Saturday, January 30, 2016

Three Robbie Stories

When I begin a phone call to my mother with the words, "I have a Robbie story for you," I can be sure the conversation will end with her wiping tears of laughter off her cheeks and saying something like, "I really needed that."

For those tuning in late, "Robbie stories" are what my mother and I call the tales of my own stupidity and bad luck, which either happen only to me or are just remembered that way because I make a point of telling them well.

When she introduced me to her current fiance, the first thing she wanted me to do was tell him some of my Robbie stories, the way that always makes her laugh.

I have had three Robbie stories for her since I moved into my present rented house in Versailles, Mo. By way of remembering them for future chin-wags, here they are.

Robbie and the Sauerkraut Sandwich

Don't cry.
So I was lying in bed one night, torn between wanting to sleep and fear of continuing to have the same dream that had been plaguing me for hours. It wasn't a frightening dream; it was, in fact, a very boring dream. A very, very, very boring dream. It was a dream about being at work, struggling through a task so tedious that it should have put me to sleep, but instead it kept waking me up out of sheer horror that anything could be so dull. Every time I started to drift off, the same dream came back.

I finally decided I would rather lose a night's sleep than put up with that dream any longer, so I got out of bed and went - where else? - to the kitchen. Perusing the contents of the fridge, I realized it contained an unopened jar of sauerkraut which, with some ketchup and salad dressing and a couple slices of bread, could make a meatless, cheeseless Reuben. At 3 a.m. in a night turned topsy-turvy by stupid dreams, that somehow seemed a good idea. While I was making it, I thought, I'll brew a cup of chamomile tea to help me sleep afterward.

I took out two slices of bread. I smeared ketchup on one slice and salad dressing on the other. Then I started trying to open the sealed jar of sauerkraut. I strained at it. I changed my grip. I sweated. I grunted. I gnashed my teeth. I banged it on the counter. By no amount of effort in my power could I break that seal. And then, suddenly, it popped; I was so surprised, I lost my grip on the jar and it went flying.

My one stroke of good luck is that the jar did not shatter when it landed on its side across the slices of ketchup- and salad dressing-smeared bread. It did, however, eject a third of its contents all over the counter and into the sink. Sauerkraut and sauerkraut juice everywhere. I had to pick up everything on the counter and mop under it with paper towels. I had to wash ketchup and salad dressing off the outside of the jar. I had to pick up globs of sauerkraut and throw them away. I also had to throw away a cereal box that had been standing on the counter, and that was now saturated with sauerkraut juice; the cereal, safe inside a waxed paper bag with a chip-clip holding it shut, survived.

I also had to fish sauerkraut out of the kitchen drain. I'm afraid some of it got away from me. To this day, weeks later, that drain is still blocked - mostly, I suspect, with slices of fermented cabbage. And that's after being treated with two bottles of gelatinous blocked-drain solvent. When I wash dishes or utensils, it takes half a day for the sink to empty. It goes nicely with my oven, which is still so filthy from the previous tenant never having cleaned it that I have yet to bake anything in it. (I emptied a can of foaming oven cleaner into it once, but it didn't foam up and I gave up the idea of cleaning it.)

Of course, the sauerkraut juice soaked into the bread, and I had to throw that away too, uneaten. But luckily, my cup of chamomile tea was still brewing, and it looked all right. I carried it to the wastebasket to dispose of the teabag - whereupon I fumbled the teacup, spilling two-thirds of the beverage over the outside of the wastebasket and on the floor. Now I had to get down on hands and knees, with wads of paper towel, and mop up yellow, sweet-grass scented tea.

When my work was done, all I had to show for it was a third of a cup of chamomile tea, room temperature, and a blocked kitchen sink. I definitely should have stayed in bed.

Robbie and the Bed Casters

You know. These.
Part of my excitement about moving out of my parents' guest room and into my own house was based on the realization that, after 15 months on a mattress and box spring that lost their ability to support a grown person's weight years ago, I could finally sleep on my own bed again. But then I couldn't find the casters that went with my metal bed frame. I knew where they should have been - at the bottom of one of two RubberMaid barrels I used to store lawn and garden supplies, such as hosepipe and hedge trimmers - but they didn't seem to be there.

I looked and looked, but did not find. So in desperation, I went to a hardware store and spent more money than I wished on two pairs of cheap little casters. When I inserted them in the holes in the bed frame's legs, they immediately tried to slide out again, but with only a little difficulty I managed to get them all on.

Over the next couple of weeks, I found sleeping in my own bed less comfortable than I had expected. Partly this was because I seemed to be lying on a slope. One side of my bed stood distinctly higher than the other. I wanted to roll off it toward the right, and had to hang on for dear life toward the left. I partly put this down to the unevenness of my house's floors, which in places was so pronounced that I reckoned it only a matter of time until I stumbled, for example, head foremost into the toilet, or collided with the grandfather clock in the hallway. But I also suspected the new casters weren't seated quite right.

One day I got down on my knees and looked at the casters. And behold, the one at the lower right corner of the bed (as I lay on it face-up) had actually buckled under the weight. I pulled all four casters off and threw them in the garbage, then dug in that RubberMaid barrel one more time and, amazingly, fished out the original, heavier-duty casters.

I'm glad they're on, though the bed still feels tilted. A drawback of both sets of casters, however, is that the bed likes to roll around on the bedroom's hardwood floor. I get on the bed at night and it moves. I get out of the bed and it moves. I make the bed in the morning and it moves. This can be a good thing, as I need to move around the bed to tuck sheets in and so on. But it can also be a bad thing, as I learned one night when I had propped myself up in a sitting position, using every pillow I own, because of headache and acid reflux.

Sometime in the middle of that night, my weight leaning against all those pillows, leaning in turn against the wall at the head of the bed, caused the bed under me to move away from the wall. Most of the pile of pillows then dropped into the gap between the bed and the wall. And that is where the excellent builders of my house located the power outlet where I plug in my bedside lamp and alarm clock.

I haven't mentioned it before, but all the power outlets in my house lack the ability to grip prongs of an electrical plug. I've had to experiment with bending the prongs, balancing the plugs just so, and sometimes just pushing things against them to keep appliances like lamps and space heaters plugged in. I guess it's the head of my bed that keeps my alarm clock plugged in. The way my bed rolls freely on its casters and the hardwood floor, this has often been a concern to me. But that night it wasn't the bed's movement but the collapsing tower of pillows that pulled my alarm clock's plug out of the wall outlet.

So, because of those bloody bed casters - without which my bed frame would be gouging cracks in those nice floorboards - I had to get out of bed in the middle of the night, rearrange all the pillows, make the bed, and re-set the alarm clock. I'm starting to think about shopping for a hammock. Or at least bed-frame caster cups.

Robbie and the Hanging Clothes

Last Saturday I spent the morning at what I later learned was the more grungy of the two laundromats in Versailles, Mo. Nevertheless, I managed to get all my clothes cleaned, dried, and neatly folded or hung on hangers. I put the hanging pants in one basket, folded over, and hanging shirts in another, and loaded them into the car with the baskets of folded clothes.

When I reached home, the first thing to happen when I opened the back door of my car is that the basket of hanging pants rolled straight out onto the unpaved driveway, landing open-side down.

I immediately picked it up and brought it into the house, where I inspected the damage. Somehow every pair of pants had picked up a coating of dirt, dried grass clippings and fragments of dead leaves, etc. So had the inside and outside surfaces of the basket. I had to brush dirt off both sides of every single pair of pants and brush out the basket. I cannot begin to explain how, in one brief contact, all that dirt got into all those places. The closest thing I can get to an explanation is, "Of course it would, because I'm Robbie. This is the kind of thing that always happens to me."

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