Smoke and Mirrors

In a perfect world . . .

Category: Home Improvement


sad, broken, house, life, memories

Last Sunday my wife and I stopped by the cemetery to spend a few quiet moments with my Dad
seeing it was Father’s Day.
It was a sun-shiny day with puffy white clouds dotting an iridescent indigo sky and a gentle breeze that easily moved the American flag marking my father’s eternal place in the world.
We watered the royal purple petunias that my sister got for the grave and sat for a spell.
Cemetery silence is like no other.
It traps me in my own thoughts as I ‘talk’ to Dad while trying to figure out just what the hell is going on in my life.
Like he will just pop out of nowhere and answer me.
In a perfect world, as I always say.
I can’t remember the last Father’s Day that I spent with the man when he was of sane mind.
That bothered me last Sunday, a bit more than usual.
Maybe my daily commute to Boston and endless hours on the merry-go-round/cheese wheel that we call life has sucked the remembering marrow out of too many bones in my body.
I told him, “I’m tired, Dad. And I miss you. And I want to be 10 years old again,” as the thoughts of oiling my old Rawlings baseball glove for the ultimate game of ‘Catch’ rolled around my head.
It was total vindication of the good old days that sat heavy in my heart.
Every visit to see my Mom and Dad is sentimental in some way.
Maybe it’s how I’m wired, I don’t know.
I kissed my palm and touched the names of both Walter and Virginia, all that’s physically left of them.
I wanted to just drive by the old neighborhood for shits and giggles and made my way towards my old house.
I turned down Harvard Street driving past all the old neighbors; the Gilbert’s, the Masterson’s, the Pelletier’s, the Pinard’s and on and on.
The fields I once played on were totally overgrown with brush and trees and sadly no sign of my once significant presence.
We came back up Harvard Street and I looked at the house I’d grown up in.
There was no one home and there were pastel yellow signs taped on the front and back door that said, “NO TRESPASSING!”
I pulled my SUV into the driveway and Pamela and I got out to survey the multiple broken windows and damage.
The place that was once my ‘home’ was devastated.
Mold was eating its way throughout the entire exterior.
It was raped of its innocence and simple beauty.
It was a crime scene of epic proportions.
I was crying inside as I peered into the windows of rooms that held so many good memories for me now destroyed by people that just didn’t give a shit; holes in walls, carpets that looked a million years old and covered with dirt and soot.
It was disgusting.
The animals living here were lower than assholes.
If they were standing right in front of me I would say that to their hairy faces.
I was angry and sadder than I had been when I sold the house.
What would make someone do this to a place called home?
I was speechless.
What really hurt was that the window in what used to be my bedroom was shattered, she-doo-bee-doop, shattered, shattered.
I wish I had a great ‘tie it all up in a bow’ ending for this story but I don’t.
My old house is very sad.
And I can’t blame her.
It makes me even sadder because there’s nothing that I can do.
If my arms were big enough, I would have given her a hug.
But it’s too late for that.
The damage is already done.
And I’ll remain shattered . . .


I got on the train one morning several weeks ago and settled myself in for the train ride into Boston.
I was on a double decker train in a seat for one, perfect for writing or sleeping, the latter of which I do in the mornings I leave early.
A woman (I think she was a woman) with incredibly confusing blonde hair sat in front of me reeking to the high heavens of a cologne that almost made me gag.
Eau de Litter Box, perhaps?
All I could think of was the feeling I get when I walk in to Bath & Body Works at the mall; a total devastation of the olfactory senses to the point of nausea.
Anyway, this woman proceeds to flog the ever-loving shit out of her hair, cooties, dandruff and dead hair flying everywhere as I sat there taking it like a man, too tired to move to another seat.
That wasn’t quite enough though. She pulls out her compact and begins to violently swab her face to beat the band with the finesse one would use to scrub a dirty truck bumper.
I don’t scrub my ass that hard in the shower, for God’s sakes.
This went on for twenty or so minutes and it was disturbing, to say the very least.
The lips took at least half of the twenty minutes ending with that yucky “schmupp” sound.
I’m thinking Blondezilla must be an absolute vision when she’s finally done primping and packing her fat little face.
Sometime shortly after the “schmupp”, I fell fast asleep.
Thank God for small miracles.

Later that day, I thought about my wife, a minimalist when it comes down to makeup; less is more, period.
She’ll argue with me until JFK comes back from the dead but when she’s done up for an evening out (a rare event these days, sadly) she IS a vision.
Her face is just beautiful.
A few mornings ago I got out of the shower and dried off before opening the medicine cabinet for a Q-tip.
I saw a small innocuous looking package and I could swear it read “FaceSpackle”.
Now I looked up “spackling compound” on the web and found this: A white pre-mixed compound or powder to which water is added for use in mending cracks in plaster, holes in sheetrock walls, skimming old wallpaper seams, should be sanded smooth and flat after drying
This was disturbing.
Dear God, please not my wife.
I put my glasses on and saw that the writing didn’t say anything close to what I thought it said.
It was some kind of newfangled facial exfoliant from Origins.
As a man, I have a difficult time understanding all these exotic things women use on their face.
But my wife has taught my daughters well though; easy on the rouge, light on the eyeliner, gently shadow the lips.
Whenever one of them wears makeup they look like women, very pretty women. What happened to my little girls, I’ll never know.
If they continue to take their mother’s advice, the future years will treat them kindly.

As the train pulled into Boston that morning, Blondzilla got up and made her way to the exit.
Lord have mercy, I think she used to do makeup for Bozo the Clown . . . Ringling Brothers at the very least.
And if she happens to read this?
I’m getting my ass kicked some unsuspecting morning.
I think I’m safe . . .


I’ve thought about this place for a long time.
Had dreams about it actually.
When I began blogging back in February of 2005, I remember wanting to create a place of safe harbour for my words and thoughts; such delicate things.
I wanted it to be a place like no other.
I eventually realized that would be hard to do because of the limiting nature of platforms like Blogspot and
While they were good in their own right, my options were a bit limited.
I look at my blog tonight and to be honest, I am gobsmacked.
It’s so damn beautiful.
My life has had many wonderful twists and turns since that tentative first post way back when.
I thank God I found the intestinal fortitude to finally hit the ‘publish’ button.
My life hasn’t been quite the same since.
What you see before you is the culmination of a writer’s dream, a place I can call my own.
The writing won’t change but the walls are much prettier to look at, don’t you think?
I thank you for visiting and hope you’ve changed that URL on your blogroll.
There’s more work to be done here but I believe this is a respectable start.
Before I let you cruise around the joint, some thank you’s are in order.
I’ll try not to make this sound like I’m accepting an Academy Award but . . .

My deepest thanks and gratitude to Moe, she wanted this for me as much as I did for myself.
She is singlehandedly responsible for installing the software (on a server somewhere in Arizona), uploading countless themes, plugins and all the bells and whistles that make this blog sing.
The webhosting and my own domain were an early Christmas present from her and Mark, Anonypop.
(thanks, mate)
Maureen, you are a beautiful and brilliant star that was destined to find your way into my night sky.
I’ll never be able to thank you enough.
Maybe someday while drinking beer and eating lobster on Cape Cod. :mrgreen:

Thanks to Kelly, for helping to render the CSS code in order to make this blog look the way it does.
To me, reading CSS is like Chinese Arithmetic, it just doesn’t make any sense.
But Kel knows her stuff. Brilliant.
And, she is the sole reason Amum and I met.
I call meeting Kel a Godwink.
I call knowing Kel a Godsend.
Thanks, kiddo.
Bloody good job.

Thanks to Annie for believing in me even when I stopped believing in myself.
You are a true friend, a great poet, writer and an absolute sweetheart to boot.

Evyl, for being there.
You have been with me from the very beginning of this blogging thing.
You have taught me that as bad as life can get, you still have to laugh.
You rock Mr. Mac

To my wife, Pamela, who gives me the time and space I need to write and maintain a site such as this.
It’s time consuming as any decent blogger knows.
Her patience is a virtue, her encouragement and love are virtually endless.
Am I lucky or what?

And lastly to my mother, the reason I began writing in the first place.
This one’s for you, Mom.

Welcome to the new Smoke and Mirrors, folks.
Don’t forget to change that URL . . . :mrgreen:
And thanks for the visit.
Looks like I’ll be around for a little while . . .

Norm Abrams, I’m not

I’ve been promising my wife that I’d put together a cabinet for the kitchen.
She bought it several weeks ago and everytime I’d walk through the kitchen I swear I could hear “baaaawk, baaaawk . . . “coming from inside the box.
Its purpose was supposedly going to reduce some of the cabinet clutter and organize the pot and “pandemonium” wreaking havoc in the heart of our home.

How hard could it be to put together a small and innocent antique cabinet?

I’m no Norm Abrams, alright? Building things just isn’t my thing (stop laughing, Laho).

I consider myself a reasonably intelligent man but when an inanimate object begins making a monkey out of me, I have a problem.
I should have known better when I spied the little gold oval sticker proudly proclaiming “made in China” on all 76 pieces.

Assembling this hunk of shit (from the directions given) was worse than trying to comprehend quantum physics.
I seriously think the Chinese are out to get us, all of us.

Said directions were a series of “exploded” pictures; no words or explanations, just pictures . . . all 14 of them. Bastards.

Does the term 3-D puzzle of wood mean anything to you?

The cabinet was mainly black and I almost went frickin’ blind trying to screw this thing together. The phone starts ringing, I spill my coffee, I gotta take a crap and one of the cats starts throwing up a hunk of the Styrofoam packing this thing came in and I’m only Step #1.
I only have 13 more to go.
Please shoot me.
Point the gun at my brain stem and mercifully pull the trigger.
End my pain.

I think about throwing the damn directions away but err on the side of caution and instead start talking dirty to the sad looking unassembled pieces still littering the kitchen table. Things start clicking and I’m beginning to enjoy the dirty talk.

By the time I was finished (2 hours later) I look Chinese, well, my eyes do anyway.

Some people really have a talent for this building shit.
Not me.
I say pay another 20 bucks and let some other choad go Oriental.
I’m an artist, damn it, not Norm Abrams.


Maniac II

If you’ve yet to read part one, scroll down the page a bit.
And for those of you mewling outside my window, here ya go.


I’d never squeezed anything harder in my life than that Adirondack bat (a bat I still have, btw) when I reached the bottom of the cellar steps.
I took a quick look around the corner and saw several odds and ends that had been knocked to the floor. No big deal.

But things got real weird when I happened to look up at the ceiling tiles.

Long, deep and ragged scratch marks ran down almost all of the dropped-ceiling tiles. Gouges and rips were everywhere.

Holy shit, I thought, what the hell…
I’m thinking claws here.
Big ass claws.

I consider myself to be a man not spooked by many things but this was a bit much.
I had no idea what the hell was down here with me and finally decided to deal with the situation in the daylight.
My first thought was, ok, this is an animal of some sort, albeit a wicked pissed-off animal. Maybe it was time to re-think my strategy.
I locked the cellar door and scanned the phone book for an exterminator.
Maybe they would know what the hell was going on here.

It’s always amazed me how different things look in the daytime versus the night.
I went back out to the house the next day (bat still in hand) and called the exterminator (Varmint’s R Us).
Mister Varmint asked me several questions before he gave me his professional thoughts on the situation.

“Sounds like you got yerself a squirrel problem, sir.”

It didn’t sound like much of a problem at all to me.
It sounded like batting practice was just going to be a bit early.
The bottom line was that this problem had to be resolved immediately; the sale of the house depended on it.

“It’s fifty bucks for us to show up and have a look. Okay?”

I gave them the address and began drumming my fingers on the counter as I stared at the cellar door (which was still locked).
After 20 minutes and no Mister Varmint, I thought, screw this, opened the door and went down cellar. My lifelong hatred of squirrels must have made me do it.
Besides, these little bastards owe me a friggin’ fortune in stolen birdseed.

I wasn’t in the cellar for five minutes when I heard the Varmint van pull into the driveway. As I turned to go upstairs, my peripheral vision picked up on something so subtle off to my right that I instinctively looked.

There was a large picture window in the cellar (We used to display one of those cheesy tinsel Christmas trees. You know the kind. It was illuminated by a tri-colored light turned by a chintzy servo motor. Ugh, tacky) and there behind the gauzy curtain was the silhouetted object (monster) of my desire.

No, it wasn’t a squirrel as I’d hoped but an emaciated “Nicole Ritchie” version of your basic housecat. I figured this animal had been without food and water for at least 2 weeks. And boy, oh boy, was he happy to see someone.

I went upstairs and told Mister Varmint what had happened.
He just laughed and handed me a bill.

Lunch was on me that day.

I called the next door neighbors to see if they had any cat food which they didn’t but they did have tuna and crabmeat.
My heart went out to the ‘skin and bones’ cat so I fed him and gave him several bowls of water. I flirted with the idea of taking him home but the idea vanished when the cat looked up at me, meowed (Sucka!), and took off for parts unknown.
Basically, he was starving and began looking around for food.
There wasn’t a crumb to be had in the house.

Except for flour.

We had lots of flour.

And cats don’t like flour…it royally pisses them off.

I could only surmise that the animal had gotten in when we aired out the cellar; it was a Kirstie Allie in, Jenny Craig out scenario that I was happy to resolve.
The house was finally rid of one of its many ghosts and sold shortly thereafter.



It was shortly after we moved my father into assisted living that we put the house up for sale.
I had a fruit basket full of mixed emotions over the ordeal which you can read about here. The main problem was that the house would be sans people 24/7 and that meant someone had to keep a watchful eye on the place until it was sold.
It was always heartbreaking whenever I stopped out there.
The house was silent, listening, barely breathing; there were no voices (save for the ones screaming in my head), no sights, no lights, and no smells of Beef Stew simmering on the stove.
There was nothing that signified life of any kind until one misty summer night. Continue reading

Sweden sounds nice



Being the romantic bastard that I am, I gave my wife a new Koehler kitchen faucet for Christmas. (I can hear the ooh’s and ahh’s….sexy!)
After being (happily) married for over 22 years romance sometimes takes a backseat to let practicality ride shotgun for Christmas. We both try to stay away from anything too superfluous because we’re on a fairly limited budget and have neither the money nor the desire to give each other matching silver and gold Beamers adorned with gargantuan matching red bows (honestly, puhhhleese!)
I got up early on the 26th to go to Home Depot in search of Plumber’s Putty and a Basin Wrench. (it almost sounds like I know what I’m doing) After getting all the tools I thought I’d need I began taking out the old to make way for the new. My wife left the house with the girls in tow presumably to give me an empty house that I could scream in. I should have prefaced this post by re-posting this.
Anyway, everything was going pretty well or so I thought. With plumbing, even a chimpanzee can look good doing it. That is, until you turn the water back on.
When I turned it back on, a firehose-like column of water shot out of the bottom of the sprayhead and soaked everything within a five foot radius of the sink. Ooops.
I felt like Curly in a plumbing episode of the Three Stooges.
My father-in-law came over to see how I was doing.
He’s one of these guys that could put in one of these with his eyes closed and one hand behind his back.
He looked at our semi water park of a kitchen and said, “… you got a leak.”
I caved and called a plumbing buddy of mine who promised to come over around noon that day to see what was wrong. I was cleaning up when I found a small and insignificant black washer that must have blown off the sprayhead when I purged the line. I put the washer back into the bottom of the sprayhead where I thought it went and once again turned on the water expecting to see the return of Ol’ Faithful.
Amazingly dry as a bone. One little black washer had been my problem.
Maybe that’s where they got the phrase, “Little things mean alot.”


For the want of a nail…

I suck at home improvement. I mention that basic fact only because I spent the better part of three hours this weekend trying to get a clogged pipe to magically unclog. Living in a house with a wife and three daughters (and only one bathroom) has a way of filling the plumbing system with enough hair to cover the Taj Mahal. There are hair products in the bathroom closet that I can’t even pronounce the names of, for God’s sake.
One day, my father-in-law taught me the technique and proper use of a plumbing snake. If you’ve never seen one, it’s basically a long thick coil of wire that is inserted into the pipe and worked through until it clears the clog. I have these nightmarish visions of this long piece of coiled metal slipping out of my hands before disappearing into the bowels of my septic system never to be seen or heard from again. That particular scenario never played itself out but I did have to go to Home Depot in search of a longer, better snake. I was using a 15’ and instinctively knew a 25’ would surely do the job. I’ve never been anywhere near adept at any home repair skill and can usually manage to screw up any simple task to the point of “you better call a professional before someone gets hurt”. Cooking? No problem. Want a nice stir-fry? Maybe a nice dish of Beef Stroganoff or a Chicken Tarragon Salad sandwich with alfalfa sprouts… That stuff is easy. But show me a project that may involve the use of power tools and a tape measure and I’ll run away faster than King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Truth be told, I’ve never had an interest in plumbing or electrical or basic carpentry 101, although I can totally admire someone who does have that talent, especially if they’re bailing out my sorry unskilled ass. I’ve thought many times about taking a Night Life course in basic wiring or plumbing but something always keeps me away. Maybe it’s just that I feel a bit insecure when I walk up the power tool aisle of Home Depot and think out loud, wow, I wonder what the hell that thing does. The woman (a manly woman at that) working the power tool section overhears me and launches into a 20 minute discourse on the advantages and benefits of owning a Rigid router and lathe. Lady, please speak English.
At least I admit my inadequacies and damn it, I know my boundaries. Actually, my inability to fix the leaking faucet in the shower still astounds my wife (and rightly so). She scratches her head and wonders how someone so brilliant in some areas could be so incredibly stupid in others. I’ve got the problem solved though. The trick is to get my daughters to marry guys who are, how shall I say it, sympathetic to my cause? (Oh, he’s a plumber? We just gotta meet him!) This is going to work out just beautifully.
I did manage to unclog the pipe the other day but not with the 15’ snake or the 25’ snake but with an old crusty, mundane bathroom plunger. A few pushes and POP…look at that water go down! After I start the Coq au Vin, I’m going to take a look at that leaky faucet. You know duct tape is really underrated…

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