Saturday, December 26, 2015

Waste Not, Want Not

While it's entirely possible I've written about this before, the chances that you'll remember are vanishingly slim. I don't, and it's my blog. Anyway, this is all about reusing things that still have some life in them, anyway. So there.

I bought this "tree" (I use quotation marks advisedly) about three years ago. At the time, "pre-lit" was supposed to be a selling point. However, the fact that cheap Christmas lights burn out faster than artificial trees biodegrade was not adequately explored in the promotional copy.

Setting it up a couple of weeks ago I found that some of the lights were no longer functioning. I strung additional ones. More lights have gone out. It's beginning to exhibit tree-pattern baldness. And some friends, friends who have never known what it is to go without, are telling me to throw the tree away and buy a new one.

Not so fast.

My paternal grandparents were both Cornell graduates, so you know. My grandfather had a B.S. in Agriculture. My grandmother had a B.S. in Home Economics. Don't laugh - she could do things you can only dream of. Forget about merely being a good cook and housekeeper. She could make clothes - elaborate, coordinated, ornamental outfits, with smocking, embroidery, and so on. She crocheted carpets and furniture coverings. She kept a home garden perfectly capable of supplying most of the needs for her family. She prepared and canned food. There was an industrial freezer in their mudroom, where the snowshoes were kept, with years' worth of rutabaga and corn and apples and soybeans. Honey was down cellar. It's kind of funny, as someone who follows the locally-sourced, natural foods movement to note how heavily these well-stocked supplies of local produce were supplemented with cheaply-available commodities like oleo, Wonder Bread, Spam, and powdered milk. But so it was.

My grandmother wasted nothing. Christmas wrappings were carefully slit with a penknife and folded away for reuse. I let my kids tear off the paper, but never, never, never have I knowingly thrown away a Christmas bow. Why would you do that?

And every year, when it came time (January 6, thankyouverymuch, this atheist reminds you) to take down the Christmas tree, my grandparents carefully and painstakingly picked off every strand of tinsel icicle to reuse the following year.

Naturally, after a while, the tinsel icicles were a little less icy-looking. Eventually they were just straight-up gray. They were limp; they were dull. But, not having actually disintegrated into dust, they were carefully gathered and folded away every year. So one year, being a teenager, and fancying myself pretty well versed in the ways of the modern world, I shelled out $0.89 for a package of shiny new tinsel icicles, and gave them to my grandparents for Christmas.

They opened them, and thanked me. They marked them down on the running list of who-had-bought-what-for-whom, to be referred to in composing thank-you notes later. And, solemnly, as if I weren't being a complete little shit, they laid them aside, to be opened whenever the old ones should wear out. I have a feeling - I may have blocked the memory - that we came across the unopened package among Grandma's effects many years later, after they had died. But maybe not, because I think if so, I would still have them.

That's what's on my mind whenever anyone (including my own internal voice) tells me, just throw this tree away. Just get a new one. Get one without pre-strung lights, then, if you don't want to be wasteful. But this one's a write-off. Pitch it.

On January 7 I expect to be going through it with a pair of cheaters and fine-gauge wire cutters, making it ready for next year, and many, many years to come. I could hardly face Grandma otherwise.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

On the Lam

"Um, Elizabeth?" Mary sounds uncharacteristically tentative over the phone. "Security ran your driver's license for the Governor's Mansion tour, and DPS called and said to give you a heads-up there's a warrant out for your arrest."

Well, shit.

The wildly ebullient Mary works at the state visitor center here in Austin, not to get too Googleable. Another of our staff members there was kind enough to set up a holiday tour of the Texas executive residence (which we don't call the Texas White House, that's out in Stonewall; LBJ and Lady Bird are buried out there) for some of us office schlubs. The Governor is in residence, so they do a routine background check when you sign up. And it turns out I was a fugitive from justice.

The thing is, when you're on the lam, you usually know it. You become an expert at skulking. You're shady. You are not usually a peacefully oblivious solid middle-aged citizen, becoming, let's face it, a little more solid with each progressive year. Being on the run gives you a lean, hunted look. Fuck Paleo, being a wanted criminal may be the new diet plan for the twenties. I'd lay money on it. But only in an unofficial and strictly legal capacity.

So whatever did I do? Mary politely insisted it must be some sort of clerical error. But Mary doesn't do insincerity well, and her attempts to soothe and reassure me were punctuated with images she's found online of elves in a lineup and Santa Claus getting handcuffed.

I called the DPS security officer at the Governor's Mansion. He didn't have any details, but was able to tell me the warrant was for Theft By Check. I'm a little freaked. When's the last time I ever bounced a check? Have I ever messed up and left one unpaid? There was a time when money used to run out between paychecks, but I would tend to characterize that time more as "expensive" than anything else. There were bounced check fees, and I paid them. It costs a lot of money to be poor, dontcha know. When did I last renew my driver's license, or get pulled over in traffic? I was involved in a crash with a red-light-running taxi just last February, and cops were all over the place, taking down information and running licenses. I certainly haven't had any issues in such recent memory. Did I close an account with some forgotten automatic draft set up?

The county attorney's office has a robot phone system. Sure enough, when I enter my date of birth and driver's license number, it reads back an outstanding arrest warrant. "Date of issue: December 5, 1989," it says.

What. I hit "repeat" on my phone. I must have heard that wrong. "December 5, 1989," it insists.

Out of shame, I've gone outside to the break area to make my call, but this is silly. Back in my office, I tell my cube neighbor about it. "Wait," he says. "Is that 26 years ago?"

"It is!" pipes in another neighbor a little too quickly. We remember she was born in 1989.

"Well then," I said, "I guess I better figure out how to take care of this."

So, with a couple more calls to the County Attorney's office, a visit and a small amount of cash (no checks accepted, sorry) at their walk-up window, and a receipt delivered to the clerk at the county court, it's all taken care of. Yes, I'm sorry to say I wrote three bad checks in the course of one week - one week! - to the convenience store down the street from my college housing co-op a couple of months after my 20th birthday. There are not a lot of positive things to be said for Younger Me. Didn't know better? Sorry, I am back in school now with plenty of people that age who seem to be perfectly responsible citizens. No, I was just stupid.

It doesn't answer why my outstanding warrant never set off any alarms when I was renewing my license, over the decades, or doing the other oblivious things I did with no notion of my wanted status. In a way, this is a little exasperating. Really, I've been a fugitive from justice for 26 years? Really?? I mean, I know justice is blind and all, but seriously. I'm right here.

At the county courthouse, the clerk told me, "You're all set - but the warrant might not be lifted until about 5 PM. So be extra careful until then."

Do see the Governor's Mansion, if you get the chance. Mary is a real comedienne, and the DPS security officers are peachy. No comment on anyone else who works there.