Saturday, February 16, 2013

Swan Sexting

Mr. Arnold has a pond. E-I-E-I-O.
And on this pond he has some swans. E-I-E-I-O.

My old fishing buddy Arnold lives just up the road. Arnold has made many improvements to his home over the years, the neatest one being the digging of a pond out back. Arnold and I have spent many a pleasant evening sitting on his patio, sipping spookers, while watching a variety of birds come in; Green Herons, Great-white Egrets, song birds, and of course, Canadian Geese.  The geese began making daily appearances. At first, it was kind of cool to sit and watch the big birds come swooping in, honking and carrying on, making dramatic splashdowns in the water. But the novelty faded as the goose population grew. Then they began laying eggs.  Arnold had a problem and we all know what that problem was don’t we? Yep, goose poo.  There was poo around the pond, there was poo on the grass, poo on the sidewalk, and poo on the driveway. Everywhere the goose traveled, he left a stinky trail behind.
All manner of deterrents–short of the lethal ones–were tried in an attempt to discourage the rampant homesteading. Nothing worked for long. That’s when Arnold heard about swans and how territorial they are. A pair of swans would drive off the geese–or so went the theory–and wouldn’t they be pretty; swimming around so elegantly, displaying their beautiful feathers for all to see? Immigration problem solved.  Good photos ops too.
The search began and as luck would have it, a mated pair of mute swans was located within a few hours’ drive. The birds took to their new digs immediately, paddling round and round in quiet contentment. Eagerly, Arnold and I watched the skies for the return of the geese. What would happen? Would there be blood and broken wings? Would something like an avian gang fight break out leaving the lawn covered with feathers lost in battle? Not exactly. It was more on the lines of, “Hey boys, come on down. There’s room for everybody. Want a beer?”
Oh, there were a few brief skirmishes, head down, feathers up kind of charges, but no actual contact. By all appearances, a treaty was drawn up and home turf established. “You guys take the north side and we’ll hang around the end nearest the house and the shade tree.”
Time passes. Mated swans do what mated swans do; they mate. Then there were eggs. Then there were baby swans, cygnets they're called, four of them. Three grew to adulthood. The fourth disappeared in the night, fate unknown. So now, in addition to the throngs of Canadian Geese, the swan population has jumped to five. Arnold insists he does not need or want five swans. Ads in various forms of media went out with a couple of interested parties responding. But there was a catch; the potential buyer’s wanted to be sure of the sex of the birds, a male and female preferable. So, which of the five are boys and which are girls? Arnold had no clue.
The male swan, called a “cob”, has no external genitalia. The female, called a “pen”, hides her privates as well. (Who comes up with these names?” The Internet sites are of little help, most citing the difference being the size of the black knob at the base of the bill with the male’s being slightly larger. The thickness of the neck can also be an indicator, or so they claim. In real time, with five birds bobbing on the water, it’s a tough call. But Arnold has a plan.
“It’ll be a two-man job,” he says.  “I’ll use my shad net to catch ‘em. Then you’ll put a hood over their head and hold them while I part the feathers, do the exam, and tag ‘em.” How did I get involved in this?
I agree to the strategy, but only under the condition that Arnold mixes up a pitcher of margaritas for a little liquid courage before we begin. The plan seems simple enough. What could possibly go wrong?
The details are being finalized as we speak. I see this as the historical reenactment of the Okie’s famous last words. “Here, hold my beer and watch this.”




Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Out of Gas

The first sign of a problem appeared in the form of an electric bill. OMG! The thing was at least a hundred bucks higher than I’d ever seen before, this with a relatively mild month. Clearly, something was amiss. Did the electric company raise their rates? Sounds right, sort of like the oil companies do in the summer with more cars on the road. But no, a look at the kilowatt hours revealed a much higher than normal usage. How could that be?

Let us a pause a moment while I explain my heat and air system.  I do not have natural gas or propane. The humble abode is all electric. My hot and cold comes from a single device called a heat pump. This little engineering marvel performs both functions…to a point. Below 30 degrees, or thereabouts, it reverts to a more common method of heat, namely a fan blowing across a heated coil. Sort of like a giant toaster, but much more expensive. In this mode, referred to as “auxiliary heat”, the little silver wheel on the electric meter spins like the tassels on a well endowed stripper (not that I would know about such things mind you).  

I went into my professional diagnostic analytical troubleshooting mode and came to the brilliant conclusion that the “heat pump” portion, the compressor part of the system, had up and died, leaving the heating duty to the kilowatt sucking toaster coil.
Not to worry, I think, the unit is less than three years old with a parts and labor warranty.  I call the company that installed the contraption. No answer. Well, those boys are all out on the job. I wait till the end of the day and try again. No answer. Not even a recording. I try again the following day. Same results. Damn, damn, damn.

As a member of Angie’s list, I check Angie’s site for a reputable service in the heat/air department. The woman who answers seems to have a bit of an attitude, but she does promise to send help… tomorrow. Next morning, the guy, apparently of Mexican descent, shows up and pokes around with a flashlight. The problem, he proclaims, is that two copper lines are lying against each other and due to the vibration of the compressor, have rubbed a hole allowing the refrigerant (what I call the gas)  to leak out. He shakes his head.  I wait for the rest of it. “The refrigerant is not covered by the warranty.” Figures.
“Okay, big whoop. Fix it and fill it up. What choice do I have?”

An hour or so later, he hands me the bill. HOLY MOTHER OF GOD! It looks like the bar tab for Randy Travis. Almost 600 bucks! I rant. I rave. I curse Angie and the horse she rode in on. I call the Mexican’s company and complain. I find a heat&air forum on the Internet and rant on that. I get no compassion, no refund, no consolation, no  “Oh boy did you get screwed” sympathy cards , nary a tear. The new gas, the R-410 it’s called, can cost up to $45 a pound I’m told. Who makes this stuff, BP?
“The R-410 is better for the environment,” the Mexican explains.

Well la-te- freakin’-dah. I now understand the term going green. It means the folding green in your wallet is going bye-bye.