A Twist of Humor

This is a column with a twist of humor. A new column will be posted every Monday.

Location: Newfoundland

I was born, raised, educated, and married in Toronto. I moved to Newfoundland twenty some years ago with my wife. So far nobody has asked me to leave. My wife asking me to leave doesn't count.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Beware Of Load Bearing Walls

Not long ago I attempted to do some renovation work on my house. After I had finished, my wife decided we needed a contractor to come and repair the damage to the house that I had caused.

How was I to know it was a load-bearing wall that I removed? If it was that important, it should have come with a warning label.

I don’t know exactly what load-bearing wall means. I do know that if you disturb one in any way your ceiling falls down on your head and you get hurt.

There must be quite a few people around who don’t know what a load-bearing wall is either because I found it very difficult to find a contractor who wasn’t too busy to do the job. It took me two months before I could entice one into doing the work.

His standards were high and he wouldn’t do the work until I gave him three references, an affidavit from the police verifying that I wasn’t wanted for anything serious and most importantly a copy of my financial records.

Even then, he almost wouldn’t accept me as worthy of his time.

After proving that I was indeed worthy by agreeing to pay a bonus for the job, he assured me that he would start work on August 14 and finish by August 30.

August 14 came bright and early but the contractor didn’t.

The next day with my nose pressed firmly against the glass in the window, I watched and waited.

He didn’t come that day. He also didn’t come the next day or any succeeding days and neither would any other contractor.

Summer turned into autumn and my nose healed. With good authority, I can report that pressing one’s nose firmly against glass over a prolonged period can cause blisters.

He did however make an appearance on a Sunday in October.

A banging noise at my bedroom window woke me up. The first thing my sleepy eyes saw was a head with an irritated face lodged on my window ledge.

I let out a screech and sought refuge on the bedroom ceiling were I hung by the nails on my feet and hands.

My wife looked up at me from her vantage point in bed and said, “If you stop playing silly beggars and climb down from there and walk over to the window, you’d see the head is probably attached to a body.”

I peeled myself off the ceiling and walked to the window were the head indeed was attached to a body. In fact, both belonged to the overdue contractor.

“You and the missus are some sound sleepers. I’ve been pounding on the front door and the window since seven o’clock,” he said peevishly.

I apologized for inconveniencing him.

He said he knew how quickly I wanted this job done so he thought he would do me a favour and start work that day and even though the next day was a holiday, he would work that day also. Of course, I’d have to pay him and his two helpers’ premium wages for both days.

“Indeed.” I murmured.

Because my wife had grown increasingly cranky and vocal with the damage I had innocently inflicted on the house I would have agreed to anything at that point.

After they finished having breakfast with us, they went to work. At least they measured and wrote things down on pieces of paper. Every once in a while they would gather in a huddle and whisper things to one another and laugh. I don’t wish to sound paranoid but invariably when they did the latter they were looking in my direction.

Forty minutes into these exertions, they took a break. After they regained their strength, they continued to measure and use up paper at time and a half until quitting time.

The next day they created large piles of sawdust at time and a half. After they left for the day, I looked all over the house for what that sawdust was made from. I couldn’t find one thing that had been built or fixed. The only sign that someone had been there was the time and a half sawdust. I think they must have brought it with them.

I would have asked them but I didn’t see them again until Christmas week when they showed up to tell me they wouldn’t be doing any work that week because of the holidays. They did say though that if I insisted, they would work….for double time. I did not insist.

They said they would get back to work in the New Year and guaranteed me the work would be finished by August 30, and wasn’t that the date I wanted the work finished by in the first place.

“What could be more reasonable and professional than that?” said the contractor.

“Indeed,” I murmured as I went for my shotgun.

© Mike Cook 2006

Monday, June 19, 2006

The Man Thing

I have a problem. I am a man.

Please forgive me but it’s a condition over which I have no control, unless I want to spend a lot of money and suffer much pain and loss.

This man thing was something I was born with and means, among other things, it is genetically impossible for me to ask for help. You can look it up if you want to. It’s in all the best encyclopedias and tabloids.

For instance, if the place I’m driving to is suddenly misplaced and I can’t find it, I’m prevented by this genetic disorder from stopping and asking for directions.

This means that whenever we drive somewhere we have to take a just-in-case bag. You know, the usual stuff; toothpaste, brushes, change of underwear, socks etc. You get the idea.

It also means that I have to be impervious to my wife’s suggestions, sighs, exclamations and increasingly loud observations on the stupidity of men. This takes much practice and will only be appreciated by someone suffering from the same condition as me.

I remember one memorable summer day when my wife, son, and I spent what seemed like two days looking for Cape Spear Newfoundland, the beautiful and, I might add, well hidden historical site.

My wife wanted to stop and ask someone for directions but I was of the opinion that we would shortly find what we were looking for. My wife was of the opinion that this was total nonsense (or words to that effect).

I thought she was beginning to express herself much too loudly. At the time, if I’d had a volume control, I would have turned her down. This is a thought that I wisely kept to myself. I’m sure this fantasy of a human volume control (complete with a mute button of course) will strike a chord in the hearts of all men.

I ventured that perhaps they had moved Cape Spear to Fogo Island. My wife said that the only thing that had been moved was my brain and to a less than desirable location. She was, I should note, getting louder by the minute.

After much aimless wandering about the countryside, I saw someone walking down the road.

With as much indifference as I could muster, I nonchalantly pulled over to the side of the road. While I pretended not to belong to the car or have any idea who the other occupants of the vehicle were, my wife rolled down the window and asked for directions.

Minutes later we were at our destination. “See? I said to my wife, “I told you we would find it.”

I sincerely believe that the loud bang from the car door being slammed shut by her caused a hearing loss in my right ear.

Later, as we were taking in the sights my 14-year-old son said “I don’t see why we had to stop and ask for directions. We would have found our way eventually.”

I could feel a tear start to trickle out of my eye. Today my son was a man. Through my emotions and tears I could hear my wife say something.

I was quite astonished at her words and tone. Thinking that I had heard wrong because of my burst eardrum, I asked her to repeat herself. It soon became clear that I hadn’t been deceived by my damaged ear.

This being a family column I can’t write exactly what she said except that it had to do with the absurdity of men in general and me in particular.

Her words and tone left me more than a little perplexed. I couldn’t see what the problem was that would cause such an outburst.

You can’t figure women out sometimes

© Mike Cook 2006

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Broken Chimney

One day, not too long ago, I phoned my brother to ask him if he had a pressure washer I could borrow. He said he didn’t have one.

I said to him, “Don’t you think it’s about time you got one?”

“Why should I?” was his answer.

“It would come in handy if you wanted to clean your siding or something and besides, I could borrow it when I needed it, like now.”

His response was I’m sad to report, less than helpful.

Now I must admit my luck with borrowing things from him wasn’t very good. However, you would think that after ten years he would have gotten over the incident with his car engine.

What happened was my neighbor’s truck wouldn’t start, so being a Good Samaritan I borrowed my brother’s car to give his truck a boost. The car engine, for some reason, didn’t react very well to this procedure and committed suicide on the spot.

It pains me to have to report that being a Good Samaritan is a highly overrated activity and can lead to unintended consequences, such as having to go to your brother and say, “By the way, your car is now a paper weight.”

The response to that wasn’t good either.

There was also the time I borrowed his circular saw. After a few hours it stopped working and no matter how much I whacked and banged the thing it refused to go again.

This was a major inconvenience to me, so I politely told him that in the future, maybe he could maintain his tools better and perhaps even buy better quality ones so that I wouldn’t be inconvenienced again. For some obstinate reason he refused to see the logic of my request.

And I suppose he hasn’t forgotten the incident with his chain saw.

I borrowed it to cut down the corpse of a tree that was on my property.

The tree was uncooperative and fell in the opposite direction from that which I intended. In other words, it fell on my neighbor’s house.

When it came time to placing blame for this incident, I pointed in the direction of my brother. After all, it was his chain saw, his oil, his gas and his decision to lend me the saw in the first place. I just happened to be holding the chain saw when it cut down the tree. In fairness to my brother, I have to say that in my opinion the tree shared at least some of the blame.

I’m quite certain that legal precedent is on my side in this matter.

The more I contemplate it, I think what really upsets my brother the most is the time I installed a prefab chimney, for my wood burning stove, on the outside of my house.

I needed help to install the last two pieces of pipe, because to install them one had to climb up a ladder onto the roof and then lean out over the edge at the point that was furthest from the ground.

I’m afraid of heights, or more to the point, I’m afraid of falling from high places and hurting myself. Therefore I did the sensible thing and borrowed my brother to do it for me.

All was going well and the pieces were in place, when my brother lost his balance and proceeded to, rather clumsily I have to say, fall over the edge. Unfortunately he managed to grab hold of the newly installed chimney on his way by.

The chimney, instead of breaking completely away from the house, slowly bent away and down from the house. This caused him to be closer to the ground when he lost his grip on the chimney.

Because of this, his injuries were not as serious as they might otherwise have been. This didn’t do the chimney any good though.

A few days later having an errand to do near the hospital, I thought I would drop in and see how he was doing.

After some small talk and the obligatory signing of casts, I casually asked him when he would be up and about again. I also casually mentioned to him, (although he wouldn’t know it because he was warm and snug in the hospital) that the weather had taken a turn for the colder. I also casually mentioned that I needed help putting the chimney back up before I could light a fire in my stove to take the chill out of the house.

I’m quite sure the inexplicably rude outburst was caused in no small part from the guilt he must have felt for tearing my chimney down.

If it wasn’t for my quick grasp of the situation, I might have been offended by his words.

One has to be sensitive to these things.

© Mike Cook 2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

Miracle In The Garden

They say that God works in mysterious ways and as evidence for this statement I give you this story that happened to me a few years ago

One day, in early summer, I was applying an insecticide to my lawn with a hose end sprayer, happily murdering countless insects when my attention was drawn to my wife’s gardens.

She had worked long and hard on her flowers, shrubs and trees. For her efforts she was rewarded with a dazzling display of colors and fragrances. Being the helpful kind of husband I thought I might as well murder the insects in her floral handy work too.

So there I was standing in the warm sunshine, the lord of all you could see (if you were very shortsighted) wreaking havoc on the insect world, at peace with myself because I was doing a good deed and my wife would be pleased.

I sprayed every stalk, stamen, petal, tree and shrub all the while thinking of the rewards that would soon be bestowed on me, for my good deed, when she arrived back home from her trip, the next day.

Alas, when I went outside the next morning I was greeted by destruction everywhere.

The beautiful flowers and shrubs were shriveled and brown and the air instead of being redolent with the sweet fragrances of the gardens was reeking of the odor of death. The gardens were as stone cold dead, as my wife’s heart would be toward me, when she saw the wasteland.

I quickly surmised that the insecticide had become contaminated with a weed killer.

I just as quickly tried to think of ways I could put the blame elsewhere, like on our two cats or our son, or even better someone else’s son.

I knew that if I wanted to survive I had to get a grip on myself and stop with the childish ideas. I had to act like a man and take responsibility for my actions.

Then I thought, maybe I could go to Mexico or South America, but no, that wouldn’t work. I couldn’t speak Spanish and besides if push came to shove the most money I’d be able to scrape together would be 227 dollars.

I thought of seeds, plastic flowers and even buying new flowers and replanting the gardens. None of this would work though because like a dog sniffing out a tasty bone she would soon sniff out my guilt. She had a lot of practice at it.

What I needed was time. Time for a miracle.

I went to the hardware store to buy the beginnings of a miracle in the form of tarps. Big tarps, small tarps, medium size tarps, lots of tarps, 227 dollar’s worth of tarps, all of them blue for some reason. I also bought ropes, stakes and a glimmer of hope.

After I finished camouflaging the destruction, I stood back to survey my efforts. What I saw was a sea of blue.

My wife drove up at this moment and got out of the car, took in the sea of blue, walked right up to me and asked, “What have you done now?”

Being as cool as possible I countered with “Done, what do you mean, what have I done?”

She parried my thrust with “We all know you’re an idiot. Just don’t be a stupid idiot.”

I know this will come as a complete surprise to you, but I hadn’t thought about what I would say if she asked what the tarps were for. I guess I was hoping she wouldn’t notice. So I said the first thing that scrambled into my head. “The tarps are covering the flowers and shrubs because of the ultra violet rays,” I explained.

She continued to look at me with a steady and unblinking stare.

“Yes” I said, “The weather office issued a special advisory. They said the ultra violet rays are so strong today that they could severely damage flowers and shrubs. I didn’t want that to happen, so I covered everything in these blue tarps to protect them.”

For some reason I could see she wasn’t buying any of this.

The aftermath of all this was that I’m not allowed to touch any garden tool or chemical. I also have to sit in a comfortable lawn chair with a cold drink in my hand and watch the lawn guy take care of the lawn while my wife looks after the gardens.

It’s true. God does work in mysterious ways. Life is good sometimes.

© Mike Cook 2006