Have you ever had one of those shitty days that escalate into 48 hours of hell?
Well, my friends, that’s exactly what I experienced a few years back as the New Year dawned and as Grumpy was staring down the barrel of his sixtieth birthday. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
It started out innocently enough. I’d called my mechanic and booked the Rendezvous for an oil change. I added this simple request.
“Hey, Bob, when I release the brakes there’s a bit of a clunk. You know the brakes you redid a few weeks ago. They’re brand spanking new. Maybe something’s loose. Check them out, OK?”
Down in the pit of my stomach a great rumble erupted. You see I’m always a little paranoid when I make such a request. These requests usually cost me in excess of $200. But, it’s a new year and I’m feeling kind of giddy. The yucky feeling goes away quickly.
For the purpose of this essay, I’ll refer to that call to my mechanic as the tipping point. Everything went downhill from there.
The best way to approach the next 72 hours or so is to follow my timeline to the letter. Just as you’d expect, not only did the bottom fall out but the roof caved in. So, you’d better grab a coffee and pull up a chair. This here is one mother of a marathon.
6:15 pm Sunday, January 3rd, 2010: We take two vehicles to town in order that we drop off the one and drive back the other. Such is the life when you live in the outback. The roads are slippery snow and covered. If you’re Canadian you risk your lives for an oil change. We’re tough sons-of-bitches!
BTW, we get our vehicles serviced at a place known as “Crappy Tire”. We’re talking discount city. But, Bob’s a good guy. I trust him.
7:00 pm: The family sits down to watch a football bowl game. No such luck. The wind has picked up and the satellite dish is wobbling and weebling. A big wind storm in December broke a support strut. The picture fades in and out when it’s not presenting a blank screen. The peanut gallery is complaining that, “You’d better get that fixed, dad!” I bite my tongue. Does anyone in this house know what Christmas cost? I pour a Scotch. It’s a double.
8:00 pm: I’m sitting at the dining room table. I’m compiling a list of things to do. My wife is back to the classroom on Monday and the kids are back to school. I’m back to a working-retirement-Mr. Mom kind of thing. Better to prepare your honey-do list yourself, I’m thinking.
After the list expands to 25 items (and counting) I waddle off to bed. If I wake up in the morning and I’m alive and kicking, I will be more than satisfied. My dad would often say, “Another day another dollar.” That’s about the total daily income of a Mr. Mom.
6:15 am, Monday, January 4th: The routine goes like this. I’m up and it’s dark as night. My job is twofold. Get my wife to work, a 15 minute drive to the West, then turn around for home, wake up the boy, and run him into school, a 15 minute drive to the East. I leave the house at 6:55 am, and return at 9:00 am. That’s two hours on the road in the winter.
BONUS: I get a Tim Horton’s Coffee in town and a Toronto paper. Returning home, I settle into the Internet. I’m at one with the universe. The To-do list sits patiently at my side.
9:15 am: Better check the answering machine. Only one message was left while I was out with the taxi. It’s mechanic, Bob.
“Hi, Jim, give me a call when you get in.”
Those words are like a kick in the balls. I’ve heard them before. They usually translate into a stack of trouble and a bigger hit on the bank account.
I give Bob a call.
“You know that bump you feel, Jim. (Pause) Well, your knuckles are shot.”
“So, it wasn’t the brakes?”
“Well they’re shot, too.”
“Ya, musta been the knuckles that caused that!”
I’m afraid to ask but I go for it anyway. “So what are we looking at?”
Bob’s voice lowers and speaks in conspiratorial mode. “Well the knuckles retail for $400 apiece, Jim!”
“Bob, I’m not about to put $800 bucks in parts to correct a clunking noise. What if I don’t get it done?”
There is a short but deathly silence before Bob replies, “Well, you’ll still have that clunking noise! And if they break, our wheels might fall off.”
My silence is the silence of a guy with steam coming out of ears.
Bob picks up on that with a, “Well, maybe we can replace the bushings. They’re about 30 bucks a piece.”
I tell him I’m alright with that and he tells me he’ll call back after he checks it all out.
9:30 am: The phone rings just as I hang up. The message is short and sweet and to the point.
“Jim, this is just a reminder that you have an appointment tomorrow with Doctor Hilner at 2:00 pm.”
That’s the appointment for the dreaded tooth extraction. Believe me, I wasn’t forgetting that one.
I remember the last extraction I had. The old Doc claimed it was the most difficult one he’d encountered in 35 years as a dentist. I remember when the tooth exploded, with chards of my enamel pin wheeling before my eyes, and Dave the Doc crashing backward against the wall. I figured he’d have put a knee on my chest if that last yank hadn’t got the job done. The pit of my stomach is churning as if major butter production was part of my anatomy.
9:45 am: Pumba the Farting Dog, who has been sleeping behind my back on the computer chair, begins to stir. It’s approaching ten o’clock and his canine biological clock is beginning to scream, “It’s time for a walk.” Those of us who are close to this hound call it the “Poo Walk!”.
Well, because this dog refuses to drop a deuce unless he is accompanied by one of us in walk-in-the-park mode. It’s as cold as the Arctic outside but a guys got to take one for the team. Otherwise, retaliation by Pumba is like a pandemic. He’ll pee in your shoes or hide a deuce at night in a strategic position.
I bundle up, hook up the lead and am out the door in seconds. I’ve decided to kill two birds with one stone. I collect the mail from our locked box. I take a butane candle lighter along with me knowing that the lock was frozen the last time.
The walk is a success. Pumba has produced a “Quad”. That’s what we call a Double Duece Poo Walk. My God, my family is as nuts as I am.
It’s now time to tackle the lock.
I loop the leash around my wrist, get down in a crouch and attempt to light the lighter. The wind manages to blow out the flame several times, but eventually the ice thaws. The surface in front of the mail box is like an ice rink. My perch is precarious at best. Pumba sits in silence and occasionally licks my bare hand.
That’s when the police cruiser drives by. You see our neighbours are police officers. Because we live in the outback, they take their breaks at home. Pumba hates the uniform about as much as he hates the car.
The little cock-a-poo bolts. He’s in pit-bull mode.
By the time he reaches the end of the lead he is running at light speed. The tug I feel on my wrist has the force of a freight train and I’m put on my ass in a nanosecond. The dog is dragging me across the ice. I’m thinking that we look like a dog sled team out of control. The way I’m bundled up I’m sure the sled appears as if it’s loaded with polar bear meat. I try to turn and dig in my heels.
I’ve got a grip but the force of the pull puts my body into a spin. I look like a break dancer as I spin on my back. That’s when I notice my neighbour standing in her bay window. She has her hand over mouth and her eyes are as big as pizza pies. As I skid to a halt, I give her the universal NFL signal indicating that I haven’t broken too many bones: the very effective two thumbs-up salute.
Meanwhile, little Pumba, in fear for his master’s safety, has climbed up on my chest and is giving my face the once over with a slobbering wet tongue. I am proud that haven’t dropped the stack of mail in my other hand.
I’m so cold I can’t feel my feet or my fingers. My day is going south.
The remainder of the day includes these incidents. You see I’m beginning to tackle the To-Do list.
I get an e-mail from Dell that my new Netbook has been shipped. I’m excited as hell until I find that it is in transit in the US. It could be many days until it gets to the middle-of-nowhere. That’s where I live.
I try to go online to check my Canada Pension application. One of the benefits of turning 60 is collecting your pension early. I find out the system is down. The online system has to have been designed by terrorists; it’s that F-ing complicated and frustrating. I know if I call I might get some foreign speaking person from a call center in India. I’ve been trying to get to a person in-the-know since November.
Upon checking my bank accounts online I find that a big chunk of money has disappeared from our savings account. Investigating further I discover that I ordered checks for the wrong account and we’ve been spending our savings like no tomorrow. Sometimes I’m a complete idiot.
I call the satellite dish guy and there is no answer. Googling his business name, I find his website and leave him a message. They’re calling for high winds tonight. Crap!
Looks like my To-do list is deteriorating into a To-don’t list!
I search the Internet trying to find out what a knuckle is and why it’s worth a king’s ransom. I learn that the problem is that GM only sells the knuckle as a package and they don’t have the bushings available. Many sites warn that, “You don’t need the entire knuckle. Just replace the bushings.” Trouble is the after-market bushings don’t fit and have to be held in with a washer.
I call Bob and give him the scoop.
He says, “I can do that, if you give me the go ahead.”
It sounds as if he’s reluctant to “Jerry-rig” the job. But, I convince him just the same. Hell, I’m looking at a $1500 outlay if I go the “replace the knuckles” route. BTW the knuckle is the thingy that support your back wheels on in a front wheeled drive vehicle.
3:30 pm: It’s time to head out and pick up the wife. As I’m driving, my cell vibrates in my pocket. I struggle to get it out, the reception is poor, but I recognize the words of the boy, “Come pick me up at school, dad!”
He was supposed to have a basketball practice until 5pm and I’m heading East and the school is to the West. Because the reception is so poor, I have to call my daughter at home to relay the message that I’ll be late because I’m traveling the other way. (Cell phones are like the telegraph here in the Great White North)
This is going to be a repeat of the morning. My day from hell has become my personal Groundhog Day. An hour and a half later I’m home.
It’s double scotch time, my friends, and because my duties include being the cook, dinner is going to be late.
9:45 pm: This is a big deal for us. We’re watching the Canada vs US World Junior Hockey championship game. The gold medal is on the line. The winds are picking up but the reception has been fairly good. That is until the last few minutes of the game, with the Canadians down by one, they’re pressing the Americans relentlessly. There’s a mad scramble when “poof” my screen goes black. I jump to me feet, drop to my knees, and plead with the satellite Gods to relent.
Just as the screen returns to fuzzy normal we realize we’ve missed the biggest goal of the game. Canada has tied it up and sent the game to overtime.
The wife says, “Did you call the satellite guy today?”
“I’m working on it”, I say, as I slip from the room to pour another round.
This terrible God awful day ends as I fully expected it would. The US scores a goal in overtime to win the Gold Medal. This is as bad as when Italy beat Canada in the World Baseball Classic. No, it’s worse than that.
When I roll into bed I’m wondering what will tomorrow bring? Can anything get any worse than today? The slight pain in my upper jaw quickly reminds me that tomorrow might make today look like a trip to Disney World.
Stay tuned for part two of Grumpy’s Horrible God Awful Day.