The Dog Days of Summer

July 16th, 2010

Dear J,

As the heat wave sets in it’s time to reflect. It is now just over four years since we took possession of the estate like setting of Barksville. About the same amount of time has passed since Phyllis, in tears, declared, “I can’t live in that shit hole of a trailer.” She had a point. The day we walked through the doorway(for the door had been ripped off by an angry evicted tenant)the place was looking a little past it’s due date. Of principal concern was a pretty foreboding smell. The evicted tenant had left the place abandoned and with no heat for the months of December and January which hadn’t helped. Phyllis’ daughter Constance was also finding it difficult to hide her true feelings at the prospect of moving into a seven by eight foot room that smelled of an attempt to cover up the stench of a mouse colony. My little angel Cindy just wore a permanent cloud over her head as a general response to anything so it was an easy step to include the prospect of trailer living in her list of woes. I made assurances to all that we could make the place inhabitable. Besides, of prime importance was to get at least one enclosure constructed so the operation of Barksville would not be interrupted. For without any barking we would soon be very short of financing. I told everyone to look at it as if we were settlers whose prime goal should be to provide for the cold cold winter ahead. This proved to be of little motivational use.

First on the list was to rid the place of the reek. Phyllis saw a solution to this by way of burning the entire abomination right down to the ground and replacing it with a new house while she and Constance sought refuge in a nearby hotel. As our mutual divorces had left us with almost three hundred dollars in the bank I lobbied to meet somewhere in the middle. And this is how we became good friends with the generous terms of Home Depot.

Over the past few years we have more or less settled on a design theme for our canister home(While we wait for the house Phyllis pipes in) . Choosing to capitalize on it’s cigarette like proportions I like to call it “Modern Pullman.” I have strived to embody elements of the iconic train car of the thirties-not the first class dining car mind, but something a bit more humble like the luggage car or galley. Still the idea is to somehow impregnate this nasty error of human engineering with a bit of a soul so that when we are in it we might occasionally relax into our overstuffed, made in China, leather chairs and feel as if we are on an incredible journey somewhere-after all, the view is amazing if you crane your neck and when the wind blows it rocks and creeks a little. This is all done with the assumption that any design choice is going to be a step up from how this thing was intended to look-the goal apparently to design a structure which could be built entirely out of cardboard and staples strengthened with little plastic bits and aluminum extrusions.

Still, despite the improvements which include, urine resistant flooring throughout, mouse shit free appliances, a conversion from oil furnace(which, when fired up, meant filling the house with an ominous cloud of decomposing mush that had accumulated in the ductwork) to electric baseboard, a few ceramic tiles here and there in lieu of plastic bits, and an entire new metal roof, we know we aren’t fooling anyone.

But that’s O.K. Summer’s finally here and we don’t have to spend nearly as much time indoors. No Phyllis and I are free to frolic about the grounds arm in arm taking grand strolls exercising our paying hounds. We chit chat back and forth musing whimsically with affected English accents, “Say Phylly Phyl dahling, aren’t we just making wads and wads of dough right now hmmm? I mean aren’t we just?” To which she might reply, “Say pumpkin, I couldn’t interest you in an exceptionally fortified Gin and Tonic by any chance could I?” “Roger that Phyl,” “And say, by the way Phyllis, you wouldn’t happen to know who replaced our little cottage with that clump of a trailer while we were in France would you?” And so on….

Actually all this summertime repartee would be just grand if not for a conspiring pair of factors which by the time the fall rolls around leave us fueling the hope that one day in the not too distant future we will not live here.

The first of these two inconveniences is a population of mosquitoes that might be just normal if we were deep upriver on a headhunting expedition in Borneo but as we’re not, it seems a little excessive. You laugh. Ha ha ha ha ha. That’s what I did when my neighbor popped the “For Sale” sign on her property 15 years ago stating , “I am selling because the bugs are horrific.” What a powder puff, I thought, you’re selling because you’re a great big baby. I might of judged too soon. In 1917, as I later read in our local history book, there is noted a nearly verifiable case of a cow’s passing with the cause of death listed as, “Asphyxiation by Mosquitoes.” The mosquitoes start sometimes as early as May and on a really good year proceed till the first frost.

Phyllis hasn’t yet developed the same, “working tolerance” for the pests as I and so spends much of her outdoor time in apparent preparation for a study of “the long term side effects of heavy DEET use.” She has strewn about the property various cans and spray bottles of bug repellant insuring one never be beyond arm’s reach should she find herself under attack. She comes by this honestly as mosquito phobia runs in her family. Having grown up in an area virtually void of the bastards they have no reason to believe the rest of the world has not followed suit. From my experience it takes little more than the arrival of a lone mosquito to instill a state of unease amongst her crew. Send in two or three and you can be certain they will call off the picnic.

Many new guests from out of town can be similarly troubled when confronted by a few mosquitoes. A couple pulled in at twilight last night. I arrived at the gate to see the male half of the couple swatting his calf and looking up indignantly as if an old lady whom he’d held a door for had just reached out and popped him one in the nose. It had clearly unnerved him. The arrival of a second was more than he could bear. Seeing that swift action was in order, the dog, it’s food and bed were basically thrown over the fence and, asking if I needed anything else, they fled back to their vehicle. I was left holding this bewildered little mop of a dog. As they were rolling up their windows I briefly assured them that what we had here was more or less a freak situation and to fear not. Their little fluffy would not be subjected to this type of itchy onslaught for it’s entire stay. They seemed unconcerned.

Hey, just a side note to this and as a bit of an affirmation of Phyllis’ occasional suspicions; Would you believe, based on such a brief encounter, I couldn’t even tell you the color of the guy’s hair but oddly, if pressed, I could recall many aspects of his female companion right down to the color of the stitching on her orange dress. That ever happen to you? Perhaps the subject of another note.

Anyway, I was talking about bugs. You get this many bugs and it becomes essential to adopt certain rituals before turning in for the night. First off it’s in with all of the dogs. Anyone who has to pee after this point must hold it till morning. Your average black lab alone can unwittingly bring in twenty of the little shits buzzing around it’s warm black slobbering face. This is a good time to kill the ones burrowed into any noses. Then it’s on with all of the lights and time to arm yourself with a rolled up magazine or other suitable killing device. You could just use your hand but sometimes you inadvertently swat at a nail or some other bit of business lodged in the wall and that is bound to throw you off your game. A barrage of swacks ensues as we scour the trailer and put an end to every one we can find. In the beginning of the “season” we usually also take the time to clean up the mess of exploding mosquito goo as we go along. Midway into it, as we are now, this is but a distant concern having been deemed too time intensive. The downside to this is the place looks as if we use it to play paint ball. Some of the dogs hate fireworks others react negatively to the sound of a rolled up newspaper fwapping away for a half hour or so. It’s not uncommon, when it’s all over to have to remove the odd one from under the bed or unwedge another from behind the desk before we can safely call it a night. We apologize and assure them that it is for their own good. They remain, leery. Sweet Dreams.

Thankfully there is slight relief from the mosquito cloud when the weather heats up to about 105 as it did today and will most likely continue to do for the next month or so. Though it sounds ungrateful herein lies the second little bother of summer at Barksville. Although certainly thankful for the mosquito reprieve we can’t help but feel that we haven’t achieved the exact compromise we are after. 105’s not bad, I suppose, if one exists as a reptile or tomato plant or better yet finds himself so fortunate as to live aboard a yacht moored off the coast of southern France(where you might note, they have a different word for nearly everything). As none of the above seem to include us, we can sometimes find ourselves in a state of lowered motivation. In short it’s finally safe from mosquitoes to venture outside and tend to things but the baking heat is now the enemy. Oh we occasionally strive to humor the situation by setting up under the shade of a cherry tree and quaffing a refreshing iced tea. Sometimes this actually works just fine. Other times we quickly discover that fifty thousand mosquitoes are also like minded about avoiding the heat. The result? Outdoor summer activity at Barksville is spent either bleeding out to an army of mosquitoes or rendering down the contents of our brains beneath the broiling sun. When times are that I am looking for a happy medium I find myself, as now, beside our impotent little air conditioner typing some mindless little ditty off to someone who could care less like yourself. Phyllis too has abandoned any outdoorsy endeavors till the heat passes.. Just out of the shower she has retreated to the bedroom and, after careful positioning of the fan, now lies motionless in her underwear like a photo taken of someone in the middle of making a snow angel.

Truly the dogs are better suited to these conditions than are we. They play hard all morning(most likely fleeing the mosquitoes) and then when the temperature rises they find a cool spot or dig a huge hole to lie in and wait it out till the sun wanes. Most importantly they do this quietly. Then it’s right back at it again until it’s time to put them in for the night. Sure they itch a bit. It’s part of the experience, just like camp.

Well, I’m thinking about taking a run at the snow angel before she gets wise and has a chance to defend herself so I’ll be in touch.

I remain, reviewing the possibility of sounding more uplifting in future missives,


P.S. You might want to explore the satisfaction one receives from writing someone back and filling us in on your comings and goings.

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