371. Change the Filter

I have a reminder note above my computer screen; it tells me when to change the air filter in my office building. Every three months is the target. I suppose I could switch it out more often if I were a worrier, but I’m not. The first year or two I didn’t know about the filter, which is located in a large vent in the attic above my desk. Getting to it requires a ladder and the removal of a ceiling tile and a 6 inch layer of fiberglass insulation. It’s not a hard task, but it is dirty and itchy.

Once you breech the attic, you have to pull yourself up next to the vent and pull out the old filter. It’s covered in gray dust like dryer lint. You slide the fresh new filter into the slot and voila!  Clean air for a while… unlike the first couple of years when I did not know about the filter. I learned on a steamy hot summer day that the filter must be changed or else it turns to a solid concrete barrier that shuts down air flow. When the compressor feels the pressure building up, it automatically shuts down. That’s when I called the HVAC guys.

Friendly Mike’s HVAC tech came out and immediately assessed the situation. My heat pump on the roof was fine, but he needed to use the $200/hour  boom truck to get there. The compressor was just locked up due to a pressure switch glitch. Before you knew it, Larry was climbing into my attic and swapping out filters. He showed me the year old filter that should have been changed out four times by then. It resembled a thin  concrete sheet cake ready for icing and candles. If I took it to the bakery for decorating, the attendant would ask, “And what would like to say on the cake, sir?”dirty air filter photo: dirty cabin filter filter2.jpg

“Eejit… that’s all.”

I think Larry got some satisfaction out of my disgusted reaction. “Wow, Larry, that’s a lot of dust, man.”

“Yup, four hundred dollars worth… yuk, yuk.”

I vowed then and there to never let this happen again in my living lifetime.

Larry offered to come back every three months to do this again. And why not? It was nearly free money for him. Foolishly I agreed to the deal. I say foolishly because the next time he came he put in a filter that he charged $12.00 for, plus his service call fee. I watched him do his routine and was amazed at how simple it was. ‘I can do that’, I thought, without Larry’s service call and overpriced filters. I stocked up on filters of the same type, getting 4 of them for $12.00. Then I couldn’t wait for the system to get dirty.

Mummy Mummies preserved bodiesNinety days later I opened the dark dusty attic tomb to look for the mummified air filter. In my one hand was a flashlight, an air filter in the other. I plucked the old dirty filter out of its slide and inserted the fresh clean one. Simple and satisfying. Yeah! Such a mundane action gave me a boost of manly competence. I felt like doing an Old Spice deodorant commercial then and there. “I am the Dust King! Bow to me, Ye Evil Dust Motes.” I replaced the insulation and ceiling tile without too much mess. Put away the flashlight and ladder. Went back to my routines… thinking about that filter. I had saved the lungs of countless hundreds. Though they would never know, dust free air was thanks enough.

Okay, I associate this and that and the other thing as you already know if you’ve read any of my previous posts. I can’t help it anymore than your kidneys can stop purifying your waste water or your liver purifying your blood. It’s in me, man.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a mental filter you could change periodically, one that would catch all the crap of life and keep it from recycling through your brain? How often do you make a mistake and feel stupid for a really long time afterwards as you perseverate on the error? I’m not talking about murder or Wall Street Ponzi schemes here. I mean something as simple as missing your trash pick up on Monday morning. You just forgot it Sunday night. Oh, and it was also recycling pick up day, so you missed that too. You feel stupid and even less than competent because you failed to do something so simple. For the next week you walk by the trash containers and feel stabs of guilt and embarrassment. “I’m a moron. A loser.” The overflowing receptacles seem to mock you as you try to ignore their smell, height and girth.

“This will never happen again,” you vow to the squirrel on your deck.

And we have other mental filters that get dirty, filters of guilt and shame, even pride and self interest. A wise young woman named Angela once told me that she had to choose between her divorced parents, who had been at war with each other for her entire life. Freedom and low maintenance were available at Mom’s home. At Dad’s there was contention and constricting rules that suffocated her. He would not listen to her reasonable and logical requests. “My house, my rules. My way or the highway. Do or die.” He was a binary thinker; black and white were the only colors he acknowledged. She wanted to escape Dad’s control, knowing full well that Mom would switch the script once young Angela moved in with her.Image result for black or white pictures

On the other hand she worried about her younger siblings left behind at Dad’s. He hadn’t been the tenderest or most patient father to them when she was present. What would happen to them in her absence? His new wife would be unavailable for months, she knew. Everyone else in her family seemed to be entitled to go on pursuing their lives and livelihoods, but Angela was constrained to stay behind and pick up their messes. She loved each of her family members but not their messes, the blaming, the tough love, the high drama, the double standards. She just wanted to filter it all out somehow without hurting any of them. Every so often she would get so full of pain and anger she felt she would explode and vaporize. She needed a filter change.

Drugs and alcohol were out. Sex too for now. Just too complicated and hard to control. She settled on cutting herself in a neat 3x 4 inch rectangle across her abdomen with a new razor blade. She then cut vertical lines across the short side and horizontal lines across the long side until she had her bloody drama filter. Finally it felt good to breathe again.

“This will never happen again,” she swore to the empty room.

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251. Man Your Manure Spreaders

So the elections rolled across America yesterday and a new red map resulted. Not that it matters much. New liars will posture and promise and lie to us. Instead of blue-eyed liars we will endure redheaded liars for the next two to six years. Pundits and political planners are in a tizzy now for the meaning of it all, how it will all play out in the presidential election of 2016. Well, it will be what it will be. In a post Obama world we will be no better off than in the post Bush world, anymore than we were better off in a post Clinton world or a post Reagan world. Thank God for term limits. They guarantee a new herd of swine at the public trough with new, meaningless toots of verbal flatulence. Like pigs, politicians can eat and talk simultaneously because they use different ends of their anatomy for each function.

So on the way into town this morning I noticed that the left lane was slowing down behind a green and brown blinking vehicle up ahead. I pulled into the right lane and accelerated. As I got closer I recognized the back of the machine as a manure spreader heading into our fair town. The sulfurous stench of liquefied cow poop enveloped me and my car. I had pulled in behind it where two lanes merge into one; passing was not an option now. I had noticed the other cars were giving it a wide berth. Once I fell in line behind it I realized why. Gaggingly gross, sort of like politics, I thought. It crossed my mind that politics always stinks and brings you to tears. It doesn’t matter who is driving; politics is a nasty business.

I wondered if the driver of this stink wagon was Republican or Democrat. It was clearly an expensive rig pulled along by a high tech tractor with a closed cab, heated seats, satellite radio, and a deodorizer/ air purification system. Besides, the politician driving was upwind from his load of manure. He was clean and fresh and seemingly immune from it all on his comfy John Deere throne. He turned right onto Fifth Avenue, proving to me that he was indeed a Republican. You see if it had been a Democrat, he would have gotten stuck under the railroad overpass like many a truck driver does, bringing traffic to a halt until air could be let out of the tires to lower the vehicle an inch or two.  Then he would have turned the wrong way at the square into oncoming traffic. That’s the only way I can keep the two parties straight in my mind is by the mistaken policies they each cling to.

Republicans roll their poop  wagons into town promising tax cuts, jobs for all, and prosperity for few. They decry large government, foreigners, welfare programs for the less fortunate, gun control, and they promise to shrink government after they deregulate and weaken it for their cronies’ benefit. They question all critics’ patriotism and suggest that anyone who disagrees with them is a socialist, drug addicted, progressive, anti-Christian hater of the Motherland. When they leave office, they write books and go to work for exorbitant pay at private industries they used to regulate.

Now Democrats roll their poop wagons into town promising fairness and equality for you and me and the foreigner behind the tree. They pick different winners and losers. They promise tax fairness and raise taxes somewhere to pay for the expansion of government everywhere. They question all critics’ humanity and suggest that anyone who disagrees with them is a heartless fascist, elite, repressive right wing Christian hater of the Motherland. When they leave office, they write books and go to work for exorbitant pay at private industries they used to regulate.

One thing is certain: agreement is never possible or they’d be out of a job, snap, just like that. Contention is the thing that keeps job security going on till death. Inflated rhetoric and drama are the fuel.  Why problem solve when you can blame? Problem solving takes time and patience and thinking and determination and cooperation. Blame requires none of that. Blame is a low cost start up. See it’s as easy as pointing. A two year old can point at the family dog when cookies go missing. It’s that simple.

Agreement and cooperation, negotiation, and compromise shrink the gap between the two party finger pointing. Like the argument between guns or butter for homeland security, prisons or education for crime, treatment or incarceration for drugs, etc. As long as we stand on the wings and scream into the void, the void wins, growing wider with each election cycle. If we don’t fill in the void and find common ground, then we are left to sharpening partisan scalpels for two years while funding hate ads. How you frame the question also predetermines the possible answers you get.  If the question is always framed as either A or B, then the only answers possible are A or B. What if the correct answer is Both? Or Neither? Well, within that framework, you/we are out of luck. See, it’s either more prisons or more education. It’s either tax cuts or maintaining social programs. How about a little of both?

If you think you can just retire to Costa Rica or New Zealand, let me share one last encounter with manure. I was out jogging around the farms behind my house a few years ago. I saw a manure spreader rolling across a harvested cornfield. I identified the splash zone and figured that I’d just stay far enough away from that spewing poop fountain to stay dry. Well, I miscalculated. As I jogged around that field, the atomized liquid manure caught me downwind and settled like droplets of horrible dew on my hair and face and clothes. Disgust filled me and I felt biologically violated. I stopped in mid stride as the vaporized excrement actually caught in the back of my throat, activating my gag reflex. Yeah, inescapable as taxes and death… Politics.