latelythe on-line diary of
ralph robert moore
the official website for the writings of ralph robert moore
Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore. All rights reserved.
Return to lately 2001
i look at it sometimes
december 8, 2001
Since early in 2001, I've been updating my Latelys every week, rather than doing them, as I had before, on an infrequent basis.
As you might imagine, once I post the latest Lately, Saturday evening, there begins to grow within me the slightest little nut of concern as to what the next Lately will be about.
Sometimes the next week's topic is obvious, because I know that between Saturdays I'll be having oral surgery, or serving on jury duty, or testifying in court. But most times, it's not.
The thing about websites is they're a lot like television. They eat up a lot of content. No producer wants you to turn on a TV station that's broadcasting static, because they couldn't think of anything to film, much like most webmasters don't want you to visit their site and find out the last time they updated it was in March of 1999 (I see some sites that haven't been updated since 1996, and they're good sites, otherwise. What happened?)
The alternative to providing fresh content is simply flipping on a webcam on your site, so that even though there's been no new material for a year, you still do, technically, get to see something new, in that a little gray square on the site shows the webmaster bent earnestly over a keyboard, brow furrowed, typing something, although it's hard to know what on earth it is he or she is typing, since none of it ever appears on their site. Maybe it's a suicide note with an extraordinary number of footnotes.
When I decided to increase the frequency of my Latelys, I realized it would probably be best if the updates appeared on a regular, predictable schedule.
I didn't want to chronicle my life on a daily basis, because that would take too much of my time, leaving less time for me to live in the imaginary worlds of my fictions (I forget his name, but there was a man who kept a diary of his life, for decades, with entries added every fifteen minutes. He recorded everything. Clipping his nails, taking his dog for a walk (frequently with the next entry written in mid-walk), preparing his meals, going to the bathroom, etc. I've read portions of it, and it does, oddly, hold your interest-- the very sameness of so many of the entries makes you feel you're learning about someone skin cell by skin cell, although it must also be said that even as he records, for example, each time the phone rings, and the gist of the ensuing conversation, silently writing during the conversation if another fifteen minutes have elapsed, probably missing some of what the caller is then saying, there's far less detail in the diary of how he feels about the people to whom he's talking. Ultimately, the sense I got, after so many entries blandly recording his activities, no matter how mundane, was that the whole thing could have been just as accurately written by someone photographing him from across the street).
I also thought that having a new Lately appear only once a month, or even every other week, was stretching the frequency too thin, to where people would forget to go back, or would go back the next week, rather than the next fortnight or month, see the same content, and bitterly curse me for contributing to the wear on the top pad of their right index finger. Plus, there's something comfortable about a weekly update. It ties in with TV shows, most of which appear weekly. You can watch the Simpsons every Sunday, Law and Order on Wednesdays, and read me on Saturdays.
Doing weblogs, posted diary entries, is also similar to writing a newspaper column, especially if you're on a pre-announced, regular schedule. People who read you expect to open the newspaper, or click on your URL, and find a new article. Some columnists keep a couple of spare columns they've written that aren't time-specific they can draw upon during a dry spell, much like Hemmingway wrote extra novels during fertile periods to release when he wasn't feeling so fertile (Nabokov said he had once read a novel by Hemmingway but couldn't remember which one it was, except that it had to do with bells, bulls, or balls.)
I have to confess I've done the same thing, not actually writing future Latelys, but at least scrawling down ideas for about a dozen different Lately columns I could resort to if nothing interesting happens in my life by, say, Wednesday.
This past Sunday, though, I was rewarded with a new Lately topic.
As I've said before, we rarely know when something new in our lives starts. The clues are all there, they've always been there, but we dumbly don't see them. We don't pay attention. We fail to notice how dots can be connected. There's something subterranean in your life right now, and it's poked up in a few places in your consciousness, but you haven't seen the pattern of its poke-ups, so you're just thinking of isolated incidents, rather than seeing the connection between those incidents.
We drink Spaten Optimater, the best beer in the world. Because it's hard to get, we go through a distributor, buying eight cases at a time. We store the cases out in our garage, on the dusty cement floor, putting three six-packs in a little refrigerator we have out there. Each time we remove a six pack from the refrigerator, we replace it with a room temperature six pack from an opened case. Two weeks ago, I pulled a cold six pack out of the little fridge, batted open the flaps on a case lying on the floor, and lifted out a replacement six pack. It dripped as I carried it to the fridge. Was a bottle busted? No. The bottom of the six pack was wet. Odd, but I didn't pay any attention to it. I was in the middle of something else.
Last week, I rolled up our garage door, and noticed a lot of moisture on our cement driveway. Had it really been that foggy the night before? Morning by morning, the moisture increased, until there were shallow pools of water at the front of our garage, and at the top of our driveway.
I didn't pay any additional attention to it. The neighborhood had been moistily foggy all that week at that early hour, the streetlights fuzzy.
This past Sunday, we were out in our garage for one reason or another (I think I was carrying Rudo, our long-haired black cat, around so he could see and smell everything we have stored out there, something he loves to do, and the reason why I carry him is because we have a lot of pesticides and herbicides out there, and we don't want him getting those white powders on his paws), when Mary, off on the other side of the garage, on the opposite side of our Honda CRV, said, "Rob, there's water behind our bookcases."
Let's look at my garage for a moment, so you'll be oriented.
If you were standing in our driveway and I pulled up the garage door, you'd notice first all the interior has been dry-walled (including the ceilings), rather than rough studs and rafters showing.
We didn't ask for this when we had our home built back in 1991, but the builder did it anyway. It's a nice touch. We could hang paintings out there, if we wanted to.
The floor is cement, and by now, unlike the walls and ceiling, which are white, which the floor once was, it's now gray, at best, brown in some spots, with oil stain whorls here and there, and, towards the front, a white whorl where I once, years ago, dropped a can of white paint.
Standing in our driveway, facing our opened garage, to the right, nearest you, you'd see six beige metal filing cabinets lined up, where I store work papers (I work from home). On top of the cabinets are three expandable ladders of varying heights we keep for experiments testing my fear of heights. Beyond that, towards the middle of the right wall of the garage, is a wide wooden table we try to keep clear, for special projects, and beyond that, towards the back of the garage on the right-hand side, is a tall metal cabinet the open metal shelves of which are heavy with carpentry tools, gardening equipment, plumbing supplies, electric drills, and grouting stuff (we went crazy about six years ago, in the way home-owners sometimes go crazy, and bought an enormous amount of grouting material and applicators. None of it's ever been opened). Along the back wall on the right side is a mysterious, white, wooden cabinet where we store poisons, fertilizers, and everything else fascinating to cats.
Standing in our driveway, facing our opened garage, to the left, is our old white upright freezer, tall as a bully, three times as wide, no longer plugged in, its metal racks filled with more fertilizer and poison, in such a potent mix, behind such a tight seal, that each time we swing open the heavy door, it's like smelling hell. Beyond that, along the left wall, are six wide, wooden bookshelves six feet tall, filled with all the miscellany of our lives. At the back of the garage on the left-hand side is a white door that starts eighteen inches above the cement floor, within which our water heater is located, and next to that, a white top-opened freezer filled now with all sorts of goodies for our Christmas vacation.
To the right of that is the door to our utility room, and within that small room, a door to our kitchen (two of our three cats, Rudo and Chirper, are at a four-legged stance on the kitchen floor once that door is opened, looking just-woken-up, fur mussed, holding little signs that read, Will Meow For Food).
So when Mary said there was water behind our bookcases, she was standing on the left side of our garage, and indeed, as I walked over cradling Rudo, I could see that the gray cement floor under and around our bookcases was soaked.
I dropped Rudo off in the kitchen.
The water stretched behind the bookcases all the way from the front of the garage to the back, to the floor directly under the little door eighteen inches off the floor behind which our water heater was housed.
I opened the door. The water heater, a little less tall than me, stood inside, part of the Energy Efficient Guide glued to its curve unpeeling.
I bent my head into the tiny room. Listened.
Drip, drip, drip.
Reached under the heater, rubbed the tops of my fingerpads along the wooden floor.
It was wet, and more than being just wet, it was slimy-wet, meaning that drip had been there for a while.
Apparently, from our research, once a water heater starts dripping, it's a goner. Expressed in terms of movies, among major house appliances a water heater is the poor, doomed, weight-training black sidekick.
The heater was a little over ten years old.
Our next door neighbor, Jim, had mentioned a few weeks ago, while I was out front mowing the lawn, that his own water heater had gone out, after about the same period of time (they moved into the neighborhood a couple of months before we did).
That's the thing about a house. There's always something that goes wrong. Our heating/air conditioning system is also ten years old, and lately repairmen have been cautioning me we're unlikely to get more than another year out of it. Then it's thousands of dollars to put in a new system.
So far, our roof is okay.
Monday after work, we stopped off at the local Home Depot.
For those of you who may not know what Home Depot is, it's a huge, huge hanger of a store with ceilings forty feet high, no interior walls, orange banners with black lettering hung about twenty feet off the ground across each wide aisle, where small tractors drive, jiggling boxes of goods in their detachable bed.
Home Depot carries every conceivable home improvement or repair item you could possibly need, from bathroom mirrors to gazebos to the metal baskets you put in kitchen sinks to keep food from going down the drain to lawn mowers to nails with plastic casings that expand when they pierce dry wall to ornamental shrubs to wooden fence slats to the little latches you use to lock windows, as well as an enormous number of gadgets you don't need, and for which you don't even know their function, they're just silvery and oddly-configured, like something grimly brought out halfway through a Cronenberg movie.
For the longest time, everything you bought at Home Depot you had to install yourself.
Which was a big, big problem for almost everyone wandering around those wide aisles, including ourselves. I knew how to buy a water heater. I just had to point at the one I liked, and pull out of my wallet a credit card. But I didn't have a clue how to install it. Since installing a water heater involves pipe welding and hooking up a gas line, I didn't want to learn as I went. It sounded dangerous. I could too easily picture myself flailing around on our front lawn, engulfed in flames, screaming in agony, "Help me, help me! I'm not protesting anything! I'm installing a water heater!"
I don't want to die stupid. I want to die of a heart attack, preferably, or something similar that has to it some tradition and dignity. Ralph Robert Moore, 79, succumbed last night to a fatal heart attack in his home in Dallas. I don't want people to read, Ralph Robert Moore, 53, died of head injuries last evening resulting from repeated blows to his skull after getting his wife's bra somehow ensnared around his head as he was rearranging, mid-wash, a load of laundry in the couple's clothes washer.
And mostly, that's for Mary's benefit. When someone finds out she's a widow, and asks how her husband died, I want her to be able to hold her head up high as she says I had a heart attack. I don't want her to be put in the position where she has to say, "Well, you know how a clothes washer's drum will continue rocking back and forth once the wash cycle starts? Even if you open the lid?"
But now Home Depot installs most everything it sells.
I thought a new water heater would cost about a thousand dollars. I don't know why I thought that, but for some reason, I've been carrying that piece of information around in my head for decades, according it the same amount of space as Don't go swimming until an hour after you've eaten, and other information I knew already wasn't true, but which I couldn't forget (I remember some obscure relative telling me once, very solemnly, when I was a little boy, leaning down to be at my eye level, Never, ever, play behind a Chinese restaurant.)
But actually, even though we wound up buying a huge brute of a water heater, one so powerful I sometimes leave the little door in the garage open, just so people in the neighborhood can see what I'm packing, the brute itself, with installation, by two quiet young men both wearing, for some reason, purple, only came to five hundred dollars.
I love our new water heater. I look at it sometimes. It looks like a missile.