Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Concerned. Sincerely.

There’s nothing like the First day of Spring. So, special I’ll capitalize First. Twice.

Yeah, technically, it’s not the actual first First day of Spring, but here in south Texas Spring sprungs early.

This weekend was it. Warm sun. Cool breeze. Mosquitoes still asleep. Perfect.

I was all decked out. Gloves, old t-shirt with a peeling, snarky design that said “I’m with STUPID” over an arrow pointing to the right (love that shirt!), faded blue jeans and mud-crusted boots.

Let’s dig!

There was a lot to do. The compost needed turning. The trees needed trimming. The sheep were in the meadow and the cows were in the corn.

First. Day. of. Spring!

Humming to myself, I set out to greet the day. “Inna godda da vita, baby, doncha know my heart is true ...”

My reverie was broken by a shout from the garage.

“OMG! The sprinkler system, it no work!”

I was shocked, but pulled myself together and shouted back, “OMG! Your grammar, it no work!”

I thought about pondering a dirt clod I’d just dug up. Pretty little thing with what looked like half a worm hanging out. But that tiny part of my brain that keeps me from getting hit by a bus or doing things preceded by shouting, “Hey, y’all, watch this!” told me that I had better high tail it into the garage and find out what was wrong with the sprinkler system.

Or at least appear that I was concerned.

Yeah, that would do. “Concerned” generally involved “no work” and that was fine by me. Besides, a faulty sprinkler system wasn’t nearly as ripe as planting some shrubs, that, granted, might later dehydrate and die due to lack of aforementioned sprinkling, but already my cognitive resources were stretched to the limit and my brain was full.

One thing at a time.

Strolling into the garage I affected my best “concerned” with a hearty, “Wazzzzzzzzzzz?” complete with Jazz Hands.

“I thought I’d test out the lawn sprinkler system after that hard freeze and, so far, none of the zones work. I’ve tried them all. Maybe the valves are turned off.”

I heard most of that but it was along the lines of, “Blah blah sprinkler blah blah none blah blah work blah blah something off.”

Nodding my head knowingly I replied quite correctly and appropriately, “I’ll check into it.”

“I’ll check into it” is a phrase I learned many, many years ago and it has been a veritable timesaver. I can’t count the hours I’ve been able to go about my business, examining dirt clods or whatever, by the grace of “I’ll check into it.”

Occasionally, I have to provide an update and I can always get away with a couple of, “Still checking on it,” whatever “it” is. Maybe three times on a good day.

Today, though, as I was walking back to my shrub hole and that fascinating dirt clod I had one of those rare moments of insight.

If you pointed a Brain-O-Scope at my head you would have seen an old set of gears spinning into motion, engaging other gears and turning faster and faster until enough brainpower was generated to illuminate a small light bulb about a tenth as powerful as a nightlight flashing the word,

“E REKA!” (The “U” burned out years ago.)

From the dim past came a fragmented conversation. Somebody, I think it was the Sprinkler Repair Guy, telling me, “You have to drain the system for winter. Turn off these two valves and stick a screwdriver in here until the water stops squirting out. That will keep the back pressure valve from exploding in the Spring. Got it?”

I heard, “Blah blah blah two valves blah blah,” and I remember turning the two valves. I don’t recall no dripping thing after that.


I was quite pleased with myself that I had figured out why the sprinkler system wasn’t sprinkling: the water was turned off at the back pressure valve.

All I had to do was flip the valves to the “ON” position and we’d be in business.

I went around to the side of the house and was doubly pleased with myself to see the valves neatly turned to the “OFF” position. Next to examining dirt clods I love being right.

I bent down, grabbed the valve handle with my soft, little, inside-person hands and gave a mighty twist.


Nothing. I looked at my delicate palms and figured I’d have a nice bruise there in the morning. I lodged that away as my Excuse Number 55 for Not Doing Yard Work; should be good for a week. I needed a tool and I knew just the tool. This was a plumbing problem and every amateur plumber knows the best tool was a large pipe wrench.

I returned to the garage in confident strides, found my large, red pipe wrench exactly where I left it hanging about eight years ago, and returned to the scene, soon to become the Shrine to the Sprinkler Fixing Hero.

I bent over the pipe, fixed the wrench to the valve lever and gave it a mighty pull.

The valve turned as if buttered. Easy Peasy. I imagined a Hero’s Welcome.

Then, several things happened more or less at once. Actually, they happened in sequence, but so quickly it seemed to me it happened at once.

This is the chain of events in slow motion.

City water at mains pressure surged into the back pressure valve cavity generating a lot of pressure. The back pressure valve tried its best to shunt the excess pressure through the orifice beneath the brass cover and nearly succeeded. Unfortunately, the structural components that hold the whole thing together, that had been weakened by excessive freezing temperatures (and probably by not having been drained properly) gave up the ghost and failed catastrophically.

“Catastrophically” is a word that is followed by a brass cover shooting into my jaw followed by a spout of water attempting to reach a height of ten feet through my nose.

Of course, my first instinct was to drop the wrench and I acted on that. My second instinct told me that the entire city water reservoir was draining through this pipe and I had to shut the valve.

What would Captain Kirk do?

Must. Shut. Valve. Save. Spock.

I bent over the open valve, the jet of water pounded my chest and I scrabbled in the gravel for the wrench handle. After what seemed like an eternity or three seconds at least I got the jaws on the valve handle and wrenched it Righty Tighty. The wrong way.

Of course I wrenched it the wrong way! Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosey, but I was bending over the valve and had entered Bizarro World where everything is backwards. With water pounding even harder I wrenched the other Righty Tighty and the torrent ended with an audible “Glerk!”

I stood up and wiped water from my eyes and face just in time for the Audience to arrive.

“Wow! What happened to you? You’re all wet and I think you’re bleeding from the chin.”

“Just a flesh wound,” I said gallantly, “a scratch. I found the problem. The back pressure valve is broken. We’ll need to get the plumber out here to fix it.”

“But, what happened?”

“Nothing,” I replied, trying to hide the wrench behind my back.

“I see you got out The Wrench. Remember the last time you used The Wrench. Cost us about $200. What’s this going to cost us?”

“About the same. I could have drowned out here, you know,” I said trying to change the subject, “as if you're concerned. Seriously!”

Then came the unexpected.


First a little titter, then a couple of ha-ha’s and finally a long, extended bout of guffaws and rib-holding hilarity.

“Your shirt! Your shirt! Look at your shirt!”

I looked down. The force of the water had washed off some of the old, faded lettering. It no longer said “I’m with STUPID.”

The “with” was gone.

In silence I walked back to the garage making a squelching noise with each step and made a couple of mental notes:

Call plumber.

Recycle shirt.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Proof in the Berry

For all you skeptics out there here's the blueberry farm ...

... and the blueberries in a little plastic box just like I said.

Ain't that right, Kink?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Berry Blues

"Hey, back from the gardening center already? Wha'd you buy?"

"I got a couple of blueberry bushes and a fig tree."

"Nice going! Blueberry pancakes in the morning and pork with figs on Wednesday."

"Uh, how do you figure that?"

"Easy peasy! Blueberries are ready to harvest in 4 hours and figs take a couple of days max. I'll go upstairs and print out some recipes."

"Not so fast, Emeril, how do you figure blueberries grow to harvest in 4 hours?"

"Aw, come on! I'm an expert blueberry farmer on FarmVille. You know, that farm game on Facebook. And figs, too. I've got an entire orchard of figs. Never actually thought of planting a real fig tree. How tall do they get? Do I need to go out and buy a ladder."

"A ladder? What for?"

"To harvest the figs on Wednesday, silly! I guess I could wait until Wednesday morning, see how tall the tree is and get the ladder then. You're right, that's more prudent."

"Do you know anything about blueberries or figs? I mean, really."

"Yeah, I know everything. It's pretty simple, actually. You click to create a plot of fallow ground, then you click to plow it, then you select blueberries and click to plant them. Then you wait 4 hours for the blueberry bushes to grow, click to harvest them and you're done!"

"What happens to the blueberries after you click to harvest them?"

I had to ponder that one. It was outside my Facebook worldview, but shortly I made the connection.

"Somehow they get transported in little plastic tubs to Kroger's," I offered as a reasonable explanation."

My wife considered this revelation carefully.

"Tell you what," she said at length, "we'll plant the blueberry bushes this afternoon. By the time we're asleep the berries will have been harvested and by morning they'll be at Kroger's in little tubs."

I nodded. She's a genius, my wife. I jumped on the thread.

"And I could get up early, go to Kroger's before breakfast, buy the berries, which are technically ours to begin with, but who's to argue with the right for Kroger's to make a little profit along the way, and we can still have blueberry pancakes!"

My wife smiled at me as she does to bichon frise owners or Volvo drivers, but to be fair a Volvo may have just driven by.

I smiled, too. Because I knew that from here on I could go up to Kroger's at any time and pick up my very own blueberries.

It's good to be king.

Now, about those figs ...