Monday, July 7, 2014

"Going South" Part One: A Chair-Way to Heaven

July 5th, 2014

The mother of one of my beautiful grandchildren sat down in front of our San Simeon home.
"I like your new metal chairs."
"Do you?"
"How about the color?"
"White is good."
"There's lots of whites, of course, you like this particular shade?"
"Uh, huh."
"That's good.  I just painted these chairs a couple of hours ago so you might be wearing it for a while..."

She shot up out of the chair so quickly I feared the grandchild she held might be ejected into the street. 

I sat down on the adjacent chair.
"Just kidding, sorry."

And she calmed down quickly.
We sat in silence for a few minutes while her pulse dropped back from a racing to 70 to its usual 45.  Wish I had a basal heartbeat like that.  Just searching for a lost wallet sends my pitter-patter over the hundred mark.

And I wondered vaguely what it would take to send her pulse even higher.  Maybe Godzilla crashing through Cambrian pines on the far hillside, teethy and hungry?

But I wasn't kidding.  I had painted those chairs with a fast drying rustoleum just that morning.  Originally, I had opted to replace the old chairs with plastic look-a-likes.  My wife wanted metal. After a less than epic battle, I capitulated.  Metal it would be.

"So, had any adventures lately?" my daughter-in-law asked.
I was at a loss, couldn't think of anything adventurous (other than my panicked urge to dive like a frog a few minutes before and save my grandkid from crashing-landing on the asphalt between units #25 and #26).

"Not really, unless you count the craziness of buying a third house."

When you think about it, everyday people have every day adventures all the time.  The wonderful mothers of my grandkids perfectly capture these moments on Facebook or send them instantly from their phones to Instagram.

My phone takes terrible photos (maybe the cracked lens), and my camera persistently whines about uncharged batteries and too little memory on its SD card.

So I have only words to convey everyday moments of wonder--and fear.

Consider if you will, The Metal Munchers...

Two weeks earlier...

We sat on the patio, sweaty and exhausted after a day of house hunting in southwestern Tucson. 
The sun settled into an arroyo of mesquite bushes, barrel and saguaro cacti.  Come dark, I knew, this would be a playland for javelina, various species of rattlesnakes, scorpions and God knows what else.  But for now we enjoyed a tranquil moment in the wild, wild west.

We were babysitting an empty house until our kids had time to move in. No, that's not the only reason we found ourselves in this desert outpost.

Truth be told, we were searching for yet another house--and why?
You see, San Simeon can be too misty (sometimes), Visalia too extreme (often), and living far away from grandkids too lonely (always).

We gazed through the wrought iron slats, the sun dropped lower, and silhouetted a skip loader and mounds of steel rebar needed to start the another suburban tract across the wash. Sipping our wine, we felt comfortable and certain that civilization would eventually triumph over this desolation of sand and scrub. 

An unsettling sound started its drift toward us from the construction site, weird and alien to our ears, a metallic wanging much like cheesy sound effects in those old Flash Gordon movies.  My wife and I faced each other.  Some kind of cicadia?

We compared memories of our travels through the southern states, sleepless nights plagued by noxious beetles hiding in trees. Their shed exoskeletons had been found stuck to trees in the morning, looking for all the world like prehistoric cock roaches. Every night, they tormented us with their "rat, tat, tat,"  little demons firing their diminutive machines guns ceaselessly into the night. 

But that was not, definitely not, the sound we were hearing then. Oh, no.
Judging from direction and the high pitched oscillations, these things were eating steel, probably the very stacks of rebar we had seen across the way.

The next morning was exceptionally quiet.  Nothing heard from the construction site.  Hard to lay foundations without rebar, we thought. But not our problem.  We had houses see, places to buy. 

We got home that evening just as tired and still no closer to a decision on the Tucson house.  Resuming our post in the plastic chairs we opened another bottle of wine.  No discernible progress on the housing development.  The metallic oscillation continued as before, perhaps a bit louder. 

As one glass of wine faded into the next, we speculated that the metal crunchers (our new word for this unkown creature) had moved on from raw materials to large machinery. After all, the skip loaders and tractors hadn't moved since morning. Funny stuff, it all seemed at the time. 

The next morning we were off again. But just before closing the car door, I heard something.  The oscillations seemed to resonate around the house itself.  After a mental shrug, I slammed the car door with extra force and we drove away.

That evening we were in a celebratory mood.  A house had been found, we committed, and our offer had been accepted. We settled into the familiar blue plastic chairs in true party mode.

But things had progressed.  The metal fence before us was writhing, ringing and wanging.  Lame description, I know, but I've no idea how else to describe it.

We fumbled for camera or phone.  A record must be made of the contagion just a few feet away and clinging to the metal fence. Look for it in the shadowy darkness, four bars to the right, just below the center.

A metal muncher, as you can see, was clearly devouring the fence.
We got as close as seemed prudent, knowing our blood to be composed of metallic copper and my privates millimeters below a brass zipper (think about it guys). 

Then we realized that we were on the cutting edge of discovering a new species.  Or was a new species on the edge of cutting down our species?

Clearly, mankind needed a plan.  Should we grant them access to our millions of metal junkyards?  A short term solution at best.

Maybe we could taint the metal with radioactivity, like our ignoble ancestors who "gifted" Native Americans with anthrax-laced blankets to stay warm...if they made it through the night.

No, bad idea.  My science fiction IQ tells me that an undesirable species might actually thrive on radioactivity. We've all heard that cock roaches, a species that saw
dinosaurs come and go, will be the only thing crawling around after a nuclear holocaust, right?

Let's face it.  We need a more a permanent solution.  Let's grant them a reservation.  Some place devoid of metals where they could NEVER thrive or enjoy themselves. How about Antarctica?  I hear penguins are pretty intelligent. Let's train them t be border agents.

And here's where the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry could step in.  Invent a substance like alcohol to which they are especially susceptible and keep them drunk off their beetle butts.  Speaking of which, maybe we could just scoop up their inebriated carcasses and melt them down to form VW beetles.  One helluva car and fittingly inspired by insects!

Sadly, these are all just Hollywood endings.  Face it, we're doomed.

You know, I just realized that the manufactured home we finally bought in Tucson is 50% aluminum.  Poof.

And those chairs in San Simeon--should've insisted on plastic.

Dear Lord, spare me more adventures, for a while, especially the kind that could remove this comfortable chair right out from under my butt.