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ralph robert moore


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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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these things matter
june 30, 2001

LATELY this week consists of follow-ups on recent columns.

Last week's column was about the problems I'm having with a tooth.

About five years ago, Mary and I had an unexpected day off. We went to work that morning like we always do, but as soon as I stepped off the elevator on the fourteenth floor into my company's suite of offices, I noticed all the lights were off, and the air humid. A city crew, the night before, had accidentally cut through the underground bundle of cables at the end of the block servicing our building.

Since the plumbing was also somehow mysteriously connected to electricity (the toilets couldn't flush until electricity was restored, something that still doesn't make sense to me, except in some kind of "magic realism" way), the place was basically uninhabitable. The Chief Operating Officer called me and a few others into his office, which was uncomfortably warm, and dark, and told us we had two options. We could take today as a vacation day, or we could "work from home" and therefore get paid for the eight hours.

Mary swung up in front of the building twenty minutes later. I tossed a stack of papers I had randomly gathered together into an impressive pile of nonsense, into the back seat, taking over the wheel.

"What's that?," she asked.

"It's a bundle of bullshit with a rubberband around it."

Once we got home, surprising our cats, exclamation points above their heads, we realized that since this was an unexpected day off, we might as well make good use of it. Being homeowners, we decided to do a repair-a-thon, to call plumbers, electricians, carpenters, appliance repairmen and horticulturists, and have them all come out this unexpectedly free day, to fix everything that over the years had gone wrong with our home.

It was actually a lot of fun. For the first hour or so it was like waiting for party guests to arrive, but after that the doorbell rang throughout the day, refrigerator-repairers doing double-takes as they passed by Roto-Rooter guys to ask when the air conditioner serviceman could move his truck out of the driveway.

One of the servicemen we invited out was a roof repairer, since we had a leak in our living room ceiling.

He arrived last, after six o'clock, parking his spanking-new black pick-up, covered with chrome, alongside our front sidewalk.

He was huge. Probably about my height, but with the biggest pot belly I've ever seen, both in its forward projection, and its downward slope.

About fifty-five, with a bushy blonde moustache, blue jeans two sizes too small, and gold chains lying against the white chest hairs of his opened shirt.

After listening solemnly to our description of the problem, he nodded once, went outside, squinted up at the roof, and said he'd be right back.

While Mary and I sat at our black breakfast nook table, we watched our ceiling, through which we could hear his heavy-footed travelings across our roof, sounding like a rhinosaurus staggering around on its hind legs.

When he came back down to earth, he had a clipboard in his hand. Back inside our home, he pointed up at the corner of the living room ceiling where the leak had crumbled some of the white plaster.

"You definitely got a leak."

We didn't say anything. Mary had her arms crossed. I was watching him out of the corners of my eyes.

"In order for me to fix it properly," and as soon as he said 'me' we realized he didn't mean that he, personally, would fix the leak, but rather that short, eerily-polite, non-English-speaking people would fix it, "We have to make sure for you folks the paint we put over the new plaster matches the rest of your room." He made a grand, armpit-exposing gesture that took in our large living room, the dining room that was partially-partitioned from it by a half wall, the two-story high ceiling, full of crazy slants.

We had thought this was going to be a simple matter of plugging the leak, putting up a modest amount of plaster, such as you could fit on the plastic lid of a coffee can, and painting over it.

How much was it going to cost to completely repaint our living room and dining room?

He did a little dance on our kitchen floor, jerking his shoulders forward, straightening his back, rolling his head on his neck, dipping his knees, as if preparing to lift something immense, like a half-truth.

He gave us the friendly wink of one on the inside. Not to worry. He was also an insurance inspector, and could therefore not only do the job, but approve his doing of the job for our homeowner's insurance. "Several thousand. But remember, it's covered. You only pay the deductible, and you get a brand-new paint job." When we insisted we only wanted the small, damaged area of the wall repaired, he airily promised to fax us his estimate, which is the last we ever heard from him.

That's how I felt about the specialist I went to last Friday about my tooth. Instead of having a tooth chart at his right hand to record irregularities in my teeth while he lowered his eyes into my mouth, I think his fingers were flexing down on the rounded squares of a cash register.

So I called the specialist's office Monday and canceled my appointments for yesterday and next Tuesday, the first two of a long, long series of sessions, deciding I wanted to speak to my regular dentist first before I proceeded with such a costly and painful course of procedures. The receptionist, friendly before, was now snippy.

My regular dentist called me this past Thursday, leaving a message on our answering machine, but I didn't hear the message until Friday morning, his day off. I'll talk to him next week.

Thanks to those of you who have shared your dental horror stories with me this past week. The only good thing about going to a dentist, as far as I'm concerned, is that at least you don't have to undress.

June 9, I wrote about the terrible itching Mary and I experienced after working in our garden.

I got a large number of fire ant bites. Mary came into contact with poison ivy.

My bites are long gone, nothing left but little blurred pinknesses on my forearms, but Mary's poison ivy is still lingering.

You don't get poison ivy from brushing against the plant. You get it when you cut the plant, which we in our innocence did, not knowing it was poison ivy, the milky toxin leaking from the cuts across Mary's arms as she gathered up the pruned sections of vine. The next morning, the skin on both arms was popped up into bubbles.

Although you can only self-infect from poison ivy for 72 hours, the toxic oil remains on surfaces for up to one year, and can reinfect upon contact. 'Surfaces' include clothes, gardening tools, bed sheets, kitchen counters, cat fur-- anything you touched before you realized you were a carrier.

Because Mary's infection was so severe-- up and down both forearms, on her forehead, across the backs of her hands, we went to a "Doc in the Box", meaning one of those emergency care franchises such as Emergi-Care, Urgent Care, etc. They diagnosed poison ivy, giving Mary three prescriptions to quell the burning itchiness and dry out the blisters. When that didn't work, Mary tried to make an appointment with a dermatologist, but that was impossible. She called a dozen places, but because we weren't regular patients, she was told by each it wold take at least five weeks to get an appointment. So much for health care in America.

She's been a tremendously good sport during this process, accepting that it's going to take time to allow the toxin to work through her body. But in the meantime, she's suffering the worse agony imaginable, all the worse because it can be so easily relieved, by scrabbling her fingernails over the blisters, but if she did that, right after that scratching, the itch would swell back, magnified.

Mary and I have continued to seek out good restaurants, as reported in my May 5 column, but we're getting discouraged.

One place we had heard about for years, The Addison Cafe, was a real disappointment.

The Addison Cafe has always been characterized in Dallas restaurant surveys as one of the best French restaurants in Dallas.

We went to it a few weeks ago. Our first warning should have been that the parking lot wasn't full.

I started with a seafood appetizer, a Fruits de Mer that in this case consisted of mealy crab claw meat and shrimp that had been treated with nitrates (nitrate is added to shrimp in supermarkets and low-end restaurants to extend shelf life, but imparts a strong chemical smell and taste. In effect, it embalms the shrimp.) The Addison Cafe is in fact the only restaurant in Dallas where we've been served nitrate-soaked shrimp. Everywhere else, the shrimp has been fresh. The dish should have been called Fruits de Marred.

Mary's appetizer was mushroom soup, made entirely from stems, which she said had a slightly off flavor. She stopped eating it after the second spoon lift.

We both ordered veal for the entree.

What we were served was the worst veal we've ever eaten in a restaurant. Tough and tasteless.

We tried another popular restaurant, Pierre's on the Lake, yesterday. We went in for Friday lunch, and were told they hadn't yet received their sea food shipment for the day. I wanted to start with the gumbo, then have red snapper for my entree. They were out of both. They had a fried oyster dinner, so I had the waiter bring me an appetizer portion of it, and sole for the main course. Mary started with a shrimp cocktail, then beef tips on rice. None of it was very good. Our waiter, who seemed like a nice guy, but very distracted, even though there weren't many people in the room, had a bad habit of accidentally picking up pieces of my silverware each time he removed a plate or glass, as if they stuck to his fingers, so that by the time my dinner arrived, I didn't have anything to eat it with. Plus he was obsessed in providing us with rolls, even though we had barely touched the first two he served us, at one point absurdly bringing over an even larger plate piled high with rolls, although there was no place to set it down on our crowded little table, so he hurried back to the kitchen and came out with the pile on a smaller plate, to which he had added even more rolls.

A restaurant we do like, though, is El Chico's, which I believe is part of a chain. Most of the dishes are fairly standard, but they have a "top shelf" entree for two, which consists of a sizzling platter of grilled ribs, shrimp, beef, chicken, onions and peppers. You then roll your own fajitas, using the tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, and other additions that come with the meal. You can hear the sizzling from the platter as the waitress carries it down the aisle-- that's how hot it is. Once it's on your table, steam billows up from the platter for about ten minutes.

Two other places we've tried, which are also fairly good, and both of which serve Cajun food, are Copeland's, owned by the man who started the Popeye's Chicken fast food chain (which incidentally has the best red beans and rice of any place I've eaten), and Razoo's, which has a limited menu, but their food is good.

I'm up to 110 pages, out of 160 single-spaced, in editing As Dead As Me, my fourth novel.

Finally, yesterday morning we saw a local TV report about a woman who unfortunately perished in a fire. As typically happens, they showed a photograph of her. The only one available, apparently, was of her sitting in an easy chair, large stomach lifting the yellow stripes in her tee-shirt while the bent-inwards fingers of her right hand stuffed Cheetos into her mouth.

Let this be a lesson to all of you.

Our moms always told us to wear clean underwear, in case we were hit by a car on our way to school, or work.

Likewise, we should have at least one photograph of ourselves that shows us with some air of dignity, in case we are murdered, or drown.

These things matter.