Monday, October 31, 2011

#111 - Thoughts on Halloween

I'll admit it, I'm not much of a fan of Halloween. It's not just the fact that my son begins talking about Halloween in August, although that probably plays a part.

It's not that you see and receive types of candy you wouldn't see or receive any other time of the year, although that also may play a part. I'm sorry, but candy corn and those multi-colored toffee-like chews wrapped in black (usually) waxed paper are not my idea of a tasty treat. (Now if someone had figured out how to put bite-sized cheesecake candy in my bag, they would have been onto something.)

It's also not that I got trick-or-treated out when I was young. Fact is, I remember going out to trick-or-treat twice in my life - once at age 11 and the next and last time at age 12. That second experience turned me off to the entire trick-or-treating thing once and for all.

When I was 12, my mother decided I should make some sort of statement with my costume. (What that statement was meant to be, I have no idea.) Being a family on welfare, however, precluded renting or buying a statement-making costume. So my mother decided she would make my costume.

She (or maybe we, I don't recall) decided I should dress as Cousin Itt from the Addams Family. You might think such a costume would consist of a series of blond wigs somehow stitched together, perhaps some sunglasses, and a bowler or Derby hat. You'd be right about the hat and the glasses.

In those days, we lived in a rental house located in a mostly industrial area. Our nearest neighbors were a gas station and a warehouse. On the opposite of the road from us was a huge drainage ditch in which grew what we called cattails, known in Britain as bulrush and given the scientific/biological name of typha.

My mother came up with the idea of making the bulk of my costume using the plants. (Pay attention to the word bulk; I'll be coming back to it.) Those of you into crafting or with strong imaginations might be thinking "what a novel idea." You didn't have to wear the thing.

I will admit that the finished product did bear some resemblance to the character I was meant to look like. I will also admit I felt somewhat like Cousin Itt, or least I felt like I was carrying Cousin Itt piggyback.

You see, that costume seemed to weigh 30 or 40 pounds. Maybe more. After a few houses, I felt like I was stuck inside a bamboo sauna. The thing was bulky and suffocating. My mother forgot to put sufficient air holes in the costume to allow for ventilation, hydration, or breathing.

I think I lasted four houses before I took the costume off, after which, my treat intake declined and my feeling I had been tricked increased. After that night, I never had the desire to trick-or-treat again. Perhaps that was my mother's goal. She had a twisted sense about her, and since we couldn't afford dental care, perhaps she thought that was the best way to turn me off of candy. Since that night, I've also had no desire to dress up for Halloween, although I did so once as an adult. Sadly, no one understood the costume.

These days, I am content to hand out candy to those for whom trick-or-treating is a more pleasant experience. I especially enjoy handing candy out to the younger children (say seven and under) for whom trick-or-treating is a chance to escape to another world and not simply an easy way to a sugar rush (as it seems to be for the teenagers who come to our door, judging from the lack of thought put into their costumes).

For the youngest of them, trick-or-treating is still a magical event, a chance to discover and marvel at untold treasures of all shapes and flavors. They are the ones for whom Halloween is truly meant. Me, I started too late. Thankfully, they did not. Happy Halloween and safe trick-or-treating everyone!

Friday, October 28, 2011

#110 - A Month to Forget

October has been a month to forget. My hope is that November will have enough going for it that I can do so.

The month started with me looking forward to two days off. The plan was to take the truck and fifth-wheel up to Anderson Ranch Reservoir, a place I had spent a nice weekend the year before.

This year was going to be a little different. Teresa and Christopher were staying in Idaho this year, so Christopher was going to come with Oliver and me, and Teresa was going to join us after finishing her last day of work with Supervalu on that Friday. That is what was supposed to happen, anyway.

What actually happened was a $16,000 nightmare. I got up to the reservoir mid-morning as planned in order to get a good spot before all the hunters arrived. Unfortunately, I was not able to judge how solid the ground was and managed to get truck and trailer stuck. So far, we're only talking inconvenience and embarrassment.

Then the first towing company arrived. I figured they knew what they were doing; after all, they told me several times they had gotten rigs out of the same predicament in roughly the same area. I suppose I should have begun to be concerned when I saw they had to piece together several smaller chains and cables in order to make something long enough to reach the truck. But, not having a lot of experience with being towed, I thought nothing of it.

A little later, when one of the chains snapped, I began to get a little concerned, but I still didn't think too much about it. Then, their big flatbed tow truck got stuck, but I still wasn't hearing the warning signals.

When they were unable to pull me out from behind (the preferred method since it was a straight shot), they decided to dig some more, set their trucks at a 90-degree angle to the front of my truck, hook up there and try to turn the truck and rig and pull them out that way. At this point, if I had not still been in shock over what had happened to lead to all of this, I might have had enough sense and awareness to just say No. The fact that the lead man had "25 years of experience" led me to trust his judgment.

When he said he was sure they could get the truck and trailer out with "minimal damage," I should have picked up on the use of the word "damage," but I didn't. After the fact, all I can conclude is that the term "minimal damage" has a different meaning in the world of towing than it does in my household.

After six hours of trying and failing to free truck and trailer (not counting the hour spent freeing their own truck), the tow company and I agreed we should stop. That was about two hours or so too late.

The tow company cut me a "break" on the tow bill $925 instead of the $1,860 they said it should have been. That's because the truck and trailer were probably stuck worse than when they started work. Not to mention the damage, most of which I had little clue about until last week.

Christopher, Oliver and I sat in the dark for two and a half more hours until Teresa could come get us and bring us home. Two days later, Teresa and I rented a truck and went back up to claim some belongings out of the trailer. Several hundred more dollars spent on the weekend that never was.

Nine days after getting stuck, a second company went up to try their luck. they had plenty to say about the first company's efforts, none of it good. But they did manage to get truck and trailer out after about three hours (digging and winching combined). Then both were off to repair facilities.

The estimate on the truck came in first: rear bumper - bent and needs replacing, left fender - needs replacing, running board along driver's side - bent and needs replacing, passenger side of truck sidewall - bent but repairable, fifth-wheel hitch and rails - bent and need replacing, various scratches - need sanding and repainting. Total cost with labor: $7,300. Earliest estimated date of completion: November 9. Early indications from the repair facility are that the insurance company may pay for the repairs.

Details on the trailer are a bit more sketchy. The estimated damage comes to $9,100. The door to the battery compartment was damaged and needs to be replaced, and there is a dent on the left front corner of the trailer. I also imagine there was some damage done underneath, although I do not have specifics.

Complicating things is the fact the Western Recreational Vehicles, Inc., manufacturer of our fifth-wheel, closed its doors in April, 2008. As a result, replacement parts have to be fabricated since they are no longer available. That also means repainting the entire rig, I gather, since they cannot repair, replicate, or replace the original decals and finish on the trailer.

That claim was submitted to the insurance company this week, so I don't know yet where we stand. Suffice to say, I have felt for most of this month as if I were standing waist-deep in mud, able to wave my arms frantically, yell and scream and cry, but not able to move or do anything about this predicament.

In a sense, I guess Halloween came early for me, but instead of a treat I got one hell of a trick played on me. If the claims are paid and we get the truck and trailer back in usable condition in November, I'll have something to be thankful for. Here's hoping.