The Battle of Almost Wounded Knee

Last year they nested in a nearby tree, bumping into our windows drawn to the inside light at night. They looked like mini army helicopters and kind of sounded like them when they hovered around you while outside. They weren’t fat like bumblebees, but bulky like Humvees. These were the biggest and scariest looking flying things with a stinger that my wife and I had ever seen.

“We’re not in LA anymore,” I said to Alex. In LA flying bugs were more scarce than an older woman without Botox. In LA we would see a few bees around our lavender, some flies sometimes when we picnicked, a rare mosquito. These were all outside bugs mind you, not really trying to get in. Here in Georgia it’s like they’re banging at the door with a search warrant.

We made it through last summer without any giant Humvee-helicopter wasps making it into our home, or God forbid onto our skin. Then this summer, I noticed one going into the fascia above our front door. I went online and did some recon and found out that these things are European wasps. Great, I thought, whatever happened to NATO?

Like most things around the house, I usually try to do them myself before calling an expert. I waited until dusk and suited up the best I could. By the time I had my wrists and ankles rubber-banded and my hockey helmet on, I’d worked up a sweat. “Let’s hope these things aren’t attracted to sweat,” I said to Alex through the glass shield of my hockey helmet. “What?” she asked. “Wish me luck!” I yelled. Alex chuckled at me in my getup and just shook her head.

I’d set up a ladder under the entry point earlier. I stepped outside gingerly and climbed the ladder. I put my wasp spray up to the gap in the fascia and let her rip. Suds and white foam went everywhere as I quickly climbed back down the ladder. Unfortunately, I missed the bottom rung and started to run backwards while trying to keep my feet underneath me. Probably realizing I’d need both hands to break my fall, I flung the can of wasp spray out of my hand and it went flying into the front yard. I then crashed into one of our front porch columns. I sat there for a second kind of stunned. I looked through the now foggy hockey mask. Was that a platoon of wasps swarming toward me, or just my imagination? I got up quicker than I’d fallen and ran into the house.

“What the heck happened out there?” Alex asked. “I fell off the ladder.” “Are you okay?!” I checked that all my appendages were moving properly. “I think I’m okay.” “We’ll call an expert tomorrow then?” Alex suggested. “Not so fast.”

The next day I walked out and examined the battlefield. The ladder was still where I fell off of it, and my wasp spray had rolled about 20 yards away. There wasn’t a dead wasp in sight. Suddenly, I heard a Humvee-helicopter over my shoulder. I eyed the wasp spray, but it was too far away to do me any good. Instead, I ran into the house and decided I might want to call an expert…. Or maybe I could bait them? The battle continues.



Vampires in Suburbia

Morning fog lingers around trunks of giant trees wearing robes of Kudzu. Heat and moisture creep into the day on cicada-winged notes. We intermittently drive through tunnels of greenery that hide the clouded blue sky above.

Another Atlanta summer, and we were on a mission to find fabric. Yes, I said fabric. Before Alex, I don’t think I had ever stepped into a fabric store: now I know Jo-Anne and Michael by their first names.

But Alex doesn’t just settle for retail, she’s a wholesale hound in the best sense of the word. She can find the source of just about anything, and somehow finagle a deal. Granted the minimum quantities can be a problem: We have had large pallets of various things delivered to our doorstep. And in LA, we had no basement or garage to help store these things. Our Atlanta house has both…. A blessing and a curse.

The heat of the summer had turned Alex’s attention to curtains. Blackout curtains to be exact. These are the double-paneled, heavy curtains with fabric on one side, and an opaque rubberized material on the other. They keep the sun and heat out, and create a dark room at night.

I almost forgot to mention, my wife’s a vampire; or at least she has the habits of one. She cannot sleep in a room that lets in any outside light. Now I have become light-sensitive as well. I guess you adapt to those around you? That, or she bit me.

We found the fabric store in Marietta. It was a little white southern house in the shadow of a gigantic billboard that looked bigger than the store itself. We parked under the billboard for shade. “Welcome to Marietta,” I said to Alex.

Inside, the sound was muffled by rolls and rolls of fabric, arranged by color. We passed pink girly prints and red brothel-looking material, light blue baby themes and darker blue nauticals, and found our way to the beige section. I know beige sounds boring but, probably Restoration Hardware influenced, it is our base color—that and grays.

Alex grabbed a pair of scissors from the end of a roll and started cutting the stuff right there in the aisle. “Uh, honey,” I said looking around, “are you supposed to be cutting up the inventory?” “This is a sample swatch. Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing,” she said. And I guess she was right: We walked out of there with enough sample swatches for a quilt, and no one seemed to blink.

Making curtains is more work than I thought. I mean just the math involved to make sure you get enough material to cover the job is hard enough for me, but then there’s the cutting and pinning of the material, the pleating, the sewing of course, and the hardware. Fortunately, Alex did everything but the hardware. I can handle hardware.

The first night with our new curtains, we slept like…vampires. We had no clue how late it was when we woke up the next morning until I pushed back the curtains and was almost blinded by the bright summer sun.

The next night before bed, Alex noticed me putting something in my nightstand. “What’s that?” she asked. “Sunglasses!” I said. “Welcome to the brood,” she replied with a smile.



Jobs We Used To Do Ourselves

In LA we didn’t even have gutters, in Atlanta not only do we have gutters but we have to take care of them. They fill with leaves every fall and need to be cleaned out. The problem is how to get to gutters that are some 30-feet high, below a roof angled like a Swiss alp.

Not long after moving into our Atlanta home, we had a gutter stoppage that I could see from our bedroom. “I’ll just go out there and clear it by hand,” I told Alex. She had other thoughts: “Are you crazy?!” she exclaimed. After putting my pride in my pocket, I realized she was partially correct. The roof area outside that window is a tin-type of material. Probably slippery, maybe not too supportive of weight. But I wasn’t giving up just yet. “What if I tie myself to a rope?” I said. Reluctantly, Alex gave in. I tied one end of a rope around my waist and the other around the space between the two windows leading out to the tin roof. “I can’t watch this,” Alex said, as I slowly made my way out the window. “It’s okay,” I assured her, “I’ve been on plenty of roofs.”

When I was a teenager, fear wasn’t really in my vocabulary yet, so I did all kinds of stupid things. Carelessly climbing on roofs was just one of many. In fact, two other friends and I paid for an entire spring break trip by knocking on doors and offering to clean the gutters of anyone who answered. This was before building materials and engineering came into the Gehry-age of twisted metals and unimaginable structures. We were climbing up simple ranch homes or maybe a boxy two-story colonial.

It is long enough in the past now to admit that there was one house we climbed up and found nary a pine needle. Now, this guy was wealthy and we knew it, and we were young and broke and he knew it, so maybe he was just trying to help us out all along. He probably had his gutters professionally cleaned the week before, but appreciated the gumption of three young boys who were ballsy enough to knock on doors to make a dollar. Either way, we stayed up on that roof doing nothing for a good half hour before coming down and boldly collecting our fee. The guy even threw in an extra twenty “for the cause.”

The Atlanta gutter scene is now a pretty competitive environment. People canvas neighborhoods with flyers a few months before the season. Crews have all sorts of ladders and ropes to handle these crazy roofs that some of us now have. Leaf-blowers are brought onto the roof to make the process faster and more efficient.

My foray onto our steep roof was not a catastrophe. The roof held my weight and I didn’t slip, but looking down from the 30 or so feet made me a little reluctant. Needless to say, we ended up hiring some professionals. Not only did they clean our gutters, but we got a free Cirque de Soleil style show out of it while watching these guys do their own version of a high-wire act right outside our windows.

Later that day, I couldn’t help but complain about the loss of yet another thing we used to be able to do ourselves; “Car repair, now gutter cleaning– what’s next?” I mused out loud to Alex, who replied; “Well if you want to be a do-it-yourselfer, a bicycle and a ranch-style home I guess.”