Unique Features

Our oven comes equipped with a unique feature. When you open the door to take out a dish, it sets your face on fire. Naturally, this adds a certain thrill to dinner.  When the timer goes off and you pull it open, a blast of air hot enough to ignite skin washes over you. This phenomenon is so common, at least from my experience, that I would not be surprised if the phrase “dinner’s ready” isn’t slang among paramedics for “guy with head on fire.”

Using an expensive appliance that seems designed not to work well, and by working well, I mean, does not turn you into a human sparkler, got me thinking. We have other things around our house that don’t work so well.

My three near-combustion experiences this weekend brought to mind our former health insurance.  Our health care plan came with a unique feature in that it served us well so long as we did not require any health care. We had worked out with our company a special deal where we would pay them thousands of dollars a year and in return, they would accept it.

The upside for them was that they took our money without ever paying a doctor’s bill. The upside for us was that we had something to do with a significant portion of our income that otherwise would have gone to buying trinkets to clutter up our home like a new oven or, alternatively, matching fireproof suits.

Being their customers wasn’t all bad. The money we gave them entitled us, whenever we wanted, to call up and listen to their automated phone menus.  After listening for forty-five minutes or so, the messages would change slightly.  At the beginning of each call, a voice would urge you to hold if you were calling with a question about your benefits.  After three-quarters of an hour, the perky-voiced lady on the recording would say, “If you are calling with a question about your benefits, do us both a favor and stop pretending you have any.” We always got a kick out of that.

One of our cars recently developed its own unique attribute. It stopped running. We haven’t gotten rid of it, because in lots of ways it’s still useful. For example, it works as a sort of enormous paperweight to keep the driveway from blowing away. Also, it makes a nice decoration; spices things up back there visually. Some people have pink flamingos. We have a Honda.

All these advantages pale in comparison with the chief use we’ve found for it.  I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say, we’ve started referring to that pile of rusting metal as “the guest room.” When friends drop by, it’s so nice to have someplace to put them.

You might think the neighbors would object to watching a family of six pile into a 2000 Honda Civic as if it were a room at the Plaza. They don’t because the neighbors have certain unique attributes of their own.  Mostly, their inclination to discuss the intimate details of their marriage extensively. In the street. Very loudly. In the wee hours of the morning.

A few nights ago, I was roused from slumber by their screaming. It went on and on. If I, safely ensconced in my bed, two floors above the action, was alarmed, the folks down in the guest room must have been terrified.

The neighbors paced the street. Their shouting grew louder whenever they came close to our home. The woman was letting him have it. She insisted he was cheating on her. He denied it.  I mean, who could be any less than totally satisfied with a woman like this?

Perhaps they were well matched. He returned her every accusation with a streak of abuse composed in rhetoric so enflamed I worried it would peel the paint from our house. Given his performance, the question that remains isn’t was he cheating, but why wouldn’t she want him to?

The Mrs. went to call the police. When she returned a few minutes later, she said they’d be sending a cruiser.

“Will they be bringing an ambulance as well? Maybe some paramedics?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” she said. “Why?”

“Oh,” I said. “Since I’m up, I figured I might as well go down for a snack.”

“What does that have to do with whether they are sending an ambulance?” she asked.

“Well,” I said. “If they were sending an ambulance, I could use the oven.”

Mad Gardener’s Disease-A Warning

An audio version of this essay can be found here.

A change of season  has caused a flare up in my wife’s condition. She has shown symptoms in previous years but this time, it’s getting dire. I don’t know what has made the difference. Maybe it was moving to a different state a few months ago. Maybe it’s having a bigger yard. Whatever the cause, this thing is serious.

My wife has caught the gardening bug.  Perhaps it is appropriate then that one of the most obvious symptoms is an increased interest in, well, bugs.  The Mrs. is quickly becoming an expert on the hidden world of aphids, the dietary and reproductive habits of ladybugs.  Ladybugs, as you know, have a reputation as cute, adorable critters. If you want to continue believing that, do not marry a gardener.

The symptoms of mad gardener disease (MGD) go far beyond a simple obsession with the insect world. Other signs include a sudden swelling in the amount of reading material showing up in the mail. Much of this will be festooned with images of livestock. If you spy a loved one reading magazines whose middles unfold to reveal a glossy pictures of chickens, it’s time to be concerned.

The reading is part of a larger problem. The condition invariably involves a compulsion to learn about topics that should remain forever shrouded by ignorance. For example, animal poop. I can say with confidence that in pretty much every arena of human endeavor, a sudden passionate interest in manure is always a bad sign. Should someone close to you feel compelled to subject you to more than two conversations about animal waste, including detailed descriptions of its consistency and uses, seek help.

Talk about manure is just the tip of the iceberg. Monitoring conversational topics will go a long way toward indicating the severity of the illness. For example, should you and your spouse be sitting out back on the porch listening to the stillness of the night while surrounded by the neighbors’ homes just a few steps in any direction, and should you begin to whisper sweet words of love only to have her whisper back, “Do you think we can fit a chicken coop in behind the garage?,” it may be too late.

As with any debilitating illness, MGD also affects the family and friends of the victim.  It’s not uncommon for those in the family to have to yield living space to seedlings. The top of the dining room table, a corner of the entertainment center, a dearly needed drawer can all easily be lost to pots of sprouts yet too tender for the outdoors.

The healthy among us can see this is an example of how MGD distorts the thinking process. To those of us free of this dreadful condition, plants too weak to grow outdoors, if we consider them at all, are considered not worth having. To the mind perverted by MGD, the obvious solution is to bring the outdoors inside.  For this reason, conversations in MGD households sometimes run like this:

He: Honey, have you seen my new tie.

She: I’m pretty sure it’s hanging in the closet between the beets and the summer squash.

At the same time, it is not above the MGD sufferer to ask family members to enable his or her disease. It’s not unusual for victims to seek help with the tasks large-scale gardening requires. For example, a hypothetical wife might say to her hypothetical husband “Honey, would you mind turning over some dirt in the back yard so I can plant a few things?”

In an effort to accommodate her, he might reply “Ok, Where?”

To which the victim of MGD would say, “Oh, just everywhere. Everywhere’s good.”

Like most illnesses of this type, the severity of symptoms waxes and wanes. MGD, in particular, seems to follow a seasonal pattern. Spring tends to be the worst. At that time, MGD victims can be most distressing to those they live with, constantly demanding help with their compulsions, rattling on endlessly about the details of sowing and reaping.

Fall tends to be best time of year for MGD victims and their families. The rest of the year, MGD sufferers can seem odd, out of touch with reality. Their relationships can get strained. But in fall, when the tables are heaped with the bounty the earth, under their care, has yielded, when the provisions are piled high and bellies are satisfied, well, at those times, the MGD sufferer hardly seems ill at all.