8 june 1999  

waste not, want not

The big blue monster is gone.

It sat in front of my house for all of last week, a giant trash bin, the biggest one available from the local rubbish company. While it blocked my view and gave my house a blue tint just from the reflection, it also served to make me look powerfully industrious, and I'll take that trade-off any day. Its huge steel doors let out deep groans. Just opening them made me feel like Hercules.

As it does every Spring, the backyard had become an amusement park for squirrels and cats and who knows what else. Old tree limbs, raked leaves, wood from an old gazebo, any and all things that had recently been declared waste by a wave of my authoritative hand were doomed to the big blue bin.

There was hard work to be done, the kind that makes your thighs sweat and leaves twigs behind your ears. The idea of that much physical exertion, the thought of the brainless muscle-ripping labor that lies ahead of any plan to whip a backyard into shape is enough to paralyze even the most ambitious home-improver. I was looking at 50 solid cubic yards of dread, minimum.

We have one wheelbarrow and borrowed another. A few shovels, some rakes, hammers, saws, a hoe, a gasoline-powered brush cutter, gloves; we were equipped. But there is one tool that rises above all others at a time like this.


When you have teenage boys in your neighborhood and cash, anything is possible. Child labor is a wonderful thing. None of that pesky tax withholding or workers comp. And if there's a labor dispute or gross insubordination you can just tell their mommies on them. There can be, however, a language problem if you're not into the scene and hip to the rad groove like me. So be careful. Bone up on the lingo lest you be made fun of. Luckily, I was down with it.

It's not fair to say it was child labor in this case - these were high school guys, almost men, but still young enough to stop their work and lean on their shovels to watch bugs. Lizards can still fascinate today's youth, and I take this as a sign that tomorrow may not be as dark as has been forecast.

The main item slated for disposal was our hot tub. It came with the house when we bought it six years ago and has enjoyed a wild ride on our agenda of things to pay attention to. Last month the plan was to build a deck around it, a plan I signed off on only grudgingly given the condition of the thing. Viv has a mind's eye the lid of which is closed so that she may better dream, whereas mine has keen clear open vision able to see far into the deepest money pit. After the electrician had come out and delivered an estimate on new wiring for the Deck of the Millennium, Viv's lid opened right up.

It is not easy to move a hot tub across a backyard, through a gate, and down a driveway, but we did it after enlisting neighbors. We tried for years to give it away to them, to anybody, with only nibbles and faraway gazes to nourish our hopes. Using our best sales voices we'd describe the loving caress of Jacuzzi bubbles underneath a starry sky, but we never had any real takers.

On Saturday, once we got the beast to the sidewalk, Iris hemmed and hawed a bit, and we all envisioned an ugly scene of us rolling it up the hill to her house. In the end we got her mind right and shoved the thing into the trash bin.

Many hours later the last shovelful of miscellanea was wheeled out, the teenage boys lightened our wallets, and Viv and I sat out back to survey our fertile new bottomland. It's ripe with possibilities.


The other main event happened yesterday. I went over to the hospital to pick up some equipment. We are in the final phase of probing, my urologist and I, and it is my job at this point to collect 24 hours worth of my precious bodily fluids. While I am a multi-faceted secretor, it's my urine that interests the man in his quest to put a finger on the cause of my recent kidney stone.

So I picked up this contraption; it's two jugs joined at the top by a funnel. One jug is empty while in the other is a small amount of hydrochloric acid. Into the funnel goes the issue of my healthcare concern which must be kept refrigerated and upright at all times or else the contents will eat through to the center of the Earth, like the China Syndrome -- a new kind of Yellow Peril. This procedure was explained to me by a lady with a loud voice in the lab's waiting area. No hushed tones from her, no sir. It was a clear and thorough narration and seemed to please every member of the audience, judging from all the grins.

Apparently this is a very sensitive test as it comes with a warning: collection must not begin earlier than 48 hours after an ejaculation.

Hey, this is science, people. Gird your loins and bear with me.

Here's the thing. I've known Viv for twenty years. We've been married for most of that, and like any couple we are subject to the physics of entropy. It is not unusual for a 48-hour period to pass without a session of hot monkey love. But if you go and tell a guy he cannot make the moist mambo, that he is prohibited from it, well, that's all he needs to start pacing from one side of his cage to the other. Suddenly everywhere he looks he'll see frustration. She's painting the bathroom in a ratty old t-shirt and he's biting a hole through his lip. She's tying up old newspapers with twine and he's, well, let's just say restraint is called for.

I'm closing my eyes now, and thinking of England.


Chuck Atkins has struck gold with the Mojave Phone Booth piece as it has been selected as a Cool Pick of the Week by Yahoo. It's a hit festival over there, bringing in a lot of new readers. For those of you who've wandered into my little underground lair here for the first time, well, lemme just say howdy. Drop me a note if you like.


today's music:



today's wisdom:

"Be enthusiastic. Remember the placebo effect -- 30% of medicine is show biz."

- Ronald Spark (advising his medical colleagues. In Medical World News, 16 Feb. 1981)

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