Saturday, January 20, 2007

Curve Balls

In a previous entry I wrote about how planning the day here is absolutely futile because whatever is on your list of items to be accomplished is usurped by the curve balls that are thrown at you as you try to accomplish them. Today was such a day.

I started the day by sorting and loading a crapload of old "zinc" (corrugated metal) that had been rotting in a pile next to the house for God only knows how long to haul to a municipal landfill outside a nearby town. I had hired a couple of guys two days before to load up and haul out trash and construction debris that had accumulated on the property in three large piles - about 12 pickup truck loads of broken gypsum, pieces of concrete, ceramic tile, glass, metal stud pieces, glass bottles, plastic bottles, paint cans, etc. Some of the debris predated my renovation of the house and was buried under all kinds of other crap. It wasn't easy work.

The guy who was accepting the material that was being hauled was using it for landfill on a piece of property nearby and didn't want any metal. So I was stuck with not only the rotting sheets of zinc, but old lawn chairs, bicycle wheels, metal studs and angles, an huge and ancient ceiling fan remnant, rebar, barbed wire and a steel headboard - about 35 years worth of trash that had accumulated in piles next to the houses and back into the jungle. I decided to play "by the book" and pay for the metal's disposal at the municipal landfill, against the recommendation of the guys moving the other stuff who told me to dump it on someone else's vacant property under cover of darkness.

Amazingly, I was able to get everything on my pickup in one load, putting the ceiling fan and lawn chairs in the back seat. The dissolving zinc I laid in a nice stack in the bed of the pickup with the studs and barbed wire along side. I put the old steel headboard on top of the pile and used it as a kind of rigid net to keep anything from blowing off in the gale-force Papagayo winds we're experiencing right now. I strapped the headboard down with compression straps, sandwiching everything else nicely below. It was all so neat and tidy. I was kinda proud of myself.

I kissed my wife good-bye and hit the road. When I arrived at the dump I pulled onto the scale, was logged and weighed, and then took off for the edge of the world where my rusty cargo would be forever buried. At least, that was my expectation. Upon reaching the edge of the world, I was met by about 10 very poor Nicaraguans who were scavenging materials from the landfill, mostly aluminum cans that were light and had some cash value for recycling. They competed against each other in their efforts to recover any items of value. I tried to unload the zinc but was rebuffed immediately. These folks had a system and didn't want anything slipping through the cracks. They unloaded everything, saving some of the better pieces of zinc, ostensibly, for their dwellings on the other side of the edge of the world.

I pulled back onto the scale and got out of the pickup. I noticed a puddle of oil on the scale that hadn't been there when I pulled up. There had only been one truck behind me, so the oil belonged to either him or me. It was me. I was leaking a river of oil. First curve ball.

The total for dumping the debris was 1785 colones (about $3.50 US). When I tried to pay, I was informed that there was no cashier and that I had to go to the Municipalidad to pay the fee. There was no way I would make it there in the condition my pickup was in. Second curveball.

I jumped back into the pickup and left the dump. I pulled over to check the oil level. When I opened the hood I couldn't believe my eyes. There was oil everywhere!! The engine, turbo, hoses, the underside of the hood, the front suspension - everything was coated with oil. I removed the dip stick and found that I still had half capacity, so I decided to motor to a nearby gas station. I made it. Base hit.

Now, if you've read my previous posts, my pickup had just returned from the taller 2 weeks ago, after being in S. Jose for repairs for 1 month - repairs that were supposed to alleviate nearly exactly the same problem I was now experiencing (actually, it only took 2 weeks for the repairs, but I had to wait another 2 weeks through Xmas and New Year's for the drivers of the platform tow trucks to return from their vacations and transport my pickup). So I was pretty pissed off at the dejavu of it all.

I called my wife from the gas station (the mechanic was on his two-hour lunch) to get the number for the car agency in S. Jose so I could give them an earfull (like it would matter) and figure out what to do next to avoid nullifying my warranty. She answered in a frantic voice asking me in 100 kph Spanish if I had the number for the veterinarian. Third curve ball.

The Virgin's face was twice it's normal size, eyes swollen shut, gums red, eyes red, belly red, whimpering in pain. I almost burst out laughing as I pictured this image in my mind. You see, The Virgin was spayed last weekend. Her now-stiched incision is on her right side just in front of her hind leg (she left the vet with a big hole in her side - superficial, the vet said - that was supposed to heal naturally. The hole got bigger the first night so I returned her to the vet and told the vet to stich it up - I live in the jungle and stuff gets into things, especially with these Papagayos). In order to keep The Virgin from tearing the stitches out, the vet fashioned one of those dopy head cones out of a cardboard box and packing tape, and fit it around her neck. The more respectable plastic cone she had was too big for The Virgin. The dog had looked like some campesino's canine mock up of the International Space Station under construction - with The Virgin's head at the center of the communications dish, forever aimed at Mission Control.

As I listened to my poor, panic stricken wife gushing over the phone, I was picturing The Virgin's swollen, disfigured head in the middle of the communications module. I was able to both retrieve the number for the agency and laugh out the number for the vet, somewhat relieving my wife's panic. I figured The Virgin had either eaten something or, more likely, had been stung by something. As it turned out, it was the latter, probably a scorpion as she's pretty low to the ground.

I called the agency and asked them what I should do. I now know everyone by name and they, likewise. Happily, I was able to work something out with the head mechanic there. Coincidentally, upon my arrival at the gas station, a grua plataforma (platform tow truck) driver stopped for diesel. Eyeing the low-hanging fruit, he came over to ask me what was up. I told him my predicament and that I was on the phone to the mother ship. He said he'd wait. Of course, as soon as the agency told me that their gruas were all heading toward S. Jose, not away, the driver waiting for me had vanished. But he did leave me a business card. So I gave the number to the agency. They said they would call and order the platform. I got a call about 10 minutes later form the grua company asking me my whereabouts. I told them and they dispatched the truck.

After about an hour and a half, I called the number on the card to try to determine the E.T.A. of the platform. The guy on the line said he hadn't dispatched a platform, that the agency from S. Jose had called only to inquire on pricing, but had not ordered the dispatch. Hmmm... then who had called me to ask my location so that the platform driver could locate me? Fourth curve ball.

While I was on the phone again with the agency, the platform showed up. I hung up. Apparently, the agency wasn't satisfied with pricing from the company whose business card I had been given and had called another. Standing double.

I asked the grua driver to pass by the municipalidad so I could pay for the trash. It was approaching 4 PM when they normally close and I thought I could make it. We drove into town and I arrived at 3:54 PM. But it was Friday and the municipalidad closes at 3 PM on Fridays. Pop fly. Out! We left Municipalidad-town for the taller in Center City.

I arrived at the taller in Center City about an hour before closing. They all know my name there too, and vice versa. We took a look under the hood. I started the motor. Looked to be a leak from a cracked hose that was spewing oil like a Texas gusher. It was brand new hose, I might add, that was replaced on the last $500 repair job. I had to leave the truck there overnight as they didn't have time to fix the problem, and I wanted them to clean the entire engine, as well as the entire rest of the pickup. No biggie. I had already resigned myself to leaving it there overrnight before arriving and was in a state of bliss at the fact that the problem was not serious. Headfirst slide into first base. Safe!

Upon arriving at the house, my wife and I talked for awhile and I laughed heartily at the now-less-swolen but clownish looking face of The Virgin, a mini-grizzly bear staring at me from the cardboard communications dish of the International Space Station. She would be OK. Safe again at first!

I decided to work on my motorcycle because I'd need to use it in the absence of my pickup, and working on her usually evens me out a bit. The throttle was sticking, so I had to clean the dust and dirt out and lubricate it. Upon the release of the second screw that makes up the cable guide and cover, which clamp together to hold the throttle to the handle bars, the cover slipped, hit the concrete and bounced. I saw it land next to the motor cycle. I looked at the grime on the throttle cable and guide and went inside the house for paper towels. After cleaning and lubricating all parts I went for the cover to put things back together. It had disappered. Fifth curve ball. No cover, no throttle, no transportation! Was I going insane?? I had seen it there. Maybe it had bounced farther or I had kicked it out of the way and not heard it clink. I began to look beyond the concrete porch. Nothing. Then it dawned on me - the dogs. I had been inside the house for no more than 30 seconds to get the paper towels. Had one of them been that stealth to snatch the cover? It was the only answer. The piece had evaporated.

I went in and got the rake and a flashlight. It was dark now. My wife and I combed a three meter perimeter around the house while I screamed threats to kill the dogs and eat them after drying their flesh in the Guanacaste sun. The moment I gave up, scratching my head with both hands, screaming at the stars, nearly on the verge of tears, my wife found the cover on the other side of the driveway next to the ashes of the burn pile the dogs so fondly adore for their siestas.

Home run!! Not bad for a guy just up from the Minors.

P.S.: As I was typing this, the sixth curve ball was thrown. In temporary state of perceived dimentia while searching for motor cycle parts, I threw my favorite NFL team baseball cap to the dirt in frustration (my favorite NFL team that is still in the hunt for a Super Bowl berth this Sunday). The Virgin did a good job of disfiguring it. Sixth curve ball strikes batter. Batter storms the mound. I will surely eat The Virgin for breakfast in the morning.

P.P.S.S.: The seventh and final curve ball was thrown at me when the power went out before I could post this. It's a day late. Foul ball. Strike!

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