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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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is that water ever going to boil
september 1, 2006

Back in April 2002, when Mary had her stroke, rushed by ambulance to the hospital, the first few days of her stay in intensive care I didn't eat. Initially, because I just wasn't thinking about food. After Mary started being able to walk with assistance, although she still didn't know her own name, it looked like she was past the worse, coming back. I wasn't hungry even then, but I realized I should eat something, so I tried. Couldn't. One mouthful, I threw the rest away.

I had been sleeping in a chair in Mary's intensive care cubicle each night. One day, while she was wheeled out for more tests, I walked through the long corridors of the hospital, which seemed like our home now (but with so many guests!), to the food court. Barbecue (billed as George W. Bush's favorite BBQ), Mexican, Chinese. I looked up at the black-lettered food choices displayed on the wall behind the counter, prices in red, selected sweet and sour something. Figured a dish that strong-flavored might bring back my appetite. Carried the white styrofoam container over to one of dozens of empty circular tables, sat down, flipped the lid.

As it turned out, I couldn't eat sweet and sour something either, even though its color was intensely orange. (I didn't eat any solid food until a day or two later, after having lost twenty pounds in less than a week, when I tried a ham and turkey sandwich from a cart in the food court. I surprised myself by wolfing down half the sandwich. Warren Zevon, shortly before his death, knowing he was dying, said, Remember each sandwich. Good advice. Maybe even better advice than Be kind to your neighbor.)

Anyway, not being able to eat the Chinese food, I slid the heavy container into the nearest trash bin, but not before retrieving the cellophane-wrapped fortune cookie, which I put in my pocket.

Why did I keep it?

I don't know. Maybe because a fortune cookie is about the future, and that's what I was focused on back then. Mary getting out of intensive care, eventually getting out of the hospital, coming home, to our real home, eventually remembering her name. It's not hard to find significance in little things, in a hospital.

A week or so later, when Mary was indeed home, my fingers found the cookie in the side pocket of one of my sports jackets. I pulled it out, looking at the beige folded-over cookie inside, remembered how I felt at the time, and put the package on one of the bookcase shelves in our breakfast nook. I figured someday, Mary and I would crack open the cookie, see what our fortune was.

Years passed.

I'd see that cookie every once in a while, putting my car keys on the shelf, or looking for the checkbook, but each time I thought, I'm not ready yet.

Mary asked about the fortune cookie on our shelf a few times over the years. Each time, I explained to her the circumstances.

Frankly, I was afraid to open the cookie. Silly as it may seem, I felt we were safe as long as we left it undisturbed. Cracking it apart might open Pandora's box. It's not hard to find fear in little things, after a major life event.

Superstitious me. That the message might be, Here it ends. Or, tomorrow night, halfway through another ordinary evening, is that water ever going to boil, here it ends.

As far as cracking it open went, the cookie's folded-over structure was already pretty well destroyed, after years of having pens tossed on top of it, being shoved to one side to retrieve postage stamps from the side of the small plastic bin in which I had dropped it so long ago.

One morning a few weeks ago, I came downstairs from working over the Internet at my day job. Mary had the cellophane package in her right hand. Asked if we should open it.

I pulled the two sides of the cellophane apart.

Retrieved the little white slip of paper from the beige shards.

Black printing on one side of the curled white strip.

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth.

I read our fortune out loud to Mary.

I was stunned our fortune was a cliché.

What did it mean?

On one level, of course, I took it to mean, Be thankful for what you've received.

I did a search on Google. Landed at the site.

The phrase apparently does not refer to the Trojan horse.

According to Charles Earle Funk in "A Hog on Ice" (Harper & Row, New York, 1948), the expression "to look a gift horse in the mouth" is "so old that its origins cannot be determined. It has been traced to the writings of St. Jerome, one of the Latin Fathers of the fourth century, who then labeled it a common proverb. The expression, or a variant proverb, occurs in French, Italian, Spanish, and other languages of Europe. The reference is, of course, to the bad manners displayed by one who receives a gift if he examines it for defects. Up to a certain age, the age of a horse can be determined by looking at its teeth; though it may appear to be young and frisky, the number or condition of teeth may show it to be almost fit for nothing but the glue-works."

And more,

This expression is related to another found in the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997): "long in the tooth. That horses' gums recede and their teeth appear longer as they grow older, owing to their constant grinding of their food, is the idea behind this ancient folk phrase, which means one is getting on in years."

One is getting on in years.

I guess we were back then, when I pocketed the cookie in the hospital food court.

Still are.

I mentioned a Lately or two ago how much we enjoy Six Feet Under and The Sopranos (we're currently enjoying Showtime's Dead Like Me, which we somehow never saw when it originally aired, which we're watching four or five episodes of each Sunday morning on DVD, via Netflix.)

After watching all five years of Six Feet Under again the past few months, we thought, you know, It'd be really cool to own the entire series.

I went to the HBO site. Each season is one hundred dollars, meaning five hundred dollars to own all the shows.

That seemed kind of steep.

But we did want the series (if you've only seen the series on HBO, you really should rent the DVDs. Alan Ball did a beautiful job packaging the show. Each season has its own introductory montage of film clips from that season's episodes, each clip slowed down, all of them beautifully blended together with heart-breaking music. I'm of Irish descent. If there's one thing the Irish love more than drink, it's melancholy.)

I tried Amazon. There, each season was only seventy-five dollars. So three hundred and seventy-five dollars for the whole series. Better, but still a little high. (HBO has been criticized for the high prices of their series on DVD. An entire season of Showtime's Huff, for example, is currently available from Amazon for only thirty dollars, less than half the price of Six Feet Under or The Sopranos on Amazon.)

Letting my fingers do the tapping, I clicked over to e-bay.

I had looked at e-bay a few times over the years, but had never bought anything through them. In the search box I entered Six Feet Under HBO (I added HBO because there's also a band with the name Six Feet Under).

Lots of search returns.

Not only for the DVD set, but for clothing worn by the characters on the series. We could bid on a t-shirt worn by Keith in one of the episodes (the disclaimer for this auction stipulated the t-shirt was "slightly stained").

What we were interested in, though, were the actual shows. As it turned out, we could bid on the entire series. The current bid was about two hundred dollars (later that evening, Mary and I bid on the entire series of The Sopranos. Same number of seasons, same number of episodes, but curiously, The Sopranos set was available for only one hundred dollars, half the cost of the Six Feet Under set).

We put in our bid. There were, like, two hours to go before the auction was decided.

As the time tracked down, we occasionally checked the site. It was exciting. We were still the top bid.

Then, about fifteen minutes before the auction closed, someone bid two hundred and fifteen dollars.

The gnashing of two sets of teeth.

We raised our bid to two hundred and thirty dollars.


We received an e-mail from the vendor announcing we had won the bid. (We also won The Sopranos set, which hadn't received any counter bids.)

We paid via PayPal.

A week later, The Sopranos DVDs arrived in the mail.

The first thing I noticed was there was an awful lot of Oriental writing on the boxes.

We put in the first disc. The FBI warning, you can't copy this disk, resell it, etc. Then (presumably) the same warning in about five different languages, none of them European. (We checked the subtitles option at one point. About a dozen languages, none of which we recognized, or could even read the characters of.)

But the disks did work. And they were only a hundred dollars.

We were happy.

A week later, the Six Feet Under disks arrived. Once again, Oriental writings all over the boxes.

We took a look at them, e-mailed the vendor.

We just received the 6 feet Under DVDs, and are completely dissatisfied.

Season 1, Discs 2 and 3 won't play. The HBO logo comes up, then nothing. Season 2 is OK. Season 3, the entire season's discs are visually distorted, and in black and white. Season 4, none of the audio commentaries or special features work. Season 5 appears to be a bootleg copy. There's no menu sequence, no special features or audio commentaries, etc. Since only a few of the 35 or so discs you shipped actually work, we'd just as soon return the collection and get our money back.

The vendor e-mailed us in a timely manner, giving us the address to return the discs, but then said he had another set available if we wanted.

[It's] the newer version that we are selling. It's an upgrade over the one you purchased and wouldn't cost you any more. It's the big box version with no Asian characters either.

Since he had responded right away, we decided, okay, let's give it a shot.

Despite what he had promised, the "upgrade" did in fact have Asian characters all over it, even more so than the first shipment (the first shipment at least had the episode titles on each disc in English-this upgrade had all episode titles in Thai).

We received the replacement Six Feet Under DVDs, have looked at them, and once again, they don't work.

Seasons 2,3 and 4 don't have the introductory film, and lack many of the features they're supposed to have. Most of the images in Season 3 have images that are too large for the screen (i.e., in the opening credits, the names are half off the screen, and the episodes themselves have magnified images, so you can't see the entire frame). Season 4 is actually season 1. Seasons 4 and 5 have the special features function disabled.

So he agreed to us returning the set, for a refund.

We returned the set. I e-mailed him a week later, asking why our refund hadn't shown on our credit card. It turns out he had, a day or two ago, sent us a third set. I told him we didn't want it, and to refund our money immediately.

Which, after a few more e-mails that same irritating evening, he did.

We decided to buy the show from Amazon, one season at a time.

I ordered the fifth, final season, first. Seventy-five dollars.

As is the case with Amazon, we received follow-up e-mails letting us know our order had been received, had been processed, had been shipped. One of those long, long blue-inked links in the final e-mail, which we could click to track the progress of the fifth season as it rumbled its way across the country towards our front door.

One evening I clicked on the Track Your Package link, and it said, Delivered! 12:40 P.M.

But it was after seven at night when I read that.

I checked our front door.

Our green welcome mat outside (actually, it doesn't say welcome, because that would be dishonest on our part), but no cardboard carton.

I walked down the hot sidewalk to our mailbox. Put in the key. Twisted left.

Nothing inside the little metal hanger.

That celebratory exclamation point ("Delivered!") was a cruel lie.

Imagine my frustration.

We'd had to return three shipments of Six Feet Under from e-bay that didn't work, at ten dollars a return. We order it from Amazon, where we've spent thousands upon thousands of dollars over the years, and still no Six Feet Under.

I went on the Amazon site.

Clicked on My Account ("If you're not Ralph Robert Moore, please click here").

The thing is, Amazon has a lot of different options you can select about what went wrong with an order. It wasn't as described, it was defective, you didn't like it once you got it, etc. etc. But it doesn't have an option for saying, the shipping carrier claims they delivered it, but they didn't. After a few minutes of frustration, clicking links that didn't address my problem, I discovered a way of sending an e-mail to Amazon (it used to be easy to find a way to e-mail an Internet company about a problem. There'd be a link on their site, Contact. You clicked on it, and an e-mail addressed to them would come up. As the Internet has gotten more interwoven into our lives, to where it's not just a novelty but close to a necessity, companies have gotten cagier about how (if at all) you can communicate with them. If I want to contact my ISP about a problem, I now have to wend my way through a labyrinth of FAQs, "answer" generating software, and on-line tech articles, none of which are relevant, before I'm finally permitted to ask a question.)

While I was waiting for a response from Amazon, I called the post office (the carrier was USPS).

Got one of those despicable "choose one of five options" recordings. None of the options applied.

I stayed on the line, ignoring the recorded male modulations, tapping the O for operator key on my phone, repeatedly (this isn't well known, but if you call a customer service number that only allows you to choose from different pre-recorded messages-i.e., where speaking to a human isn't an option-you can bypass that by repeatedly hitting the O key forty or fifty times. It's always worked for me, not only with tech calls, but also with calls, for example, to credit card companies to question an item on your bill (it was, in fact, a customer service rep for a credit card company who told me about this flaw in the robot pc's operation.) Try it. It works.)

So I got a human, albeit a human who sounded like I woke him up. I explained my problem, he put in a research request for me.

As it turns out, Amazon came through. They canceled my original order as lost in the mail, and shipped me a replacement of the fifth season free of charge.

We got the pack a week later.

We were nervous testing the DVDs, in case we'd suffer a repeat of the e-bay experiences, but in fact the DVDs worked beautifully. The images themselves were unusually crisp, with strong, deep color tones.

As I switched from DVD to DVD, testing, I found myself repeatedly lingering on the scene I was using as a test, caught up in the drama, letting the scene run longer than I had intended, like when your legs rise up in front of your hips, and your feet float away from you.

In publishing news:

My short story The Rape is being published this October in the U.K. magazine Sein und Werden.

My short story Permission to Come On Board has been accepted by Danger Magazine.

My short story The Machine of a Religious Man, which was included last month in the nineteenth edition of the annual The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, published by St. Martin's Press, has been nominated for the British Fantasy Society's Best Short Story of 2005 award.