy on a toilet, many more people see an icon that defines a portion of their childhood. Hopefully, that will be enough to thrill us for years to come.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

CafePress Store Update June 2009

There have been some developments within the inner workings of CafePress that have a lot of us shopkeepers pretty CafePissed. Recently, TPTB @ CP decided to change the model of how sales are calculated for designers and shopkeepers.

Until May of 2009, any design you placed on a product resided in your store and was also available from the search engine on CafePress site proper, also called The Marketplace, or by browsing through products or themes. The price you set for the products in your store was reflected in the Marketplace. Each product has a base price and you decide what the markup should be for each.

Now, the model is that your own shopkeeper store will continue to operate in the same manner, but the Marketplace will change. CP will set flat retail prices on all the products regardless of design. Then, for each sale, the shopkeeper who designed the item will receive a 10% commission. Your store will continue to operate like it did, outside of these changes?

Well, what does all this mean to you? Nothing, really. However, to a shopkeeper this means a lot. If a shopkeeper does $500 in sales for a month and normally makes $125 in profit for his/her work, they are now going to make only $50 for the month, IF the price on the item in the Marketplace is the same as their store.

Let’s break this down further. In this example we’ll use a shirt that has a base price of $9.99 for Shopkeeper stores and $13.99 retail price in the Marketplace.

In the old model, for the Marketplace, the base price for a shirt with an added markup of $5.00 netted the shopkeeper $5.00 in profit, plain and simple. In the new model, for the Marketplace, the same item now retails at $13.99 and the profit to the shopkeeper is $1.39.

Does this mean shopkeepers are inherently greedy? No. For the most part, shopkeepers are talented individuals that want to show off their designs and eventually be paid for their work and creativity. Is CafePress being greedy? I can’t say. The official word to shopkeepers was that with the current model, they had hit a ceiling with raking in new customers. Ok, in essence they dropped their prices... so, why not drop their base prices as well for Shopkeepers? That cuts into profits. They haven’t even settled on prices yet. They are still testing the waters and adjusting prices accordingly. If you buy a shirt today for $13.00, tomorrow it could be $12.00.

While they say they sympathize with Shopkeepers that rely on the profits from the marketplace to sustain their business and even perhaps their livelihood, the company line is that a retailer like Wal-Mart only gives 3% to a designer for a piece of work. If that’s the case, so be it. But look at the volume. If one design sold on CafePress like it did in Wal-Mart I don’t think they would be taking these measures to boost sales.

Another issue is that most shopkeepers are not in this business as a main source of income. They don’t have the time or the ability to build brand awareness and shop loyalty so they rely on the Marketplace for their sales. Not CP’s problem. They do all the work and all you do is design and tag images for products. I can’t complain from a time standpoint. I like being able to develop a design and just add it to products. I don’t have to print or ship anything, and I don’t have to handle the billing. They do all that for me and for that, I should at least be thankful. However, there are other changes that are troubling, from that perspective.

They have also decided to retool the search engine running in the marketplace to give higher search visibility to higher quality products while removing redundancies and lower quality designs. This means if you and another shopkeeper have the same idea at the same time and decide to put it on a shirt, you better have a better looking design or twist the concept into something else. Nine times out of ten, when I come up with something on my own or I get inspired by a pop culture event, I do a quick check on CP to see if it’s already been done. I don’t want to waste my time competing with other designers who may have more time to devote to their work. I design in my spare time using a combination of Microsoft Word and Paint.Net to do the work. I don’t own a copy of Photoshop or any other high quality graphics program. I rely on tricks and masking to do what others do and sometimes it takes me longer to get up and running before someone else may. So, if someone already gets to a concept before I do, I weigh the options and go from there.

My biggest problem with this change to the Marketplace is the method by which they are eliminating or reorganizing designs. In the past, I have talked about my brushes with the long arm of the CafePress law, the Content Usage Police…er Associates. From time to time I understand that there are some designs that resemble a copyrighted image or idea. It might be accidental or it might be done in parody. The rules governing parody are gray scale at best. However, there has been a huge inconsistency in how members of the C.U.P. decide what designs are allowed and what aren’t.

I have put images into my media basket that are of my own work only to have them pulled because of some vague reference to being copyrighted. They yank the design and give you a blanket statement as to why. Sometimes, you can push for more information and other times they ignore your requests or tell you to call….ending the paper trial as it were. Anytime I get a “Pending Image” message I immediately go into the Marketplace and search for anything similar or worse in terms of copyright infringement. If I cry foul, I get some kind of runaround about how they determine these removals. To date, I have only had one image returned to circulation…only to have it pulled later. Also, I have only had one success in having another violating design pulled because it was similar to mine which was deemed questionable, and I had to do that through a third party not affiliated with CP in order to test their response.

It’s this inconsistency in quality control that bothers me most. If they can’t police the designers consistently, what kind of methods are they using to pick and choose which designs get the thumbs and thumbs down for the Marketplace? Are they consistently choosing the best designs? Is the process consistent between members of that group if there are more than one? What standards are they comparing against? These are questions that have yet to be answered.

One of my most popular designs has sold more than any others I have. In fact, I only have like three designs that have sold more than once. I mainly get a one timer on any given design. So, this cash cow, as it were for me, is keeping me in business and if by some fluke of nature they foul up and scuttle it by accident in favor of a poorer quality design, I lose out big time. I don’t know what recourse I have in that instance. How do you argue with them that your design is better than another? I don’t want to have to defend my work to someone just because I like it.

So, what are my next steps? Once the prices are finalized in the Marketplace, I intend to get a list of all final retail prices and adjust my shop prices accordingly. To date, I’ve only had one item sell through my shop. All other sales have been driven through the Marketplace. That way I can compete with the Marketplace and recoup some of the profit margin I’ve lost. Then, I’ll make a more concerted effort to market my store. This brings me to the only change I like in this whole mess. CafePress has made it so that every item sold comes with the name and URL of the shop listed on the sales receipt above the main CP one. That helps for repeat customers but does little for those of us who throw away the receipt after the package is opened. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

For now, I will continue to pepper my blog posts with relevant designs and links to them in the store. On occasion I will do a shop specific update. I've just opened a Facebook page which you can become a fan of by clicking up at the top of the blog where it says Facebook. I'v also sunk a little money into a Facebook ad just to test the waters. In any event, every link on every design there and in this blog will be tied directly to my store and not CP proper. I am also on the lookout for any petitions or groups banding together to fight this. In all seriousness, I make less from CP per month than most people make in a 40 hour week of regular work.

While a lot of the rhetoric thrown about talks of shopkeepers jumping ship to Zazzle, I don’t find myself following, anytime soon. It took me three months to hone the turnaround process on design and implementation into my store and I’d rather let my competition go to another site and hope I can survive the storm. Although, this is a trend that could continue to strip away what little profit shopkeeper’s make on CP and I can only stay around as long as that is what I am making, a profit. Remember, for a premium shop, designers pay to play. If I had a basic shop model, I would have to maintain nearly 150 different shops, one for each design. I have no idea what this change is doing to them nor do I want to think about it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Top Ten Rejected Excuses for South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s Absence

Mark Sanford recently popped up on the radar after being out of touch for a few days. His office said he was hiking. He revealed he was in Argentina. Apparently, a few other cover stories were rejected before settling on the "I'm hiking the Appalachian trail" one.

10. He was kidnapped by Russians and forced to help search for a lost kingdom built by aliens with crystal skeletons.

9. While rafting down river he was pursued by backwoods hillbillies forcing him to use only his bow and arrow to defend himself under cover of night.

8. He was at an secret AIG retreat in Buenos Aires.

7. He stopped at a strip club along the border of Mexico and became trapped as hordes of vampires attack him in the form of Salma Hayek and Fred Williamson.

6. He was travelling with a Uruguayan Rugby Team on its way to a match in Santiago Chile and crashed in the Andes.

5. He was hiking along the jungles of South America when he was drawn into the search for an enormous emerald and the rescue of Elaine Wilder, the sister of fictional romance novelist, Joan Wilder.

4. He attempted to communicate his agenda but Twitter would only show the Fail Whale.

3. He was on a secret mission as part of an elite counter-terrorist team, whose main goal was to retrieve a fragment of a device called the Weather Dominator from a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world.

2. He was recovering at an undisclosed hospital after ingesting raw Nestle’s Toll House Cookie Dough. From now on, he says he’ll stick to only eating Uruguayan Rugby Players, uncooked.

1. He was hanging out at a frat party with Jon Gosselin and time just got away from him.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cookie Duh

Nestle recently pulled it’s refrigerated brands of Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough products from stores over concerns of E. coli contamination. The reason being was that consumers ingested some of the raw cookie dough and became sick. Could you imagine being at grandma’s house, baking up a batch of Nestle’s nummy nuggets, and digesting a dollop of dough, not knowing the Escherichia Coli nature of these uncooked chocolate chip chunks?

Is this Stupidity in the Raw? Is there any threat to actually baking this toxic toll house cookie concoction? In a word, maybe. While the possibility for anyone who died, from eating the raw dough, to be nominated for a Darwin exists, there is more afoot here than plain old fashioned moronic activity. Usually, consuming raw cookie dough allows for exposure to Salmonella, not E. coli. Yet, still people continue to chomp on this comfort food while it’s still in its uncooked form. Had people baked the cookies and became sick, the culprit in this case may have gone unnoticed because not many would look at fresh baked cookies to be contaminated. People would be more likely to look at the tomatoes or lettuce in their refrigerator as the usual suspect.

Now, while I would like to complain about the nature of, what could be called, frivolous lawsuits against Nestle because of this issue, Nestle is not without shame in recent years. Looking over the trusted news source that is Wikipedia, a slew of criticisms can be found ranging from price fixing to melamine laced milk. Of course, calling Wikipedia a trusted news source is like calling Faux News a fair and balanced media outlet, but a little more digging into the cited charges can reveal better evidence.

But that doesn’t indemnify either party in this matter. I am as guilty as the rest of the cookie dough fiends of the world. As a wee Mongo, I worked at an amusement park and would often visit friends who worked in a Giant Cookie stand. They would throw me a gob of soon to be baked cookie dough from time to time. It was heaven. Had I ever gotten sick, I would have no one to blame but myself. Still, the nature of these lawsuits stem from becoming sick from an out of the ordinary illness associated with raw cookie dough that has been made from pasteurized ingredients. In this case, kudos to Nestle for taking prompt action on pulling the products from shelves and nuts to those individuals who cry foul when they eat the uncooked morsels.

It’s OK to roast me for my insensitivity over the issue, but when you consider that eating raw cookie dough is a risk associated behavior, you are probably engaging in off label use by consuming it. I don’t have a bag in front of me but I would venture to guess that somewhere on the labeling it says “Do Not Consume Raw Cookie Dough.” If anything, stupidity could be a good thing as people may never have known the extent of this matter had they not gotten sick from raw dough.

Every year we are treated to another food related scandal. Is it the fault of manufacturers going soft on standards and quality control? Is the fault of migrant farm workers not washing up before working in the fields? Is it the fault of the public for not adhering to warning labels? All three are somewhat guilty of being caught with their hand in the cookie jar. How this all plays out over the media is a mystery, yet with every passing year, we face a new threat from our food. M. Night Shyamalan could have been onto something with his milk dud of a film, The Happening. Maybe the world is finally out to get us. Storms rage across the plains, earthquakes and fires ravage our homes, and the food we eat has become a weapon in the war against mankind. However, somewhere in the distance, you can hear the maniacal laughter of a little Dough Boy and there is no finger pushing into his belly. Victory is poppin’ fresh.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A River Floods Through It

Home ownership. It’s one of those privileges that should be a right. It’s a sanctuary, allowing your to push all the troubles of the world aside, draw the blinds and hide under your blankets. It’s a place of worship as you sit in your man cave and pray to the Sporting Gods so that your team can win. It gives you shelter from the elements and ridiculously nutty neighbors withtheir lawn ornaments. It can provide for you if you have a garden out in the backyard. Owning a home can give you countless joys and also countless headaches and heartaches. It’s kind of like marriage.

It can also be threatened and needs to be defended. In Revolutionary times, British troops could just come right in and search your home without cause. Home invasions and burglaries can threaten your belongings and even your person. And in these tough economic times, foreclosure and bankruptcy can cause you to lose your home right out from under you. While all these old and new concerns are dangerous to home ownership, none is as threatening as mother nature. The elements alone can be the most dangerous to your safety. Fires can happen from lightning strikes, the house could be ripped from its foundation from tornadoes, and water can invade a home instantly during flash flooding.

But all of these threats and deterrents should not stop someone from wanting to own a home but it can be cause for some forethought into protecting and securing a domicile. You should be able to make your home your castle. A basement doesn’t just have to be a place for a washer and dryer and other junk. It shouldn’t be an environment only fit for the furnace monster that scares you from going down for your snowsuit when school has been closed and the back hillside is just ripe for sledding. It should be more. It should be a retreat from upstairs doldrums. It should be the rocking underground party that is separate from your upstairs, conservative, button down living room with pictures of Nana and the kids.

We have many names for this retreat of the residence we’ve created or renovated. During the mid 20th century they were sometimes called dens and usually existed on the main level of the home. As the length of hair went down our backs, so did the level of the den, descending into that dark abyss, forcing the furnace monster to look for new lodging. Basements became game rooms and rumpus rooms. They can even be called rec rooms or the secluded man cave. These newly designated living spaces became framed in wood and covered with paneling or dry wall. Flooring choices were built up from dirt and cement to tile and carpet. The lighting moved from dark and dreary to bright and bouncy, yet still maintain a certain level of control to set the mood for family movie night or teenage make out sessions. Yes, the new age of home ownership became a test of creativity and innovation as we looked for ways to incorporate a big screen and a Beermeister into the aesthetic mix of couches and recliners.

But then…lighting crashes and rivers rise. The sanctity of the man cave or game room can be threatened by nature and those long hours we toiled away in our off time laying tile or framing a bar can all be washed away from existence leaving you to lament the loss of your pool table or surround system, ruined by standing water. My family has seen and experienced mother nature’s cold wet wake up call to arms, brooms, and mops and the rec room has risen from the ashes like a civilization built upon the ruins of its ancestors. Here’s examples from both my parents and in laws.

In 2004, Hurricane Ivan did more than just devastate the Caribbean and Gulf States. It continued on as a weakened but still dangerous remnant carrying torrential downpours on into the Mid Atlantic States, including my home turf. Long after Miami survived the monsoon, Pittsburgh got plunged into the rising waters of Ivan’s leftovers.

20 years before a single drop of Ivan invaded I-376, my parents had built the home they live in today. For nearly two decades we lived in a two story home with an unfinished basement. It served as a laundry room and a mud room. The damp smell of wet cement and dirt permeated the dark cavernous nature of our cellar and the décor was worthy of Buffalo Bill’s chamber of horrors as described in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

When my parents decided to build a new home out in the semi-rural / semi suburban area of Southwestern Pennsylvania, they left the option open to finish the basement. The new construction was a departure from the old days of the cellar dweller furnace monster. The basement was well lit with an outside entrance up to street level and three to four windows on the back side of the house where the sun sets into the West.

A year after we moved in they made the decision to finish the basement into a game room. Plush red carpeting flowed down the steps to a landing giving you the option to go right into an area with the furnace, refrigerator, freezer, and door to the outside. If you would rather, you could turn left from the landing and head into the living area with a television, couch, and chair as well as a hearth and wood burner on the far wall, extending the brick along the entire length into an area with the love seat and pool table. One of the support poles made it difficult to make some shots but it was carpeted as well like a human sized scratching post. This is where we gather for Christmas as a family, opening presents as the Christmas tree gleams in the corner of the room.

But when Ivan hit Southwestern PA in September 2004, the drain outside the basement door could not handle the rushing water and my parents’ rec room got wrecked. The carpet rippled like Aladdin’s mode of transportation across the Arabian sky as the water sloshed underneath it. Eventually, they redid the flooring and now a deeper wine colored carpet adorns the scratching post by the pool table but as my father, my insurance agent will tell you, “Insurance doesn’t cover Mother Nature.” The expense to fix up the room was all on them.

Get Three Rivers One Drain on a shirt
from Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store

Five years later, I am reminded of Ivan’s wrath as I stand in my garage squeegee in hand, keeping the water at bay. A hellacious storm rolled through our area this past week, reminding us that Mother Nature is a cold hearted bitch. My gravel driveway acts as a plug in the drain that sits just off the garage floor slab. The collection of dirt and stone inhibits the drain from removing a bulk of the water that pools outside the door in bad storms. The shoddy masonry on the side of the house allows water to flow underneath the side door of the garage and another drain in the cement on that side is so clogged with dirt and rocks that it cannot carry enough water away before I am forced to get into the thick of it. I had taken a few peeks into the garage to make sure it was still dry, but as the storm neared our home and the rains picked up, it was too late. When I finally noticed that the side door was leaking on Wednesday evening, we had already heard the bad news, my In-Laws were under water.

Sometime around the middle of the 90’s, my Father-In-Law had a vision. The walls of his small ranch home along the busy pavement of Rte 130 in Harrison City were closing in on him. Three children, two at time living, in the house with him and his wife confined the family to the upstairs level for comfort and shelter. By nature, they were entertainers and tales of their parties are still recalled throughout the years.

In order to truly feel comfortable in a setting with friends or family, they needed to expand, and the only direction was down. Ever the crafty craftsman, he took an open floor plan and turned it into an almost separate studio residence. Coming down from the steps along the Eastern side of the basement he put in a wet bar with cabinetry and tile flooring. If you were to turn left, you’d see a pool table and gas fire place, complete with a hearth and mantle.

Along the Northern wall three closets for storage lined the wall with an office area on the bar side and an entrance to the fruit cellar under the porch on the other side. As you move past the warmth of the gas fireplace you headed into the living area with a love seat and two recliners positioned around a coffee table, antique looking tea cart, and flat screen television.

Turning left from the living room you could access a full sized kitchen with an old style refrigerator and range oven. Floor to ceiling cabinets and counter tops framed in the small but functional kitchen with a sink on a diagonal in one corner.

Continuing left you passed through a small entryway and down a level into the laundry room complete with half bath and another two freezers. Out of the laundry room you were back to the steps where a tile floor curves around to the garage with two big folding door pantry closets were stocked with goodies. On your left was the bar back up a level by the steps with more built in cabinets underneath.

He did all the work himself and it took almost three years to complete at the cost of his muscles and joints. Now 70, he spends a good portion of his days there with his family eating dinner and enjoying the warmth of the fireplace while watching television. Now, it was filling up with water.

There had always been the threat of flooding into the home. Their driveway slopes down from the road into their garage and only a trench drain at the base protects them from disaster. Over the years, the busy road has been built up and the path of which water flows now comes down the road and into his yard, ponding-up on the side of the house before moving over the hillside into his driveway and hopefully the drain. The driveway itself offers another obstacle as the poor drainage system installed by the township only has loose gravel covering the top portion next to the road. Rainwater pushes the gravel and dirt down into the drains blocking them, turning his driveway into a bathtub.

When my wife got the news about her parents’ home, I ran into our garage and saw the similar invasion happening to us. Water had begun coming underneath the side door. The drain on the front of the house had clogged. I opened the main door and a wall of water fell into the garage and rushed towards the back wall. Dirt and gravel carried by the current settled on the floor drain stopping the water from leaving the room. I grabbed my pry bar and ran back into the house. The only way to keep water from getting in was to clear the drain and I could only get there from outside. I ran out the front door and into the wading pool of water in front of my garage. I stabbed blindly into the water with the pry bar looking for the iron gate that sat on top of the drain. Once removed, I could fish around for the PVC lid covering the drain proper. Tossing it aside, a whirlpool formed and the water level receded.

Heading back into the house, soaking wet, I now had to get rid of the water on the side of the house, as well as the interior part of the garage. With the water now gone in front, I could squeegee water out of the garage and into the drain. I pulled water from the side entrance, that had pooled up, and kept more from coming into the smaller door. Finally realizing what was going on with the interior drain, I cleared the debris and water fell through the floor and away from my feet.

My wife appeared in the doorway telling me she had to go over to her parents’. I told her to get the baby ready and I would make preparations to shore up the garage from future flooding this evening. I grabbed any and all towels and shoved them into plastic bags. Running the handles underneath the bottom of the interior door, I could create a barrier against the inside by pulling the handles of the bags which would push on the inside of the door, shutting it. I lined more bags on the outside as well as the exterior door.

In the car, my wife attempted to start the car and the familiar sound of a dead battery rang in my ears as the car wouldn’t turn over. With no way to push the car towards the entrance of my driveway, I had to figure out a way to get out other car to the dead one. I ended up driving through my yard and nearly into the wall of the house. Sitting a good foot higher than the driveway, I worked to get the hoods open on both cars in order to run jumper cables between them. Lightning flashed in succession like a strobe light as I hooked the positive wires to both cars. I hesitated on connecting the negatives as I wondered what would be the likelihood of being electrocuted in the process. My second question was which would get me first, the battery or the lightning?

After connecting the last clamp, I yelled to my wife to turn the key. The car sputtered into life and I put all my toys away, before leaving. Rivers of dirty rain water rushed down our hill and the main part of our town was already flooded and closed off from travelling. A creek runs through three towns with us in the middle and we had to get to the other end. Turning onto the next road, we could see mudslides above us onto the road. Hydroplaning was a threat as the flowing water moved from one side of the street to the other and soon, downed trees offered a chance to practice serpentine movements in the car.

Upon reaching my In-Laws, the rain began to slow up. We made our way down into the basement, yelling at my Mother-In-Law to get herself upstairs. She is diabetic and has no spleen. Not a good combination for someone standing in dirty water with cracked feet. She headed upstairs to watch our daughter while my wife, her father, and myself stayed downstairs to remove water. The smell of fuel wafted through the air from the garage. An overturned heater had spilled kerosene into the garage which was now being carried into the rest of the house.

A half hour ago, the water had not been that bad. A small stream had trickled under the garage door and into the laundry room where it left via a drain in the floor. My Father-In-Law stood in the entryway with a broom, pushing the water towards the laundry room while his wife spoke on the phone to my wife. The they heard this loud pop like someone had slapped a wooden paddle across a child’s corduroy covered ass. Before she could tell my wife about it, another noise that sounded like a wave crashing broke the air and water spewed out from under the interior door to the garage. Quickly, the level rose over the top of the raised platform and flooded the basement. A broom was no longer going to cut it as they just realized that the garage door had buckled. At that moment, my wife’s face drained of color and she looked at me as if to say, “All his work. All the pain and sweat he put into that downstairs was now being washed away.” That’s when I headed into my garage.

But now, the water had leveled off and we began sweeping it from the kitchen into the laundry room. We took the carpet steamer and began sucking water from the run as a friend stopped by with a Shop Vac. As we tried to remove water from the rooms, mud and silt remained on the tiled portions. Dinner, which had been set on the table, stood untouched.

At 12:30 AM, nearly dead tired from dumping a full vacuum of water out again and again, the standing water had been vacated, leaving only the soaked carpets and flooded root cellar left to clear. We headed into the garage. Confined and cluttered, most of the items had been pushed to the back of the house, beyond the interior door. An outside door could have served to divert a lot of the flooding out of the back of the house, but it was now barricaded by everything that had been in the front of the garage. We could see the bottom panel of the garage door had broken free from its track, flipped up and onto the back bumper of their car. Pots and planters full of dirt in the garage had been toppled, clogging the floor drain, adding to the problem. A water and debris line stretched across the car above the tires, inside a Father’s Day present soaked up water that had come inside.

We worked to fix the garage door, to guard against any additional rainfall throughout the night. Down the road in town, others were still battling the waters as people had to be rescued by emergency services from local businesses and an apartment building. Fighting our own battle earlier, my wife instructed her parents to call 911 but they could not say when they could get there. Additional attempts to call 911 met with busy signals. We considered ourselves lucky.

After fixing the garage door, we finally sat down to dinner at 1:00 AM. By 2:30 we had finally left for home. The road home was littered with more mudslides and even we could even see the creek cresting its banks as it rushed alongside the road in the dark.

We arrived at our house to see little if any more water damage than when we left. By 4:00 AM I had taken a shower and gone to bed. My wife told me in private that her Dad had been seen wandering around the basement just devastated at the damage. While it was confined to mostly a structural nature, it was apparent that there was a lot of work to be done, ripping up carpets and the flooring as well as getting into all the cabinets and closets to remove any remnants of this disaster. At 58, the renovation of their basement, by himself, was taxing on his body. At 70, it would be near impossible.

While I have the good fortune to live on top of a hill, I know my home is not free from the threat of rising water. Poor drainage and poor design leave me open to a similar fate I had recently redid half of the basement floor in ceramic tile and it does offer an easier clean up than carpet, it doesn’t give me any more comfort in knowing that the hard work I put into it and any future projects down there could be gone in an instant. For now, I’m just happy to be drifting off on the river of dreams, letting go of the pain of sore muscles. Tomorrow will be another day of cleaning up, but right now I’m headed out to a sea of sleep, dreaming of…..


Damn that car.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Gremlin Lives In Malibu


That’s what I hear out in my driveway.


What the hell?


That’s my car!


I run out to my driveway to find the car horn repeatedly blaring and the lights flashing. There is no one around the 2005 Malibu Maxx, not a soul, and here it is, just convulsing in an audio/visual manner.


I reach into my pocket and push the keyless entry button and everything stops. It’s the weirdest thing because I don’t have a car alarm. Now, there is a theft deterrent system by which tampering with the car can cause this to happen. It even has a system built in where if someone attempts to try and start the car with an unrecognized key, it shuts down the fuel pump. But there is no one around the vehicle. Sometimes, I will find a stray cat sleeping on the hood of the car when it’s been recently run, but the car has just been sitting in the driveway all day.

After a complete checkout of the car, I go back inside and continue my latest obsession, PAIN, for the PS3. This totally addictive game has got me flinging David Hasselhoff all over amusement parks, city blocks, and fictional movie studio back lots. It has really no point other than using the hoff’s body as a source of bodily and architectural destruction. I mean I have wasted more hours on….


WTF?!? (< - - txtspeak daily quota reached)


Oh come on. I was just about to destroy half the city with a giant bowling ball.


Again, I push the button on my key ring. This is ridiculous. Is someone messing with me? Does someone have an electronic device that is activating the car? OK, this is nuts. I’m just going to leave the car unlocked. Now, where was I? Oh yes, grabbing an old lady with a walker and throwing her into the subway…




Perhaps it’s my keys? I tend to stuff more items into my pocket than a chipmunk does food in his mouth. I can’t tell you how many times my cell phone has shut off, buzzed for no reason, or called my Mother-In-Law. Perhaps the buttons on my key ring are activating some kind of panic button. I once again push the button to leave the car unlocked and now my keys are nowhere near me.


This is ridiculous.

Later that night, I worried about leaving the car unlocked in the driveway. While, I believe I live in a safe neighborhood, there have been reports in the past of thieves and attempted home invasions in the area. As I lie there, I slowly start to drift into that zone between sleep and awake where you feel far away from everything and your mind is on autopilot downloading the evenings dream playlist.


Lights shining in the bedroom window and noises threatening to wake my daughter, my neighbors, and nearby communities. I scramble out of bed tripping over one cat and onside kicking another one trying to get to my keys tucked away in my pants on the floor in front of the bed.



The light show ceases and now I am fully awake. I lay my keys next to me on the nightstand and drift back to sleep.


Morning already?

These events occur randomly throughout the next few days, and nights, and I have yet to figure out an explanation. Is it the key chain? Don’t know. I’ve already cycled through the internal options on security from RKE to PASSIVE and back to RKE. I would like to just disable the feature. My next attempt at determining a root cause is to remove the battery from my key chain and see if that stops it. If I’m wrong, not only will it keep happening, but I will probably have a broken key chain unable to stop it. The worst part is I am two weeks from the end of my smart buy lease and have yet to get any kind of refinancing numbers from GMAC or the dealership.

If this is a huge fix…I might have to consider turning it in at the end of the month.

Guess what? The battery trick didn't work. It happened while I was away from the car with my keys and now I can't get the buttons to work anymore.



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Places You Won't Find With OnStar

Travelling on vacation gives you plenty of sites to behold. Famous places dot the landscape of the country and gift shops work hard to make you take pieces of them home. Whether it be a shirt or key chain, there are plenty of reminders of your last trip to the Outer Banks or the Biggest Ball of Yarn in the U.S.

On my journeys, I have seen lots of those little oval stickers for various locations. Most are modeled after Imitation International Codes for places like the Outer Banks (OBX) or Martha’s Vineyard (MV) and a lot of times it’s not a sign of where you’ve been but a choice on where you’d like to be going.

With that in mind, I decided to throw up a few places you’ll never find on the map, and a couple you may.

Get a BFE Sticker
at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store!

Pretty self explanatory. It’s for Bum F*#k Egypt. That mythical place you always seemed to be parked at. We’ve all been there. Now we can boast about it.

Get an EJ Sticker
at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store!

Secondary to BFE is a location called East Jabib. In accordance, two people driving separate vehicles can never be parked in the same location.
“Where are you parked?”
“Oh, I’m in East Jabib.”

Get an HHA Sticker
at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store!

Hell’s Half Acre is more of a geographical region than an actual location BFE and EJ could technically be located in HHA. In other words…
“Where have you been?”
“I’ve been all over Hell’s Half Acre looking for a parking spot.”
“Where did you end up?”

Get a Cliffs of Insanity Sticker
at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store!

The Cliffs of Insanity are pretty treacherous. I don’t think you can get there by vehicle. In fact the only two ways known are to climb a rope or be harnessed to a giant, climbing a rope. This is part of my Princess Bride inspired series.

Get a Fire Swamp Sticker
at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store!

Once again, another Princess Bride inspired sticker based on the Fire Swamp. Another treacherous location boasting three terrors. In fact, there are warnings posted as well.

Get Fire Swamp Warnings on a shirt
Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store!

Get a Pechin's Sticker
at Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! The Store!

Here is your one real location in the bunch. It’s an homage to a local shopping village in Southwestern Pennsylvania which is well known across the country in certain circles. Pechin’s has been around forever and for awhile, it looked it. Missing areas of floor, fabled rats in the burgers, all the creature comforts of a economically depressed South of Pittsburgh. The shanty town style village recently relocated into an empty mall nearby before the village burned to the ground. Hmmm.

That’s all for now from Rand McMongo.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Why Do You Need a CPA To Figure Out Your Cable Bill?

I'm on a roll after being off a week and only posting twice last week. I nailed all three of my weekly posts in nearly one day.

It shouldn’t be that hard. I should be able to have my cable, phone, and Internet all bundled up for one price. I shouldn’t have to go through a month long fight with the cable company every year to renegotiate my contract. I shouldn’t have to get in touch with Customer Service and haggle and bitch and pretty much wear down the person on the other end until they finally cave and give me what I should have been given to start. But I do.

I’ve been going round and round on this since I first bundled my services back in 2004. Now, don’t you think it would be so much simpler and better for everyone involved if Cable Companies could just have a better breakdown on a menu of services. You want Cable…here’s the option. One price. None of this, “Here’s your price, and here’s all the additional fees and charges that go along with it.” If you want more service or less service you pick it. Then we add phone and Internet and the price for each service is an easy breakdown of features. No, they have to have all these weird features and charges and then they bill you a month in advance so that if you change your service, you get dinged for a higher amount, pay it, and then fight to get the charges credited on a future bill. In any case, you end up losing a few dollars in the mix somewhere. The biggest problem is that there is no competing business in my area that covers all the services, yet. Once that happens, I think I’ll have a better chance at keeping prices stable.

The background of this chat is that my current bundle was set to expire in June…or at least I thought it was June. Comcast sent out this nifty little thing to save me money so I signed up. Then my bill went up. I thought, well that’s nice. They offer me a discount and then raise my price higher. Turns out the $20 off coupon was for unbundled customers. Then I called and said, “Hey, bundle me up. But I know it costs more to have HBO/Starz so drop that and keep everything else. Their response was that it would still be more because of a $15 DVR charge. I said, “I know that. That’s figured into my bill. I just want the bundled service minus the premium channels.” Their response, “But it’s going to cost more because of the DVR charge. Why don’t we give you the bundled service without HBO/Starz?” I said, “….Yeah, OK. Do that.” Where do they find these people? Before the words were out of my mouth, HBO and Starz channels were gone. Then instead of my bill going down it went up one month and then even further the next month.

So, Here is a wonderful little transcript with CS over my latest bill changes. I am in blue, he is in green…self explanatory, I know. My interjections are in red. Note the end of the conversation when he becomes unclear about the similarity between my service previously and what I will be billed now. Oh and look I get a smiley face to boot….awww.

Problem : Being billed too much for services. Spoke to rep on or about 5/15 about change. Billed $192 and now $224 for less services. Need to resolve or cancel service. (I know that I have nowhere else to go…I’m hoping they don’t call my bluff.)

Andrew > Hello Mongo_, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Andrew. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Andrew > That would be no problem to check into your account. In order to provide any billing information, would you be able to provide your 16 digit Comcast account number?

Mongo_ > XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX <-- (What…do you think I just fell off the Comcast van?)

Andrew > Thank you, one moment please.

Andrew > The reason that your bill is higher this month is because you made a change to your billing after the previous bill printed, so there were retroactive charges, listed on "Partial Month Charges & Credits".

Andrew > Your bill next month will be $158.40 (before taxes).

Mongo_ > Yes, I see that. I just wonder why I see a $214 charge for HD bundle services?

Andrew > That is the price of the bundle for 5/16 (which is when you made the change) to 7/01.

Mongo_ > So, disregard the bill statement of $224.34 which is supposed to Auto Pay on 7/08. It will be $158.40 + tax?

Andrew > No, this statement of $224.34 is correct, after this bill is paid, your billing will be $158.40 (before taxes).

Mongo_ > So, I change my service on 5/16. I get billed $192 on June 07, and now I am going to be billed $224.34 on July 08? How is that? When I called in May, I asked to be put back onto a bundle plan which would be $158 + tax. Why is it taking two months plus additional charges to reflect this? HBO and Starz were turned off at the time of my call to Customer Service. I don't have an HD television and I communicated that to the CSR who I dealt with then.

Andrew > It should be one more moment.

Mongo_ > ok

(5 minutes later)

Mongo_ > How's it coming?

Andrew > Ok, I greatly appreciate your patience.

(2 minutes later. I've noticed throughout that there is a lot of "Analyst is typing" and then nothing...which means he's deleting, waiting, and then typing, again.)

Andrew > I have found that we did not credit you for the DVR service from 6/02 to 7/01. I am going to credit you $14.95. (Why did they do that? Not that I am complaining but I know I have that as a charge. I think they just find things to credit you on and tell it was a mistake. Instead of admitting that they are screwing your eyes out. I've worked in Customer Service before, I know how to polish a turd.)

Andrew > The rest of the charges are correct, since you changed your package on 5/16, and your current promotion is more expensive then the promotion that you had on 5/16, there was retroactive charges from 5/16 to 6/01.

Mongo_ > Just so we're clear, I am on a bundled service for $158 + tax, now. Retroactive charges from the half month of May for HBO/Starz are appearing on June's bill detailing May without a bundled service per se. Does that cover the $192.00 for the month of May? Now, what about June? If my bill is going to be $158.00+tax starting 07/01 then I am being billed somewhere around $60 for something that won't be there in July, less $14.95 for the DVR charge? Is that all correct?

Andrew > Everything that you stated is correct, your May statement is covered. The partial month charges and credits for your June bill is:$52.67. I have credited $34.95 (Where did that little gift come from?) of that, the remaining balance for the partial month charges and credits is: $17.72. (Apparently, he understood what I said. I didn’t.)

Mongo_ > Ok. What will be the final amount being drawn on my account on 07/08? Just so I am sure to have it all there at the time of withdrawal. (It’ll be in my account, but I want them to actually tell me so I can finish this and not call back. Although, I know my bill will be different from Andy here is about to tell me.)

Andrew > The new amount is $189.39, the credit that I have applied should deduct the current balance by 7/08, just in case it doesn't, you will see the credit reflect on your next bill.

Mongo_ > Ok. From then on it will be $158.00 + tax? Is that the same service I had previously, minus the HBO and Starz? I know I have the DVR in that mix. (He and I both use the terms before and plus tax. Notice how they never tell you what the final amount is. I’ve noticed that taxes and fees change monthly. My bill is always the same plus/minus a dollar or two in change.)

Andrew > That is correct, as far as the promotion being the same as before, I believe so, but I cannot say for sure, since that bundle has expired and I cannot see the exact break down of each service that was in it.

Mongo_ > Understood. I appreciate your time in this. (I'm missing the Penguins parade for this. I'm done.)

Andrew > You are very welcome. I am here to assist you.
(And all your base are belong to us.)

Mongo_ > Thank you.

Andrew > Would there be anything else I can assist you with today?

Mongo_ > Nope.

Andrew > If there isn't anything else, I just wanted to say thank you for allowing me to assist you today! Remember, if you need us we are here 24/7 at your convenience.

Andrew > Have a great day! :)

Andrew > Analyst has closed chat and left the room

Mongo_ > is left to yell and kick and scream at what just happened.

end of line

I guess I should be thankful, I got this resolved, somewhat. That would be the case if I knew this wouldn’t have to be revisited, eventually. I love how I dropped service but am still paying more. Isn’t it nice that in this economic downturn, Comcast can still boast a profit. You’re welcome, Comcast…You’re welcome.

Pittsburgh Penguins Make the Impossible Probable

OMG! There, I’ve used my txtspk quota for the day. I couldn’t believe what I witnessed on Friday. I was in the Outer Banks on vacation for the majority of the series but caught the first four games at the house we were staying at. Game Five was the 5-0 shutout in Detroit and I only caught the tail end of that when we were about an hour away from home on the PA Turnpike. Game Six we watched the tail end of on Tuesday night after going out for dinner and that was a nail biter of a 2-1 victory in Pittsburgh. Nothing could have prepared me for what was going to unfold in Detroit on Friday night. The odds were stacked heavily in The Red Wings' favor. No hockey team has ever won Game Seven of a Stanley Cup Series on the road. As far as Major League teams in North American sports the last time this happened was in Major League Baseball and that was the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates in Baltimore for Game Seven of the World Series. That’s 30 years ago. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen a lot. The NBA has yet to do it now that LA has beaten Orlando in only five games for the championship and we don't have a team so...go figure.

The other thing that hasn’t happened in a long time is Pittsburgh winning the Stanley Cup. The last time that happened was 1992, 17 years ago, against the Chicago Blackhawks in a 4-0 series shellacking. I was a junior in high school. The previous year was Pittsburgh’s first Stanley Cup victory over the Minnesota North Stars, now Dallas Stars, in a 4-2 series. I remember Game Six of that series, very, very, well.

I was a sophomore in high school and on May 25th, I was at a graduation party at the Indian Creek Valley Community Center in Indian Head, PA. Now, as a sophomore, one doesn’t expect to be attending a lot of graduation parties for his/her classmates. I was one of those weird cases where I spent a lot more time hanging out with the upperclassmen than my own grade. It was my first high school graduation party for a non relative and it was also my first taste of underage drinking beer at a party.

As kids, we all had our moments of sneaking a drink from our parents’ liquor cabinets or our Dad giving us a sip of beer during a Steelers’ Game, but this was the first real opportunity for me to partake in celebratory libations. I wasn’t even supposed to be driving a car after midnight at this point in my life. Luckily, I got a ride to this party because I was in no shape to drive by the end of the night, or so I thought.

This was 1991, a few years before the availability of big screen viewings of events via LCD projectors and the like. Those kinds of resources were for business meetings and sports bars. I was in a Community Center nestled in the foot hills of Western Pennsylvania. We had car radios to keep us posted on the NHL action. We made as many trips to the cars to get an update as we did the keg to get more beer. By the end of the second period we were all feeling pretty buzzed and our inebriation was directly proportional to our confidence in Pittsburgh winning the series. It was a foregone conclusion that Pittsburgh was going to win this game. After trading wins through the first four games, Pittsburgh picked up momentum in Game Five with a 6-4 win over the North Stars in Pittsburgh. Now all that was needed was another win in Game Six at the Met Center in Minnesota. The Pens were up 7 nothing and it looked hopeless for the North Stars.

Wait?!? Did Jimmy Paek just score? The Korean guy just scored his only goal of the playoffs? Are you kidding me? Scratch that, it was hopeless. No offense to Jimmy, he is one of my favorites and that’s not being condescending. As the first of only two Korean players in the NHL, he is the first Korean to have his name engraved on the Stanley Cup and he has his sweater hanging in the Hockey Hall of Fame to honor that. Not bad. You have to respect that.

As I sat in the cab of a friend’s truck and cheered in a drunken state at the sound of the Pens winning their first Stanley Cup, ever, I was given some sobering news. The beer we had been pounding, heavily all night, causing us to run around like jackasses, whooping it up over a hockey game, was non-alcoholic. Immediately, the crowed stopped stumbling and started walking around, normally. A few us tested out our blood alcohol level with a self given, field sobriety test, just to make sure. Throughout this whole evening, we were only drunk on hockey and toasted the winning Pittsburgh Penguins with another cup of O’Douls.

He shoots he scores! Oh, buy Jimmy Paek a drink and get his dog one, too. Great job boys. Now if we could just get the Pirates to stop trading talent and start winning pennants we would truly be the City of Champions with no argument.

There and Back Again, A Mongo's Tale

Part Three: Nights in South Rodanthe

Well, if you haven’t already realized, these posts from the beach are all retroactive in nature. Meaning, I went, took notes, I came home, and I’ve been posting from them over the course of the last week. It will become really apparent in this last bit from the trip home as I talk about a particular game being played in the Stanley Cup finals and we already know how it turned out. Yeah! I have to say that coming home I wasn’t so sure. It was a rough Game Five and it could have been a detriment to the spirit of that team and their little “Flower” of a goalie. Instead, it was just enough fuel to carry them and the cup home. Enough about that… let’s take it home.

Day 7 Saturday June 5
Morning came quick after only getting a few hours of sleep. While we packed most of the car last night, there is still more to be stowed before we leave. I want to let the little one sleep as long as possible before having to wake her. We aren’t going to get a great breakfast because we had to wash everything and pack up all the kitchen items we brought. Still, I know what will happen. She’ll get up. She’ll come upstairs and she’ll grab that high chair and bring it towards the center of the room.

I made several passes around the house, making sure I got everything. Checked all the drawers, looked through every couch and under every bed for toys and other assorted items. I made sure everything was the we left it or better. I took some final pictures and helped load the van. Afterwards, I went back into this house that sheltered us and comforted us this last week and said in my mind, “Thank you for a great trip.” Leaving, I took one last look around and headed back to the van.

We stopped into the rental office to turn in the keys and I gave the lady at the desk the rundown of what had happened. She went and got the manager and he pulled me aside. Smart thing for him to do. The last thing you want to do is have a disgruntled customer standing among other potential customers, spouting about his bad luck. We went back to his office and we spoke about the pool situation. I laid it all out, the missing breaker, our discovery, the pool guy, and I did not expect anything in return. After all, it was our word against his (pool guy). We shook hands and I left.

I was ready to go. I wanted to get moving as quickly as possible. As much as I had a good time this vacation, there’s something to be said for going home. I also knew if I wanted to catch Game Five I had better make it to the other side of the Allegheny Mountains before too late. That was the outer marker for picking up Pittsburgh radio stations.

It was a little bittersweet driving up Rte 12. We again passed by Bodie Light, Jockey’s Ridge, and the Wright Brothers memorial. We stopped again for breakfast at the Western Sizzlin. I must admit I was satisfied with the food there. It was good for a good price. If you ever go to Kill Devil Hills, check it out. Then go a little ways south on Rte 12 to a place called Kill Devil’s Frozen Custard. They have Excellent fries and frozen custard.

Moyock, NC Rte 168
Back on the road, it was just after 1:00 PM. We stopped back at the rest stop on the other side of the sound and made a break for it. From here on out, I wanted to make some good time back to PA. We had to stop one more time at a place called The Border Station in Moyock, NC. It’s a huge gas station / store that sells fireworks. They aren’t like the places along the side of the highway, sometimes going by the name of Woody’s with a picture of a hissing black cat on the sign. This was a bigger outfit and they didn’t sell any of the good stuff. Usually, I like getting some “stuff” before I come home but this was all legal and puny.

Back through the tunnel under the bridge and onto I-95
We seemed to be making good time. I also began to really hate that purple dinosaur. We had the DVD going on a loop behind me for the little one thinking maybe she would fall asleep. No such luck. She was chugging along with the rest of us. We hit the beltway and were heading into Northern VA before sunset. We stopped at a Bob Evans after a few failed attempts at finding another place to eat. From here it wouldn’t be long until we were in PA.

Breezewood, PA Rte 70/76
This is the last leg. Out last fill up was in Moyock, NC. I topped off the tank in order to return the van with the same amount of gas as I had when I picked it up. I also turned over the keys to the wife. I was getting real punchy and needed a break after driving until here. We jumped on the turnpike and headed home. I kept a check on the radio to see if we could hear the game yet. I knew that usually we wouldn’t start getting in Pittsburgh stations until after we went through the tunnel but I was ever hopeful. Game Four was awesome and the Pens really showed Detroit why were in the finals against them for another year. This time last year, we were in a similar situation and I hoped that the tide would have turned with those two wins in Game Three and Four. Now we were back in Detroit. Unfortunately, we have to win this and Game Six to hoist the cup on home ice in Pittsburgh.

Once through the tunnels, I began to get very scratchy reception in on 105.9 WXDX. All I could make out was Mike Lange saying something about it being 5-0. As we wound through the mountains on the turnpike, reception faded in and out. Play continued and more and more pieces of the puzzle came into place. We were losing and it was almost the end of the game. This was indeed the low point of the trip. Not only did Detroit go up 3-2 in the series, there was the distinct possibility that they would be skating around our home ice with the Stanley Cup. As gracious of hosts as we are, I think the thought of Marion Hossa skating around our ice, his former ice, holding that cup high above his head would be enough to start a riot in the arena.

Somewhere around Johnstown, the little one finally dozed off to sleep. We drove the rest of the way in silence and landed back at my In Laws’ house just before midnight. We dropped them off and ended up waking the baby. She pretty much cried until we got home. I don’t blame her. She went 12 hours without a nap and once she fell asleep we woke her up five minutes before we pulled into the driveway. I’d be pissed, too.

We unloaded the van and fell into the house out of exhaustion. We pretty much just did what we needed to go to sleep. The cats were happy to see us and we were happy to see them. We bathed the baby and put her down around 2:00 AM. We both sat in our living room, exhausted by too awake to sleep. After a shower, we were in bed and both sat there still awake. I was waiting for the last of the caffeine to escape my system and finally drifted off to sleep. Since we fed the cats late, I was able to sleep until 8:00 AM before having to get up. As I finish up these notes I noticed we missed a phone call at 10:14 AM Saturday. It was the realty company. The manager called the house five minutes after I left. He said he totally understands and believes us. He’s had problems with this outside company before and is going to reimburse us for all but two days of pool heat. Sometimes, it pays to make noise even when the odds are against you. Hopefully, the fans will make some noise in Pittsburgh during Game Six and then ultimately Game Seven. We’re not out yet. I only hope Fleury isn’t too rattled after that loss. It would be nice to have the Lombardi Trophy and Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh for the year…but I guess a World Series win might be a tall order. Maybe…

As you can see, I wrote this with no knowledge of the impending win in Pittsburgh and win in Detroit. What a Game Seven that was. Holy Crap, Fleury shook off the bad vibes of Game Five and stepped it up. Go Pens!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Vacation Is a 40 Hour a Week Job

Who knew? Here all this time I thought I was going on vacation to relax and get away from it all. Instead, I brought it all with me. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. There were a few bumps along the way, figurative and literally. Overall, it was a good vacation. My wife is usually a barometer of stress. The fact that she did not miss home and did not want to leave was a good indication that the vacation was a resounding success. Here are the notes I made while at the beach during the week.

End of Day 1 Saturday May 30
I’m finally ready to settle in for a much needed night’s sleep. We had wanted to take a evening swim but decided that it was getting late. I had called a couple of weeks ago to request that the pool be heated. Being the beginning of June, the air was still cool even though the forecast put the temps into the 80’s. With my In Laws and my daughter, I finally agreed to wife’s demands for the pool to be heated to the tune of $275. Hopefully, by tomorrow, the pool will be like bathwater. However, right now, I am starving.

The beer run took a lot longer than expected so, when everyone finally made it back to our house, we decided to just order pizza and watch Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals. If the Penguins wouldn’t have been in the running, I wouldn’t have bothered. We actually thought that we would be watching Game Seven of the Conference Playoffs between Pittsburgh and the Carolina Hurricanes but the Penguins finished off Carolina and had gone back to Detroit in a rematch of last year’s Cup Finals. With Marion Hossa making his comments about wanting to play on a team that could win the cup, I hope Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, and the rest of the crew make him eat his words.

Unfortunately, the delicious pizza was chased with a bitter pill by a loss to Detroit. The Red Wings are a good team and I hope tomorrow proves better for our Black and Gold squad. For now, I am winding down. I’ve checked emails, did a little farming and checked on my CaféPress store for any sales trying to exhaust what little caffeine I still have in my system so I can sleep. Tomorrow is a big day. This will be the first time, my daughter sees the beach. It will either be a sight to behold, or a disaster.

Day 2 Sunday May 31
I was woken up to the sound of crackling bacon. What a wonderful sound and smell for that matter. After finally falling asleep around 1 AM, I was out of bed by 9:30 AM. For some reason the beach sets my internal clock to wake me up around the same time every day. I remembered this from our last trip to the Outer Banks in 2005.

After breakfast we gathered up all our beach belongings and loaded them into the car. We rented an umbrella and two beach chairs from Ocean Atlantic Rentals which serves the Outer Banks for a lot of items. For $105 we got the chairs, umbrella, and our crib for the whole week. That’s not too bad and they deliver the items to your rental property and pick them up as well. Along with the chairs and umbrella, we had to load a cooler, all of our daughter’s beach toys, diaper bag, blanket, and towels.

We didn’t have direct beach access without walking through people’s yards. That’s why I loaded up the van. A few yards from our cul-de-sac was a public access path. We parked the van and unloaded. It was about 100 yards along a wooden planked walkway and then up a set of steps. I carried the chairs and cooler. My wife carried the backpack and towels. My Mother-in-Law walked with the little one and my Father-in-Law carried the umbrella. I believed that the shore was right on the other side of the steps.

We topped the steps and were in for a surprise. There was another dune and no walkway, just a sand path up to and over the dune. I could feel it in my gut. This was going to be hard. My F-I-L has an artificial hip and is 70 years old. My M-I-L is recovering from blood clots in her lungs and is 66. The sand is hard to walk on in good physical condition. It’s also hot. Add their physical stature, age, and relevant speed and we’re looking at a bad combination.

Once over the dune, there was another 50 yards to a suitable spot to place our stuff. I had not been to this particular area but there was an unusual amount of shells all over the sand. I’m talking ones as big as your hand and crushed ones everywhere. It didn’t even look like there was sand going into the ocean.

Little One enjoying the water. See the shells in the background.

We dropped our stuff off and I made an initial attempt at going into the water. It was freezing. The shells just didn’t end at the beach, they went on into the water up to my waist. I doubt anyone would want to get in with this kind of pain inducing surface underneath their feet.

The little one enjoyed the water and got knocked over a few times. I held onto her hand tightly and kept her upright. Everyone else stuck close to the umbrella and eventually we called it a day in favor of the pool. It was cold, too, but it didn’t hurt your feet when walking on the bottom. Still haven’t found the heater yet.

Dinner was at Dirty Dick’s Crab House in Avon. Now, I cannot be sure but I think that the new housing development between Dirty Dick’s and the road where my Sister-in-Law is staying used to be the site of the Castaway’s Inn. This was the site of the Apocalyptic Pool Hall At the End of the Outer Banks. We had been looking for it since we arrived as a sort of moment of silence and validation of sorts about our claims that we made about the place to our friends and family. If this isn’t it, it has to be close by because the Food Lion and Chinese Take Out place just up the road coordinate with our location and these are places I remember being close to when we came down in 2002. Also, the Subway shop near Dirty Dick’s is another location I remember because we looked for an open eatery for almost an hour that night back then.

The evening dealt another blow to my spirits as Pittsburgh lost to the Red Wings, again, in Game Two. Hopefully a day off and change in venue back to Pittsburgh will help.

Day 3 Monday June 1
Today, my wife and I have to drive with her sister and fiancé up to Manteo Courthouse to get their marriage license filled out. Wednesday is the wedding and the weather looks to hold out for a few more days.

It was a break from a new wrinkle we noticed at the house. The air conditioning on the top floor does not seem to be working properly. It was up to 73 degrees when we left. There are two units on the house. One regulates the temperature for the first and second floor and the other for the top floor. Both thermostats are set to 72 degrees. I called about the unit and they were going to send a tech out while we were gone. I wanted to put a sense of urgency on it since we used the stove in the mornings which heats up the room more.

With the license in order, we returned to a sweat box. I was actually looking forward to the cold pool for relief. The temp was up to 80 degrees and the report from my In Laws was that there was a break in the line between the copper and aluminum piping. It had actually frozen over from the escaping gas. The realty company expressed their sympathies and were planning to bring out some window units to help with the heat. They never showed up. Something is apparently up here because I just now noticed the sign at the front of the driveway that said For Sale. It was there when we pulled in on Saturday but I paid it no mind.

For dinner we went to a little restaurant up the road called The Dolphin Den. It was pretty good. They have great hush puppies and corn bread. Of course, I was in full CaféPress gear to promote the store wherever I go and our waiter laughed at my Moods of the Living Dead t-shirt. His brother is a soldier over in Iraq and is a big fan of zombie pop culture. I gave him the website address and wished his brother luck overseas. Perhaps I’ll see a sale come from Iraq in my reports soon. That would be cool.

Day 4 Tuesday June 2
The heat is becoming a little unbearable. It’s up to 82 degrees on the third floor. We refrained from cooking breakfast and opted for donuts. A call into the realty company reveals that they had to get approval from the owners of the house to replace the faulty unit. By 11 am they were at the house and working. Soon the temp began to fall and we were down under 80 degrees by 1pm. We decided to keep cool at the pool and discussed options for going back to the beach. Do we look for a handicap accessible location down the road or do we head over to my S-I-L’s house and use their access.

It’s also my S-I-L birthday and we decided to have a cookout to go along with our swimming party. I manned the grill with her fiancé and we discussed cooking deer meat and he noticed the heat pump for the pool. That had to be it. Besides the fact that it a fan on it like a heater, it said Pool Heat Pump on the side. The lights appeared to be on but it didn’t look to be running. Perhaps it was at the proper temperature and there was a lock out mode to keep people from messing with it. There was a definite display for temperature but no numbers appeared in the window. I might do some searching on the Internet to find out if that’s the case.

Regardless, I wasn’t going to fool with it now as the Penguins were about to play Detroit at Mellon Arena in Game 3.

Day 4 Wednesday June 3
The big wedding day has arrived. We had a little more spring in our step as the Penguins finally beat the Red Wings last night. We all went to bed exhausted from the drama and tension of the game. We had to meet the preacher at 10:30 AM in Nags Head so we needed to leave by 9:30 AM. It wasn’t fun getting the little one up as she usually sleeps a lot longer and tends to be cranky otherwise.

We met up with the preacher and headed to the beach for the wedding. He suggested not doing it down on the sand. It was close to 11:00 AM and the sun was beating down on us. It was also a little crowded and wouldn’t be very romantic as you say the vows while a wayward beach ball rolls by you. The ceremony was quick and sweet, although my wife missed the whole thing. The little one became a bit unruly and with me working the camera she had to regulate. She wandered down the board walk with our daughter while my S-I-L and her fiancé exchanged their vows, both crying during the ceremony.

On the way back we stopped at Western Sizzlin for lunch. How’s that for a reception? We also stopped at Bodie Island Light. Unfortunately, you couldn’t climb the Lighthouse but I got some decent pictures.

Bodie Island Lighthouse

Stairs Inside Bodie Light

We returned to the house and I was determined to figure this pool thing out. My new B-I-L made a startling discovery. Next to the pump on the base of the house was a black box. It appeared to be the breaker box. There was another on the wall next to the hot tub and also inside the pump house. The only difference with this box was that it was missing a breaker. My B-I-L figured it out. The pool hadn’t been heated since we’ve been here. It was never on and we were paying for heat. I walked over to the hot tub and grabbed its breaker and placed it inside the box for the heat pump. Lights started blinking and everything began to work on the once dormant heat pump. I was distraught, angry, and bedazzled. Did the rental company know this? Was this a scam? Was it an honest mistake? What does this button do?

After playing around for a few seconds, I was able to kick the heater on and raised the temperature to 82 degrees. It was currently 79 degrees in the pool and that was after being in the sun all day. We checked the jets and they were spouting warm water. I couldn’t believe it. By now, business hours were over but I am going to send an email first thing tomorrow about this.

My wife and I took a trip down to her sister’s beach area with her niece to check out the landscape. It was dark but the moon was near full giving us plenty of light to see. Again, there were two dunes to climb but at least here there was a boardwalk providing access.

The sand was cool and soft underneath my feet. We managed to find a working flashlight and I kept an eye out for ghost crabs. We had seen a couple peeking out of holes in the sand the last day we came down to the beach but at night, they are nearly invisible without extra light. A few times I noticed something moving across the sand and I knew what it was.

Get Ghost Crab Hunters on a shirt
Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! the store.

We came down to the water and I just stood there with the water rushing over my feet. It was cold but it was the kind of cold you don’t mind. I looked up at the cloudless sky taking in all the stars. My breathing matched the rise and fall of tide. The wind blew along the shore and I simply existed, connected to everything on the Earth.

It’s those moments that give you perspective in your life. The right ingredients come together and bring you a little closer to the source of life on the planet. You don’t feel alone because you can imagine your feet in the water being connected through a string of water molecules across the ocean to another country where someone else is standing in the ocean as well.

We made our way back to the house and contemplated going to bed. After putting the little one down, we decided to enjoy a midnight swim in our now heated pool. Before we went in, I put the breaker back in the hot tub as to not disrupt the pH of the hot tub water. I don’t know if that does anything but I didn’t want to break something else.

Day 5 Thursday June 4
What a wonderful day… he said with sarcasm…
I emailed the rental company and told them what we found. I didn’t want to play my entire hand so I said, “Something was wrong with the heater.” They sent out a tech. I was worried that the temperature would give something away but the fact that the breaker was missing put us on the side of right.

I hurried down to the pool and the guy was already pulling into the driveway. I crept around the side of the house in time to see him put a breaker into the box. The heat pump sprang into life. I sprang into action. He immediately greeted me and began talking about the fact that it was working fine. I said, “Oh. That’s good considering there was no breaker in there.” He said it was all working fine and that he bumped the temp up a couple of degrees and then quickly left. I was furious. He outright lied to me.

By the time I made it into the house, I already had an email from the rental place. He told them everything was fine. I explained how I knew that was wrong and she informed me that there was no way the pool could have kept the temperature it had unless it was running all night. My wife quickly called and was pretty much called a liar over the phone. She explained everything that we did and spoke to the manager since she was not getting any satisfaction. I then got on the phone and explained to the manager our position. The plot surrounding the house thickened. Apparently, the group used to maintain and service the pools are an independent entity hired by the owner of the house. Our house was in the process of being sold. That’s why it took so long to get back to us on the A/C before. Now we were being told that the tech coming out to the house would be a charge to the owner for a service call. I said, well I’d be more worried about what they’re paying them upfront because they don’t even maintain the pools. In the end he said he would get back to me. I pretty much conceded that I would be paying $275 for two full days of heated pool and resigned myself to just enjoy it while I had it. Worse yet, it rained part of the day.

We did take time and go back to the beach down by my S-I-L’s. This was the same spot as our night trip and it was a lot easier to get to but the loose sand made it difficult to go down to the water. My F-I-L decided to stay behind and keep cool but my M-I-L braved nature.

The sand in and out of the water was much better. No shells in sight. My wife talked to a couple down by our place before and they said that they had been coming here for years and never saw that type of beach condition. We thought maybe the storm that was off the coast last week brought all that inland.

The little one enjoyed playing in the sand and the water. She’s quite a smart cookie. She’s almost two and has three more words in her vocabulary thanks to this trip. Beach, Swimming, and Lighthouse.

That night I decided to crank the heat in the pool up in protest and we enjoyed another late night swim in 85 degree water.

The biggest highlight of the day was seeing Pittsburgh beat Detroit in Game 4. They head back to Detroit on Saturday. We probably won’t catch the game on the radio until after we emerge from the Allegheny tunnel on the turnpike. By then, the game will be pretty much over.

Day 6 Friday June 4
This is our last day at the OBX. We have a pretty full day. We had been dying to get some frozen custard, so we took a drive down towards the end of Hatteras last night. As you drive down Rte 12 towards Buxton, the Hatteras Light zips by on its trip around the island. It’s a very eerie sight as if some unknown stranger is sitting out in the darkness shining a light around. I immediately conjured up visions of Sauron’s Eye searching Mordor for the One Ring, except in a circle. Since we knew it wasn’t that far to the lighthouse we decided to use our last day to catch a trip up the steps and then down to the end of the island to visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. The fateful trip in 2002 sparked my wife’s curiosity as signs for the yet to be built museum were seen along the highway as we drove home. Now she could actually go to it as it was open.

Cape Hatteras Lighthouse

The winds were clocked at 35-40 mph so the balcony was closed on the Hatteras Light. I still wanted to climb that sucker. My wife and I bought the tickets and made our way up to the top. 248 steps separated us from the base to the lamp. There were eight landings between the ground and the balcony. The windows were open so we took advantage of the breeze. Every landing opened on an opposite side of the tower and we could see our party standing there looking up at the lighthouse as if they were waiting to see us emerge from the top. Unfortunately, the balcony opened on the ocean side and we were still quite a ways from the top.

Once we reached the top of the lighthouse we were allowed to step out onto the balcony in front of the door. We were not allowed to circle around the back as the winds were too high. Wussies. In any case, I got to say I climbed the Cape Hatteras Light. When we were here in 05 we didn’t venture down to the light because we were in Corolla which would have been an hour and a half trip to the park. In 03, you weren’t allowed to climb the light. It was only four years after they moved the lighthouse down the beach and there were some structural issues that closed the tower.

We left the lighthouse and headed down to the museum. It’s just beyond the ferry over to Ocracoke island and of course, we had to travel the only road there during the time when school busses were taking kids home. The museum kind of looks like a wrecked ship hull and that’s about it. There was really nothing to it and served as pretty much a glorified gift shop. I guess in years to come they will have more exhibits but with a history as rich as the Outer Banks has with shipwrecks they could have put together a lot more by now.

Our trip back clocked in at just under 25 minutes so we planned on taking the ferry over to Ocracoke Island for our last supper. I was dying to have some crab legs and there was a seafood buffet over there that was calling my name. Unfortunately, we didn’t get started until after 7 PM. We missed the 7:30 PM ferry and would have to take the next one. The ride over to Ocracoke would take approximately 45 minutes and that would have us to close to closing time for Jimmy’s Buffet. We went to Howard’s Pub instead.

Howard’s Pub was kind of like a bayou cabin, in a good way. It was pretty big and pretty open. The windows all had screens in them and the walls, beams, and ceilings were littered with license plates, school pennants, and other sporting paraphernalia.

A pound of crab legs for $19.99? I had to do it. They were excellent. Now, I’ve been eating crab legs for twenty years now and while I don’t know much I know a good crab leg. You can tell the age and health of the crab by looking at the shell. If they have a lot of spots on them, like barnacles on a ship, you know the meat won’t be as sweet. Another tell tale sign, for me anyway, is the color. If they are deep red, it tells me they’re good. Pink and light red make me think they are older and not as good. Finally, the ability to crack open a leg and pull the entire meat out in one lump, without breaking, is a great sign. Swishing that around in drawn butter and downing it is pure decadence.

After dinner we had to get moving. It was already 10:00 PM and even though the ferry ran for another hour and a half, we had a lot to do tonight before bedtime. We headed down Rte 12 and saw a bunch of flashing lights ahead of us. Immediately, I thought someone got stuck in the sand as we had seen three police cruisers respond to such a call earlier in the week. Unfortunately, we began to realize what this was, a DUI Checkpoint.

It was quite smart really. There is only one road to go back to Hatteras Island on and that is at the other end of Ocracoke. Cops sitting just down the road on Rte 12 can catch a lot of people leaving the bars. Hatteras Island only allows the sale of beer and wine at bars. Everyone uses the free of charge ferry to go to Ocracoke for well drinks and other assorted spirits. While I had been drinking only soda, my B-I-L had two beers. I was asked for my license and he was asked to step out of the car. We had visions of him being hauled away and one of us being forced to drive their car back. His wife was also drinking and her daughter was only 12. I couldn’t drive a stick, my wife couldn’t drive a stick, my F-I-L had been drinking, and that meant that my M-I-L would have to be pulled out of the back of the van to drive the Elantra back to Avon.

Get Ocracoke Island DUI Task Force on a shirt
Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash! the store.

Fortunately, he passed and we were allowed to leave. We missed the ferry and had to wait ten minutes for the next one. Directly in front of us in line was a truck with three gents and a cooler sitting on the tailgate, drinking. They asked us if we came through the checkpoint. I said “Yeah.” One guy yelled out, “We won a ticket!” Now, I’m not sure if they got cited for drinking and driving, open container or the fact that there were three drunk guys hanging off the tailgate but they were pretty loaded, regardless. We pulled in right behind them on the ferry and you could just feel them staring into the car at you. The one who looked like Kenny Rogers waved and winked at us. “Lock the doors!” My wife called out. I took another look and saw something familiar. They were wearing Pittsburgh sports gear. One had a Pens shirt on and the other had a Super Bowl XLIII shirt on. Now, it was entirely conceivable that they were fans from another city, however I had to find out for sure. I left the car and approached. I asked if they were from PA and they gave the obligatory answer anyone gives when they are from PA, “Pittsburgh.” Knowing that only a native Pennsylvanian would know that they were not in fact from Pittsburgh proper asked, “And…” That cued them to say, “Butler!” I said “Irwin!” which is what someone from my town would say because no one would know the place I live. We all cheered and they raised their beers high.

The ferry ride back was much quicker. The waves weren’t as choppy and we navigated back with ease. The moonlight caused the end of Hatteras Island to show up as a silhouette against the horizon. I wondered how long it would take for someone to swim to shore if they fell off the boat. As a parent, you start to look at every environment as an enemy and being at the beach for the first time with our daughter made me question every rock and leaf. We didn’t let go of her hands as we walked along the deck towards the sides. Still, I had that thought in my head of what would I do if I or her fell overboard.

You ever get that strong feeling of impulsiveness to do something horrible and completely out of character? It’s almost like a kind of Tourette’s for your brain. It’s the kind that makes you feel compelled to just want to swerve the car off the road and over a cliff. I don’t have any latent suicidal tendencies but I had this very strong urge to just run and dive off the back of the ship to see if I could survive. I could actually envision myself emptying my pockets, slipping off my shoes and socks and making like a salmon off the back of the ferry.

Once we reached Hatteras Island we watched as the Drunk Guys From Butler continued their drive with passengers sitting on the tailgate onto Rte 12. Thankfully, they turned a few streets up the road and we were free to get our asses back to Avon.

We bathed the baby, put her down, and started packing. We had to be out of the house by 10 AM and I wanted to get as much packing and loading done tonight. Around 1 AM, we finished with what we could load now. We kept a few bags out for showering and clothes. My M-I-L and I shared the last of the frozen custard we brought back from Uncle Eddy’s in Buxton. I asked her if she had a good time and she said she did. I asked her if she understood why people did all this work for a week’s worth of beach time and she said, “No.” I laughed and agreed with her. I don’t know why either. I guess it’s the inner Griswold in us all that needs to come out and wreak havoc once in awhile. I was glad she enjoyed herself and she indicated that she would do this again if the opportunity arose. I took that as a sign that she isn’t finished fighting cancer yet, which is good. I just wish cancer was finished fighting with her.

Tomorrow will be another marathon day for this Griswold family as we head for home. For now, I need to get some real sleep. Once last stop down to the pool to dip my feet in and I’m done. Oh, and I better reset the temperature since it was still 85 degrees in there. Oh yeah, the manager never called me back. I guess I will have to bring that up when I check out.

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