Playhouse From Hell

Remember when Craig’s List was a legit thing?

There was a time not so long ago in a galaxy not so far away that Craig’s List was a legit and kinda safe place to find bargains in your community. It was, like, 2008. I remember it well. See, I had a toddler back then, so I was broke and jonesing for the hot new toy that every mom had to have or they were bad. BAAAAD. It was the good old days of driving 20 miles to pick up someone’s junk that they valued at just five bucks under retail, but then you half-load the shit in your car and are like “Naw, I have a ten. You want me to take your garbage or no? Sucker!”

Back in 2008 I was scoping out some giant plastic playhouses for my toddling daughter to hide in whenever mommy decided to sit down and eat a whole cake in one sitting like a snake unhinging its jaw. Because it was Craig’s List, most of the playhouse offerings were pretty ridiculous – tables are missing, phone receivers are missing, plastic faucets have been broken off, and water trapped in the walls was growing new cultures of black mold in at least half of the houses I scoped.

But that’s not the worst of it. Oh no. There was one listing that made me wet my pants a little when I read it, and lives in infamy to this day. This was an honest-to-Elvis Craig’s List listing in SE Michigan, word for word:

Little Tikes Playhouse – $15
White, pastel blue & pink playhouse/cottage w. pretend oven range inside. This had a yellow jacket’s nest in it over the summer. Husband plugged up the hole, but there is no way to really take the nest out unless you cut apart the plastic. You can’t really see it. We don’t believe in using pesticides so it has not been sprayed. Queen yellow jackets can survive in the nest over winter so you’d want to be sure to get rid of her if you can or if you don’t mind spraying chemicals, spray it. It’s only $15 due to the nest.

Yes, all you need to do is hire an exorcist, light a couple matches, and wear a gas mask, and you’re good to go! Fun for the kiddies!

yellowjacket

You see that yellowjacket above? It’s laughing. Laughing at the idea of eating your children right now. Laying in wait inside that playhouse. But at least – thank the gods – you can’t see her (as the ad graciously reminds us). You can’t see her nest pulsating and growing inside your child’s cherished plaything. Because if you can’t see deadly insects, then they don’t exist.

Why – you might ask – why wouldn’t someone just banish this house-shaped nest casing to the pits of landfill hell? The garbageman won’t object – because apparently the queen is overwintering right now!

And WHAT HOLE did the husband plug up exactly? And what did he plug it with? A gasoline-soaked rag? A bag of crucifixes? It better have been flames. If you have to say “due to the nest” in your ad, then any holes should be plugged with flames.

But no. They thought, “Another child should have this nest.” These people who walk among us in society, who are neighbors and family to somebody, apparently spent time researching yellowjacket life cycles, threw flaming crucifixes inside the walls, and thought “I can get a Costco sheet cake out of this!” 

Thoughts on a Disaffected Pigeon

Some weeks are harder than others.

Tuesday

The weeds are everywhere in the gravel driveway. I’ve jammed my fingers into the pebbled earth to rip their roots, but there are just too damn many. I had to arm myself with a spray bottle of vinegar and lemon juice and spritz them, plant by plant. Hunched over with vinegar misting back on to my clothing from the hilly breezes rushing past, it was a desperate and smelly attempt to avoid the commercial stuff.

That’s when the pigeon landed. He was a majestic, slightly pudgy fellow who had been tap dancing on the roof for some time leading up to my weed expedition. I had heard him from my oversized living room chair where I had been munching tuna salad on crackers. I was afraid it was mice in the attic. Or maybe Benny the Badger came back and somehow got on the roof. Sounds weird, but he’s the one who shut off the water supply to the house. That was a talented badger. It’s a shame his life was cut short attempting to cross a bendy part of the road. Such a waste.

When I saw the pigeon land on the gravel a few feet from my hunched form, I knew he had been my roof ghost. His landing was so deliberate and closeby that I got the distinct feeling that he was greeting me. I did the polite thing and said hello and complimented his feathers. No joke. I did this out loud. My neighbors should get accustomed to the strange new American lady who talks to her wildlife and names them. The pigeon, by the way, was instantly dubbed Herbie.

I didn’t imagine that my relationship with Herbie would last much longer than our initial greeting, so I continued to edge around the gravel weed beds spritzing vinegar. Herbie followed along. I observed aloud that he had a band on his leg and asked where he got that from. His head tilted. We shuffled across the yard for the next twenty minutes, with me occasionally chastising Herbie for walking through the vinegar. I plunked myself down at the bistro table set I bought myself for my first Irish birthday and sipped some Coke while watching Herbie peck at who-knows-what in the gravel.

That’s when it occurred to me to Google banded pigeons. Was he being tracked by an ornithologist? Did he escape from an aviary? No, indeed. He is either a very unskilled or disaffected racing pigeon.

Yes, this is the week I learned that “pigeon racing” is a thing. The birds are cared for like domestic pets, banded, and trained for homing. Then they are released with several of their compatriots at a reasonable distance from their homes. Each bird is clocked to see how quickly they get back. Herbie had not embraced the spirit of the competition, clearly.

I phoned in his appearance as a “stray”, which the local pigeon racing club politely asks you do. I’m still not sure why I felt compelled to report Herbie, and part of me still wonders if I should have. The gent on the other end of the line assured me that he wouldn’t be culled for his naughty sojourn and he would be well-greeted. Cool. I don’t want to be a bird narc.

Continue reading “Thoughts on a Disaffected Pigeon”

The Meaning of Being Unemployed and Staring at Cow Arses

Sometimes the universe sculpts an entire day out of mockery and disillusionment.

Today I was asked to herd cattle for the first time in my life, which is a very Green Acres experience for someone who has only seen a real living cow up-close at the zoo or (once or twice) at a petting farm. The cows from the next pasture had invited themselves into the road and my yard for some green snackage, and somehow this became a situation where I was walking through my front gate and into the road, with my cellphone to my ear, following bobbing cow rumpuses toward my farmer neighbor. It seems like it should be easy to keep the cows going down the road, but I had doubts about being too aggressive. What if I anger one of the mamas, or worse yet, the bull? Even if they don’t turn and charge me, they could spook and cause a massive upset much like the antics caused by Billy Crystal’s coffee grinder in City Slickers. So with the cell phone in my jeans pocket, I casually picked up a stick long enough to tap on the ground and strolled behind the stragglers, tapping the stick on the asphalt whenever they slowed to munch some grass. It worked, albeit very slowly. I thought it was a lovely stroll. The farmer who was waiting with the open gate was less than impressed at my leisurely approach. He smiled and shook his head, then made a remark that I didn’t have an ounce of farmer in me–and it wasn’t even a zippy come-on line.

I laughed and agreed, but that surprisingly stung. Okay, it’s true, I have no farm experience outside of video games and children’s books. I’ve watched Babe a lot, and Baby Boom. But those don’t prepare you to drive cattle down a road while wearing a faded “Nasty Woman” t-shirt and blue jeans. I didn’t have any Paulie Shore chaps or straw hat, nor did I have any John Denver playing. I wasn’t ready. We’ve only just moved to rural-rural Ireland, and I was raised in Metro Detroit.

On my equally leisurely stroll back to my rental house I silently curated quips to explain my “urban skillset” that farmers wouldn’t possess. I came up empty. I know that you should chain your barbecue grill to the house or it’ll get stolen (my dad lost three Weber kettles that way). I know how to time rush hour to the best advantage and when the mega grocery stores are emptiest, but them I’m out.

And that really bothered me, because today’s developing theme is “SKILLS!”.

It first emerged when I updated my LinkedIn profile. See, I quit my job of six years this past weekend, and now I need a new one. Nothing is a more haunting assessment of one’s life than staring blankly at the “Add New Skills” section of LinkedIn. The mouse hovers and my mind is a dark sea. I can reenact The Big Chill. I can cook homemade chicken noodle soup (on tonight’s menu). I can move my fucking family across an ocean. I can draw a very wonky Garfield cat. I know the entire Greek alphabet. I can drink an entire bottle of wine in one sitting. I can take my bra off without removing my shirt.

And still the mouse hovers waiting to add a skill. SKILLS! After six years of wonderful and instructive employment, shouldn’t I be overflowing with credentials? I have had a mad and exciting life!

I’m a certified Master Gardener. I am a citizen of two nations, and I live in a third. I was a ghost writer for a squirrel guide booklet. I buried a beloved sister. I won awards for my charity work. I published an article in Canada’s History magazine about an ancestor of mine. I’ve gone from assistant to manager in my last three jobs. And I can complain really, really well. I mean, like an art form. I vote in every election and I diligently recycle. Kind of.

Still the mouse hovers. My life has been anything but boring, but I can’t drive cattle. And I haven’t gotten any certifications in “project management”.  I wasn’t training for another company’s job this whole time, I was training for my job. My job! The one I left so I could watch cows eat my freshly planted shrubs and leave liquid brown puddles in my gravel driveway. And the farmer’s laugh echos in my brain, and my phone buzzes with texts from my husband. He’s on a business trip and showing me the exciting new machinery he’s overseeing. Or something like that. I try to listen whenever he explains, but then “The Ride of the Valkyries” starts playing in my brain and…I lose track. But whatever makes him so proud of those machines, I bet that’s a skill. He and the farmer and the cows and the people at LinkedIn are probably somewhere together right now laughing and laughing.

While they’re off chomping cigars and toasting their lives of deliberate purpose and clarified direction, I will just keep telling myself how scrappy I am, damnit. I haven’t cultivated my life around corporate labels or agricultural knowhow, but I’m damn good at working hard and being a lovely, bold monster. And tonight, after I settle in with my bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup, I’m going to flick off my bra from under my t-shirt and celebrate being skilless. Tomorrow, I order steak. Lots and lots of steak.