(HA! This is the entry I wrote for yesterday’s Daily Prompt “tailor”, but added the word “moxie” to get it on today’s list as well. I’m so sneaky! Oh, stop your sneering. You know you do it too. Besides, it’s easily the funniest thing you’ll read on either list, so just read it again and be thankful.)
We’ve got this railroad-tie retaining wall that runs down the side of our property, and I’ve been worried recently that it may shortly refuse to perform its main function of “retaining”. This would be a rather alarming state of affairs if it comes to pass, as that wall is the only thing keeping a Delaware sized chunk of dirt and toxic waste from crashing through our bedroom window. And the rest of the house. A portion of the wall extends down our driveway, and while not as tall as the other stretch it performs a similar service.
I first noticed there might be a problem with the driveway wall when I wasn’t able to park my Subaru next to NewWifey(tm)’s Nissan. We have a 2-car wide drive and normally I park on the right side, hugging the retaining wall so I can open the door far enough to squeeze my bloated carcass out. But I’ve noticed recently that I’ve been having to park closer and closer to NewWifey(tm)’s car on the left. Finally last Wednesday I was forced so far over that I couldn’t open my door far enough to get out. I considered the sun roof, but…bloated carcass, remember? I parked behind NewWifey(tm).
What was up with that?
I found out what was up as soon as I got out of the car. Or rather, what was out. The retaining wall had a distinct bulge in the middle, encroaching out onto space normally reserved for a Subaru Forester. The entire wall was additionally leaning several degrees from vertical and, perhaps most startling, a sinkhole appeared to be forming on the lawn side of the wall.
Oh well. Just another one of nature’s unfathomable mysteries. I shrugged my shoulders and went inside to grab a sandwich.
An hour later NewWifey(tm) happened to look out the front window.
“Why did you park the Subaru behind me?” she asked.
“Huh? Oh, the retaining wall is collapsing and a sinkhole opened up in the lawn.”
“WHAT?!” She bolted out the door and down the steps, not even bothering to put her shoes on.
Women. Hysterics over every little thing, amiright guys?
I stayed put in the recliner. For one thing my presence is very rarely needed, and even more rarely desired, during times of crisis. For another, it was a really good episode of “My 600 Pound Life“. I needed to know if Blimp du Jour was gonna follow Dr. N’s advice, or ignore it and end up being planted in a piano box before they rolled the credits.
About a half hour later NewWifey(tm) trudged back up the stairs and into the house. She had a look of defeat.
“I gotta call a contractor” she said, and disappeared into the computer room. A few minutes later she was talking on the phone, her voice rising steadily as she went along. Finally I heard her practically bark “GOOD BYE!” before slamming down the handset.
She stormed into the living room. “Six grand!” she said. “Those fuckers want SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS – and that’s just to replace the retaining wall! The sinkhole and the collapsing driveway will be extra.”
“Collapsing driveway?” I said.
“Yes – and how did you not notice that? The front of your car was sitting in a dip about a foot deep over there. Didn’t it seem odd that you were looking at asphalt instead of the garage door when you parked??”
“I just assumed I was so hungover that my head was drooping.”
She rolled her eyes. “Anyway, we don’t have six grand. But I bet we could fix it ourselves for a lot less. We’ll just need to rent some equipment.” She looked at me. “Have you ever worked a backhoe before?”
“Well…yeah.” I squirmed a bit. “But I swear, not since we’ve been married. Honest!”
She stared at me blankly for a second before a look of disgust took over. “Not ‘back-ho‘” she said, “‘Back–HOE‘. It’s a big excavating rig with a shovel at the end of a long arm.”
“Oh! That’s different. Then, no.”
“Forget it. I’ll do it myself” she said, and went back to the computer room. Twenty minutes later she came back holding a legal pad with a bunch of figures scribbled on it. “Between materials cost and renting a backhoe for a day, I think we can get away for under two grand” she said.
“You’re going to work the backhoe?”
“Have you ever worked a backhoe before?”
“Aren’t you scared you might fuck it up?”
“I’m not scared of anything.”
I can certainly attest to that. In the 16 years we’ve been married I’ve rarely seen her blink, let alone blanche, it the face of dangers that would have me reduced to a puddle of urine and tears. This is a woman who bangs on a metal pot and runs after bears in our yard to drive them away from our trash can, who got up on the roof in the middle of Hurricane Irene to brace our satellite dish so she could watch her K-dramas, who regularly eats my cooking. My little lady’s got moxie, I tell ya. So I knew she wasn’t lying when she said the prospect of hopping into a 40 ton earth mover and tearing into our property without any prior experience gave her no pause at all.
“Ok” I said. “As long as I’m not required to do anything more strenuous than bring you a restorative lemonade once in a while, you have my blessing. When do you plan on starting?”
“Beer” she said. “And I’ll start cleaning up the area tomorrow and maybe take the top layers of the wall down by hand. The more I can get done first, the less time we’ll have to keep the backhoe. That should cut the costs down even more.”
Sure enough, the next day I came home from work and saw this:
For the record, what you’re looking at is: the retaining wall bulge section, two top layers removed and piled on the side, a spade, a crowbar, a reciprocating saw, a pickax, and a small sledge hammer.
What are you not looking at?
I know. This seemed curious to me, too. The only time NewWifey(tm) ever steps away from a project is when it’s finished, or she has to poop.
I went inside.
“Hey baby” I called. “Where are you, honey? Are you pooping?”
That was odd. I checked the kitchen, the dining room, the computer room, even the back porch. No wife.
Then I opened the bedroom door.
I couldn’t believe what I saw. Mounded on top of our bed in the middle of the room was a pile of blankets and comforters the approximate size and shape of a Fiat 500.
And it was quivering like a 14 year old who just discovered PornHub.
“Honey…?” I said. “Sweetie, are you under there?”
I lifted a corner of the mound and peeked under. It was NewWifey(tm) alright, but looking in an almost unrecognizable state. Her eyes were wide open and seemingly trying to escape from her skull. Her skin, already pasty Irish white, was now so pale you could almost trace her lymph system. She was tucked up in a tight ball, knees under her chin (filthy work boots still attached) and sweating like – well, again, that 14 year old.
“Pookie!” I said. “What’s the matter??”
Her bug eyes darted back and forth through the breach I’d made in her blanket fort. “Did you see it?”
“See it?” I said. “See what?”
She pulled back farther into the mound. In a near whisper, she said “….the snake“.
“A snake?” I said. “No, I didn’t see one. Not today, anyway. Why, did you see one?”
NewWifey(tm) gave a quick nod. I could see a new crown of sweat forming on her forehead.
“Honey!” I said, “Are you…are you afraid of snakes?”
She didn’t say anything, just glared at me with those bugged out eyes, and grimaced.
I laughed. “I can’t believe it! You ARE afraid of something!”
“Just kill it” she said. “But be careful. It’s HUGE.”
“Ok, ok. I’ll save the poor widdle wifey. Where is it?”
“In the herb garden.”
I let go of the blanket and she immediately sausage rolled herself again.
Out to the herb garden then, to catch a snake. A huge snake.
The herb garden is just outside the picture, in the upper right corner. Over the years I’ve tried to grow thyme, tarragon, oregano, Thai basil, Mexican basil, Greek basil, marjoram, sage, lemon sage, and rosemary. I’ve failed miserably at all of them. A few years ago I threw up my hands and just let the spearmint take over, as spearmint always does. But I still call it “the herb garden” for some reason, perhaps to delude myself that one day I’ll try again and THIS time be successful, dammit.
So there I was standing in the herb garden, pushing aside stalks of spearmint and weeds, when sure enough I heard a rustle and saw a quick flash of yellow and grey shoot past my foot.
As I suspected, it was a garter snake:
Garter snakes are incredibly common in this part of the country, probably because mice are incredibly common in this part of the country. Always good to live near a restaurant, right? Anyway, I’ve been seeing – and catching – these things since I was a little kid. When I was young I kept them as pets. They’re absolutely harmless, unless you happen to be a mouse, and actually quite pretty (I think, anyway). About the only downside to them is their habit of projectile peeing all over you when they get upset. But as long as you don’t squeeze too hard or scream right in their faces, they’re pretty good at holding it in.
I went back inside the house, walked down the hall to the bedroom, and lifted the covers off NewWifey(tm).
“C’mon out, baby. It’s just a little garter snake. It can’t hurt you.”
She stayed curled up in a ball. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure, baby. Just a little ol’ non-poisonous garter snake. They’re everywhere up here. Frankly I’m surprised you haven’t seen one before. We used to call this area “the Garter Belt” when I was growing up, there were so many.”
“It was HUGE.”
I laughed. “Aw, it couldn’t have been more than 14 inches. See?”
And I pulled the snake out from behind my back and showed her.
Two things then happened almost simultaneously: NewWifey(tm) screamed right in the snake’s face, and I reflexively squeezed.
The snake projectile peed.
So did NewWifey(tm).
I ran out the door, down the driveway, across the street, and about a half a mile into the woods on the other side before letting the snake go. He gave one last blast of urine as I released my grip and then he was gone, instantly disappearing into a warren of tree roots.
Back at DangerHouse NewWifey(tm) had reformed the blanket cocoon around herself, but she was now under the bed. I don’t know if it was some feral instinct to withdraw into a dark hole for safety, or if she just didn’t want to lay in the soup of various urines up above.
I knew reasoning with her would be futile, so I just backed out of the bedroom and closed the door. The recliner is perfectly comfortable for sleeping, and I always keep a small pillow stashed in the coffee table drawer for just such an emergency. I would be fine there for 3 or 4 days, which was about how long I figured it would take NewWifey(tm)’s adrenaline levels to drop back into the green. In the meantime I’d slide plates of food and bottles of beer under the bed three times a day, and take the used Depends away on my way out.
Ok, that was a bit of hyperbole. But it WAS pretty bad. We had to throw out the mattress pad, NewWifey(tm) didn’t sleep a wink that night, and I got a verbal lashing the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since that time I accidentally joined the NAMBLA mailing list instead of NASA’s. (There’s a “red rocket!” joke in there somewhere, I just know it.)
By the second day NewWifey(tm) was pretty much back to normal, although I didn’t press my luck. I tailored our lunch, skipping the linguini I’d planned in favor of soup, and trashing my bucket of gummy worms. I also refrained from pointing to anything longer than it was wide and screaming “SNAKE!!” like I wanted. Sometimes you have to be considerate of others, no matter how much the sacrifice, y’know?
Finally, on the third day, I said to NewWifey(tm), “So when are you gonna work on the wall again? It looks like it’s bulging even more now, now that you’ve taking some of the layers off.”
“Fuck that” she said. “I’m calling a contractor.”
“You said we can’t afford a contractor.”
She bit her lip. “I’ll hook.”
“Honey. You’re just being silly. Look, I’ll tell you what. Every day before you start working on it, I’ll walk through the yard and catch or scare away any snakes. You’ll never see another one again.”
She gave me a dubious look. “What if you miss one? That thing was really camouflaged – I didn’t see it til it practically slithered over my foot.”
“Well, yes, there is the small possibility that one could escape my eagle eye. But again: they are absolutely harmless animals, barring all that pee. And I hate to put it this way, but…you’re just gonna have to suck it up this time. We don’t have the money, and we’ll have even LESS money if the driveway collapses and the sinkhole swallows DangerHouse. You gotta do this, babe.”
She looked off into the distance for a bit, then sighed. “Ok, I’ll get back to work on the wall tomorrow. But you PROMISE me garter snakes are not dangerous?”
I gave her a kiss on the cheek. “I promise, sweetie. You know I would never send you out if I thought it was dangerous!”
She forced a faint smile and hugged me. “Well, I guess I might have over reacted just a bit the other day. You’ve lived here your whole life. If you say those snakes won’t hurt me, I believe you. They still skeeve me out, but I gotta be a big girl and get this job done.”
“That’s my girl.”
I patted her on the head and we went inside for dinner (burgers – I wasn’t taking any chances).
And with that crisis behind us, I should now have a new retaining wall and a filled in yard crater by this time next week.
Don’t anybody tell her, k? At least until I manage to scrounge up 6 grand for a contractor. Maybe if I started hooking….
Ok, gotta slither off to bed myself here. Sorry it’s been so long between entries lately, but I still seem to be mired in sloth for no good reason.