Nature adores a vacuum

Dog has been changed to protect the innocent.

Yesterday was warm and sunny, sweater weather at most. We went to the park and Nola discovered ice cubes. She also got yelled at by the dog who owned the ice cubes. For the first time, I saw her slink away from a dog instead of just shaking it off and going back for more. I find myself watching for signs like that and hoping they’re not signs.

When we got home, Dave left for his matinee and I tried to figure out what to do with the beautiful day. I raked in the yard a little but the lawn is a mud pit and there’s not much to do at this point. I came inside and there was a text from Gloria, “Are u home?”

“Yep,” I texted back, pleased to get such an informal text from someone I don’t know very well. Gloria is a dog whisperer who is unfazed by difficult animals, bad weather, and flaky owners like us who book her last-minute, “Sorry! Can you walk Nola at noon today?” I hoped she was writing to suggest a play date with Weejay, the puppy she’s dog-sitting down the block.

But no. “Jasper’s coming over to help with this vacuum. Weejay has feathers all over from a pillow and I can’t figure it out.”  I thought she must be dictating because the only Jasper in the neighborhood is a realtor and why would he be helping with a vacuum?

“Sure! I’ll come through the back.” I brought our new Oreck along just in case.

In the yard, Gloria and indeed Jasper the realtor were huddled over a bagless canister vac. After greeting me, Weejay  continued nosing the emerging forsythia, wagging his adorable little tail.

Gloria wanted to empty the vacuum before attacking what she called “a mountain of feathers in there.” I couldn’t wait to see the mess. But none of us could open the canister. It seemed like part of it should unscrew or unclip, but nothing was budging and none of us wanted to be the one to pull too hard and break it. Jasper gently poked a long-handled screwdriver into the opening. “Let me just use my vacuum,” I said.

“No. I’m not letting you do that,” said Gloria.

“I need to change the bag anyway,” I said, which was partly true. Dave hates this new Oreck because he claims it smells. I tell him, “No, it’s what the Oreck picks up that smells.” He counters, “The old Oreck didn’t smell.” I come back, “That’s because it didn’t pick anything up.” The old Oreck now lives in the basement, and he insists on lugging it upstairs whenever he’s doing the vacuuming. “Go ahead,” I say. “I’m just going to need to vacuum again tomorrow so whatever.” Surreptitiously, I change the bag as often as possible, even though Oreck bags are ridiculously expensive, being made partially of cloth, which is probably why they smell.

Gloria and Jasper poked around with the screwdriver until we agreed the canister looked pretty clean. Jasper clicked it back on the base, and then Gloria nudged another unmoving part, “I need this wand for the feathers.”

“Are there that many?”

“Oh this dog,” she said. “They’re everywhere.” I pictured the scene from North and South where the cotton bits float in a mist above everything, choking the millworkers’ lungs and causing industrial malaise. I was dying to get inside. But none of us could unclip the hose part from the carpet sweeper part. There was a lever that you either pull out or unwind like a clock, but neither way seemed to dislodge the wand, and once again we were all afraid to break it. “I’m just going to use my vacuum,” I said, grabbing the Oreck.

“No!” said Gloria.

“Don’t be weird,” I said.

“It is weird,” she retorted. I went inside and looked for the feathers. None in the kitchen. None in the dining room. Then, in the middle of the rug on the sun porch, a fluffy pyramid of white wisps. A slight drizzle of them on the sunporch sofa, and a random few drifting across the dark wood floor.

Jasper plugged in the Oreck and I vacuumed up the feathers. Weejay was briefly interested. Gloria shook her head slowly. I worried that the Oreck would smell and humiliate me on its outing, but it didn’t, or maybe the good smells in the house neutralized it—faint incense and fresh sunshine air. The procedure took about 60 seconds.

Afterward, Jasper found one rogue feather and suggested saving it for the owners. Gloria took the feather and shook her head again. We all agreed that Weejay was adorable and it was a good thing he hadn’t gone after the couch.

Jasper carried the Oreck back to my gate and went on his way. Gloria texted to say, “Thanks again,” and I texted back, “No problem. Any time.” She responded, “Hopefully it’s all downhill from here.”

10 Things Regarding the Prospect of Worms

Food for worms.
Frozen food for worms.

1. No one has ever reported their escape. At least, not in the reviews.

2. The nicest kit is about $109 on Amazon.

3. They like to call them factories. I can’t decide whether that’s cuter or more disturbing.

4. There’s one for sale on Craigslist but we are agreed that if we’re actually going to do this we’re going to start with an absolutely brand new and pristine…factory.

5. You have your choice of worms. We’re going with Red Wrigglers.

6. You can buy the same ones at bait shops. Does that mean we can then sell them to bait shops?

7. There’s absolutely no problem with fruit flies, but if you want, you can freeze your fruit scraps first. But there’s really no problem with fruit flies or smells or anything like that. But you can freeze the stuff first.

8. One pound is about three handfuls. Handfuls.

9. Sometimes the worms don’t use the ladders (included) and you have to help them.

10. They’ll be here on Monday.

Home improvement

If I were a bat, I’d prefer the fruit trees.

Dave was lying in a dog bed because he wanted to trim the fruit trees.

He needed an extension trimmer so he could get to the spindly branches that have shot past the others on their way to the power lines in the sky. So he went to Home Depot. But the only extension trimmers they had were already open and missing their blades.

Dave decided to install a porch light instead. He picked one out, got it home, got the ladder, removed the old light, cut the wires, did some investigation, tapped around on the ceiling with his hammer to see what was solid and what was hollow, wondered if he should pull new wire for safety, was thinking… when he noticed a bat sleeping about 18 inches away. Tucked into the corner of our very small porch. Strangely furry.

Dave googled how to get rid of a bat. He read instructions for donning heavy gloves and getting a towel which you cover the bat with as you grab it, one site advises singing softly to keep it calm, and then taking it to a safe place, which would be where?

So instead of trimming fruit trees, Dave was lying on the back porch, in a dog bed. Thinking, he said.

The Don, Dorothy, and Dave

Stain samples
There's an illusion created by trim that makes the walls of the prison appear further away.

Dave is on a mission only he can complete. He’s looking for the right stain and finishing agent for both the new and the repurposed wood he’s using to trim out a door. He’s thinking ahead to trim we still need for the kitchen, and that makes the journey much more treacherous. Well-wishers can say “Just go with the Tung oil,” but we can’t really help.

“Last night I read up on early American birch trim,” he says over coffee,” and it’s led me to shellac.” I didn’t know one could read up on early American birch trim, but I keep my mouth shut. He continues. “What we’ve probably got in the rest of the house is amber shellac.”

“Maybe go with shellac then,” I say, “if they still make it.”

“Minwax has it. Problem is, it dries very quickly. Hard to work with.”

“Polyurethane is so easy,” I suggest.

“There are several strategies here for slowing down the drying process.” He shows me pictures of shellac flakes, which are how the pros buy it, mixing in denatured alcohol when they’re ready to start. “You can buy it in cans, of course, but it evaporates.” He shows me photos of the lac bug, which secretes shellac as it tunnels through trees.

It’s like I’m watching Dorothy disappear down the yellow brick road alone, basket swinging from her arm, only he’s standing right next to me, tapping his phone. “There’s a picture in This Old Crack House, look at this. It’s a brand new pine door from Home Depot. The guy stained it with Golden Oak Minwax to age it, and then did a coat of amber shellac.”

“Wow, it looks old.”

“And here’s an earlier door, same thing, brand new pine door, but he did the Golden Oak with a poly finish.”

“It looks like the same door.”

“No, it’s different. Even in the picture you can tell, it has a slightly more plastic-y sheen.” He studies the picture, flipping back to the shellacked door, then flipping back again to the polyurethaned door. It’s a barely perceptible but legitimate difference. And it’s exactly where Dave’s senses seem to come alive. It’s where the hairs on the back of his neck prickle. He goes out and returns with shellac, denatured alcohol, and some new cans of stain, all of which he takes downstairs.

A half-hour later, he returns with samples painted on a piece of trim. “Wow, shellac does make a difference,” I enthuse. “That one over the Golden Oak is perfect.”

“Perhaps,” he says thoughtfully. “Perhaps not.” It’s just like my Godfather fantasy from junior high. I used to imagine I was at a party at my best friend Alias’s house, sitting on the couch, feeling left out because Christopher C. had just told me I couldn’t dance. (Certain elements of this fantasy are based on historical events.) Suddenly, in the middle of “If” by Bread, the doorbell rings. Alias’s parents aren’t home, of course, so she answers it, and there stands Al Pacino, flanked by two bodyguards.

The dancing couples have all stopped, and I’m standing in their midst, remembering that Al Pacino and I have met once before. (In an earlier fantasy where he was really depressed about all the bloodshed and we ran into each other by chance in an alley I told him, “I know I’m just a kid, but if you ever need anything, I’m here.”) Al Pacino looks at me silently. I ask Alias if there’s somewhere we can talk. The bodyguards wait outside while Al Pacino and I go into a spare room, where kids’ coats are heaped on the bed. He tells me the time has come. “It’s a job that’s extremely dangerous,” he says tersely. “It’s possible you won’t come back.”

I nod.

“You’d have to start right now, tonight.”

“I’m in.”

He hands me a revolver. I get my coat and put the gun in the pocket. We walk back through the living room. The kids are all huddled at the windows, staring at the long black limousine waiting at the curb, and the bodyguards leaning on it with folded arms.

I tell Alias, “I’ve got to go.”

“Where? What’s going on? Can we come?”

“Where I’m going, no one can follow.” I hug her briefly, and then nod to Al Pacino. We leave silently.

Outside, one of the bodyguards opens the rear door. Al Pacino gets in first, then me. I notice all the kids are still gathered at the windows. Christopher C. looks stricken. He tries to catch my eye. I nod to the bodyguard to shut the door. We drive away into the night.

Later, when the position of the sun has produced a different set of lighting conditions, Dave re-examines the samples against various existing trim near the door and in the kitchen. He disappears into the basement for more tests. I understand. I do not follow.