After your underwear drops round your ankles

There is a story my grandmother liked to tell after a posse of vodkas had loosened her girdle to the point that her underpants dropped round her ankles if she tried to stand.  She told it with a chuckle and she told it again and again. A comedian, Grandmother was not.

It involved a cross-country trip she took with a sister-in-law she inherited after her brother’s early death. A burden it was and frequently noted but the girl had no family of her own and some form of promise had been made and some form of promise would be kept because Grandmother was 100 % Norwegian and they are, as everyone knows, the most noble of the human species. And so “Aunt Mary” became Grandmother’s shadow on holidays and vacations. In fact, I can’t quite form an image of her in my head that doesn’t include my grandmother.  Because she was still working when her husband died, she was allowed to maintain a small apartment near her place of employment.  She did not need to be reminded … although she was … that she must save diligently for the time when she could not live on her own and the family via obligation would have to step in.

With this as a backdrop, here is Grandmother’s Hilarious Story about Aunt Mary:

“We’d had a smooth flight out to California and even though it was Mary’s first time on an airplane, I’d told her there was nothing to fret about and so she didn’t say a word until we landed and then she let out a whimper as the plane bounced to a stop. ‘Now Mary,’ I told her, ‘no need to make a scene.’ And she didn’t although I did have my eye upon her. 

However, on the way back to Fargo the plane hit such turbulence that I felt it my duty, given the hard life she’d led, to assure her that it would be over quick. Like smashing into a brick wall.  No sense spending your last moments getting hysterical.

‘But Myrtle,’ Little Mary said and she was almost whimpering ‘I’m so ashamed. I can’t die with such shame.’

‘Nonsense,’ I said to her, ‘you haven’t done a thing in the world to be ashamed of.’

‘I didn’t clean my kitchen before we left,’ she said in a whisper. ‘What are people going to think of me if I die with my kitchen floors such a fright?’”

I thought of Mary Ness last week as we were under threat of evacuation from wildfires.  We had no electricity and cell service kept going in and out.  The parks were closed; the libraries; the stores and even the gas stations.  We had to keep our windows closed because of the smoke.  We were advised not to use a lot of water because the pumps that move water hither and thither are electrical and if the power outage went on, eventually our taps would go dry.  And so we were basically prisoners in our own homes. Waiting and waiting until our plane finally landed on solid ground. Or slammed into a mountain.

For one brief second I did consider washing the damn kitchen floor. As an activity … to keep my mind off things I couldn’t control.

And then I thought of Aunt Mary and reread a favorite novel.  Damn the kitchen floors.

Pathetic Gasbags and Extispicy (PG&E)

The other night I’d just exited the shower when the door bell rang. Holy Cow, thought I.  Who rings my bell after Happy Hour? Someone who obviously doesn’t know me.

I grabbed my bathrobe and headed towards the front door, my imagination conjecturing both the good and the bad, although it was probably just some young kid selling magazine subscriptions. Another $15 bucks down the drain for a year’s supply of Popular Mechanic. Instead a bearded man of around seventy stood on my doorstep holding a four foot roll of paper. When he caught me looking out the window he waved the roll at me.

“I’m your neighbor,” he yelled. “The one you called.” 

thI should have told him to come back over at a reasonable hour but foolishly I opened the door. I blame the booze. Did I mention that this is a guy we met briefly a dozen years ago when he was chasing feral cats into our yard?  Since then, he hasn’t said a word to us.

Skipping the pleasantries, he got right to business.

“Two policemen came to my door and told me to be a nice guy and take down the tree.”

IMG_2011He was referring to a 100 foot pine tree hanging over our house showering needles and cones on our car, the roof and the driveway. Entangled in the tree are power lines that feed our neighbors down the hill. The tree, however, isn’t on our property. It’s on property belonging to the man waving a roll of paper at me as I stood naked under my bathrobe dripping water all over the floor.

Now this pine tree is clearly visible from his house. In fact it’s visible from the main road, so visible that we keep getting visits from tree service companies. 


I need Erin Brockovich, folks.

So I googled the property owner. Holy Cow, it turns out we’re living next door to a man who’s been accused many times by the cities of Berkeley and Oakland of being a slum lord.  I left a message on his phone asking him to call us about the tree but I have to tell you, I didn’t expect much.

Then I called our power company (PG&E) thinking they might want to do something. Boy, was I a dope.

After getting the run-around with a customer service rep, I demanded to speak with a supervisor. Here’s how it went.

Me, after explaining the situation: “If the tree goes down it may land on our garage bringing with it live electrical wires.”

PG&E: “Doesn’t matter. The tree is on your neighbor’s property and we can’t do anything unless he calls us.”

Me: “You don’t understand. It’s highly unlikely the guy next door will do anything.  His swimming pool looks like a cesspool.”

PG&E: “Well then, wait for the tree to come down and let your insurance company deal with the mess.”

Me: “What if we’re in the garage?”

PG&E: (pause) “Make sure you keep good records.” 

I guess we should look on the bright side. If we die, our heirs can sue.  

Those of you who are old-timers to the Twissel blog know I’ve already fought my share of battles with soulless bureaucracies like the IRS and the State Tax Board but neither of them told me to keep good records in case their inaction caused my death. 

Thinking our mayor might want to know that PG&E is advising home owners in her town to let the trees and power lines fall down and then have their insurance companies clean up the mess, I sent her an email. She didn’t reply but apparently she did get the message.  

And how about that four foot roll of paper the neighbor’d waved in my face?  It was a property map supposedly proving the tree is on easement and therefore not his responsibility. I think we’re screwed.  What do you think?