Thursday, November 30, 2006

Global Warming and The Art of Home Improvement

A few months ago both of our sons moved back into our house after several years of roaming the countryside and terrorizing unsuspecting colleges. This visitation was a temporary arrangement made necessary by the fact that they had no money and nowhere else to go where they wouldn't be asked for money. So, being dutiful parents, we said they could come back for a while but only until they could find yet one more unsuspecting school. We reasoned, "this occupation shouldn't be that tough. After all, it's not like they were strangers. They had been under our roof at least 18 years of their lives and we hadn't been forced to kill and/or dismembered them during that entire period. Their little visit would hardly have an impact."
Just to be safe, we extracted the usual promises; I, _________(fill in the prodigal), promise on the head of my parents(probably a poor choice), that I won't leave wet towels, dirty dishes, dirty/clean laundry, spare body parts, unclaimed young women or used Q-tips anywhere but in their assigned and designated areas during my brief, very temporary visit to MY PARENT'S HOUSE.

It seemed like we had covered all the bases until we received our first electric bill. Our normally ridiculous bill of $200ish(that's $100ish per person, for those of you that are a product of the Indiana public school system) had been totally eclipsed for a new record total of $552. This for May, a full month before the temperature setting on the Central Florida sun goes from just hot to humid blast furnace. Now, let me say that I would like it to appear that I was doing something noble like helping to reduce the alleged global warming or trying to save one more tree from being hugged to death but no, I was motivated strictly by greed and the fact that I was going to have to listen to my wife as we paid the bills because somehow, after all, it would be my fault. I quickly reasoned that I better do something fast and appear to be a "husband of action" and that, for the sake of self preservation, it should also involve blaming the kids. I quickly surveyed the house and realized that, on this bright, sunny morning, aside from our two house cats, I was the only one home. Yet a nuclear glow and stereophonic sound seemed to come from under the each of the kid's closed bedroom doors. I slowly opened my oldest son's door, aka, CSI: Jared's Room and began to survey the carnage. Aside from the 7 wet towels and assorted plates filling every inch of horizontal surface, every light,...every electrically powered appliance, in their portion of the house seemed to be on. In fact, every appliance that they had ever actually touched, even in our previous houses, was now on and we were being billed for it. I called each of them on their respective cell phones in full attack mode and recited a litany of their sins but I quickly sensed the Homer Simpson, blank stare at the other end of the line. Never the less, I hung up determined to look like I was doing something or die trying.

On my last visit to Men's Mecca, IE, Home Depot, I remembered seeing an entire section of items dedicated to energy savings, so off I marched. I spotted the answer to my prayers, Motion Activated Lighting(MAL). That's it! No matter what the kids said or did, the lights would go out when they did. The directions seemed simple enough, even for me, so I bought a unit and headed home.
The directions did seem to place lot of emphasis on safety issues like turning off the power prior to placing bare wires in ones mouth, which I now know how not to do in 3 languages. OK now, truth time, how many of you guys have made a recent purchase of an item whose packaging contained those evil words "some assembly required" and found yourself at least half way through the first page of instructions before you realized you weren't reading the English version, if English is your language of choice, that is? Either we are all just looking at the pictures or we picked up a foreign language like French or Tagalog in our sleep, but I digress.
Now, with most safety precautions followed and the MAL control module installed, I just needed to test it. I had made the strategic decision that the guest bathroom, the one shared by both sons, seemed like the place to test out my cost control experiment. This decision was made in part because I don't think that these lights had actually been off, ever. I walked out of the room- then back in. A distinct BUZZ, followed by a constant HUMM and the lights flickered on...and stayed. Hey not bad! I did it and didn't even get hurt, like I usually do. I celebrated by using the toilet, standing up. After about 15 seconds, just enough time to find then adjust my aim, BUZZ and the lights were out. That's OK, I distinctly remember seeing a section on "time settings" clearly written in Tagalog on the instruction sheet. I'll just make a small adjustment.....but wait, as I prepared to move away from the toilet to the sink, BUZZ-HUMM lights on. As I slowly washed my hands, BUZZ-silence, darkness. The thought flashed through my mind of guests having to do a rousing rendition of "Y M C A" just so they could see what they were doing.
2 minutes of light per usage, that should be enough, I calculated and if it wasn't, then Dance Baby! As I made the adjustment, I got slightly careless with the tiny, fragile, little lever. Snap! It appeared that the little lever was broken and stuck at about 1/8 the maximum time setting, which I figured to be about 30 seconds. Uh oh, better hurry up there Slim or or get them dancin' shoes on. Not wanting to pay the $12 dollars for a new MAL switch, I told my sons, "that was how these things come and you better learn to hurry up. After all you guys are the reason I installed this anyway." Now, unless it is in the brightest part of the day, my wife just avoids that bathroom totally.
The boys, on the other hand did adapt, in fact we have even developed our own bathroom speak. If you have to go standing up, you usually have just enough time to get half way through before you have to "Stevie Wonder." This means that without using your hands(for obvious reasons), you have to rock from side to side until the sensor picks up your movement and BUZZ-HUMM. If you are sitting, it is a "Ray Charles" using much of the same motion but sitting, BUZZ-HUMM. By some initial reports, mostly from short female visitors, they occasionally had to break out a sitting "Y M C A" while executing a "Ray Charles". Reports of guests being forced to attempt this very technical maneuver seems to have highly agitated my wife. I have now discovered how to lower the sensing of the sensor which seemed to alleviate that problem but does seem to have created a new one.
Ragsie, one of our aforementioned cats, seems to have developed no social conscience whatsoever, in any of his nine lives but has discovered a fascination with his new power. All day and much of the night you can hear a BUZZ-HUMM as, for whatever cat reason, he marches in then out of the bathroom. I have, however, yet to catch him doing the "Y M C A".
Our new power bill arrived...$564.

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