Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Wastin' Away in Frankensteinaville

As I sit here swirling a snifter of Tequila liqueur to begin this blog I ponder several questions.  What in the hell is Tequila liqueur?  How did it get into my house in the first place?  Why am I drinking this weird stuff?

I've spoken previously about the process of sorting, packing, selling, and giving away all manner of items as we've rummaged through drawers and closets preparing for our move.  Perfectly good clothes that we don't wear any more--consignment shop; a set of encyclopedias--Goodwill; George Foreman grill ( and yes, the "rock" of a previous entry)--Craigslist.  There have been numerous old family things like a broken rocking chair that belonged to my grandmother we've been robotically hauling around for years.  It's been revelatory to finally come to grips with the fact we or no one else in the family really cares about stuff like this that it seems like you're "supposed" to care about, so it's all outta here.

When we got to the liquor cabinet our slash-and-burn mentality suddenly shifted.  Understand that we're predominately wine drinkers, so purveying our collection of hard spirits happens about as often as searching for Bigfoot.  We were therefore amazed to discover all sorts of oddities lurking behind those closed cabinet doors.  How long had these bottles been there?  What's Guavaberry?  I couldn't pick a Guava out of a police lineup and certainly didn't know it had berries.  Crown Royal?  When did we entertain black folks?

But throw out "perfectly good" alcohol?  Oh, hell no.  Especially when we're coming down the home stretch and running out of wine.  So we've taken to concocting original libations that would make an alchemist proud and a bartender green with---probably nausea.

Some may actually be real drinks served somewhere on the planet.  A favorite has been milk, half and half, creme de cacao, and butterscotch schnapps that we call a Chocolate Nipple.  The visual on that particular name isn't very appealing, but our creative juices aren't exactly flowing right now.  Speaking of juices, though, after a hard day of packing I sat in the hot tub with a tropical extravaganza of orange juice, chambord, cointreau, and peach schnapps. Yikes!  I figured, hey, they're all fruits--you throw a bunch of different stuff in a fruit salad, don't you?--and most importantly, the alcohol content of this bad boy should be enough to tranquilize an elephant.  The taste was shall we say "unique," but two of them sure ushered in a phenomenal nap.

As the pickings become slimmer the combinations may get so bizarre that we'll probably resort to just doing shots.  In the meantime I'm searching for my lost shaker of salt.  H-m-m-m----must have packed it already.  So let's see what we've got left.  How about vermouth & sherry with a rim of paprika?  That sounds----interesting.


Sunday, April 18, 2010

Baby, You Can Drive My Car

A lot of people have asked me what I'll miss most and least about leaving America.  Well, actually no one has asked me that question but it's the subject of this blog, so work with me.

The thing I'll miss most is pretty obvious and admittedly selfish.  It's also something we take for granted---most people with whom we come in contact here speak some understandable version of the English language.  No surprise this won't be the case in our new home.

Our Spanish on CD's lessons were going pretty well for awhile but the deadline for moving and its myriad complications have been all-consuming, causing the Espanol to move to the back burner.  Or more precisely, off the stove altogether.

This means we're counting on Cuencans enjoying charades and interpreting the meaning of crude stick-man drawings, as these will be our primary means of communication in the short run.  We vow, however, not to use the standard "American-in-a-foreign-country" technique of speaking English slowly and loudly in the vain hope of being understood.

What I'll miss least about living here is more obscure and also something most of us take for granted, and that's owning and driving a car.  I've been in the driver's seat of some form of four-wheeled transportation since I was 15, and I've had car payments for most of the 46 years after that.

Cynthia and I escaped from my hometown of Atlanta mainly because the traffic had become unbearable.  We had an epiphany that we were spending more time going back and forth from Point A to Point B than whatever it was we needed to do when we finally got to Point B.  Not willing to waste so much of our lives trapped inside a metal container, we moved to Charleston, SC and rented an old home downtown for several years.

Looking back that was one of the most enjoyable periods of our marriage.  Charleston is incredibly beautiful and very compact, so we walked almost everywhere.  As we strolled along the Battery at night or explored interesting art galleries and side streets we felt so free and spontaneous.

When we decided to buy a home we found real estate downtown to be prohibitively expensive,  so we opted to build a new house in (sigh) the suburbs.  Back behind the steering wheel again to do everything. Then we moved here to Vegas and, yep, suburbs again.  Driving everywhere again (double sigh).

So I'm about to experience a life I haven't known since I was fourteen years old.  In two weeks we'll sell our car and walk away from insurance payments, car washes, gas pumps, repairs, and---driving.

It will be a VERY good day.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"I Just Sold That Guy a Friggin' Rock!"

That's all I could think as I stood in my driveway holding a crisp $10 bill, watching the man I'd only met 5 minutes ago drive away in his black and bright yellow Range Rover.  Well, that and, "What an odd paint job."  I had sealed our brief friendship with a parting gift of a disintegrating doormat he asked if he could take along.  Even crazier was the fact I had spontaneously decided to sell my rock only an hour earlier.

Welcome to the wild and wacky world of Craigslist, where all kinds of folks buy, sell, and barter just about anything under the sun--even rocks.  In this particular case it wasn't really a "rock" rock, but a hollow artificial one, kind of like half an eggshell on steroids, that covers irrigation pipes emerging from front yards all over Las Vegas.  Still-----------.

Craigslist and I had been casual acquaintances for several years, but with the upcoming move we've been hanging out much more frequently in recent weeks.  As our relationship has blossomed I've been introduced to an alternate universe I never knew existed.  Sure, the Craigslist world is partially populated with normal folks who legitimately want something you're selling, show up when they say they will, give you money, and happily leave with their new possession.

But then there's those other people---------.  For those of you who don't know how this service works, you anonymously post an item for sale and responses come to your email address to protect your privacy.  That's where the weirdness starts.

First, your spam box immediately gets loaded up with these crazy emails saying something like, "I see you're selling your George Foreman grill.  You don't need to part with your valued possessions in these difficult economic times.  I've found a better way that I'd like to share with you."  How do you spell "MLM?"  Oh, yeah, M-L-M.

The real fun comes from real people responding in really funny ways.  Here are a few examples:

Sent at 3 AM:  "I LOVE this desk!!"  Response:  "Great!  When would you like to come by?"  Reply:  silence.  OK, so you're up in the middle of the night prowling Craigslist--to review and make comments on things you have no intention of actually buying??  Go to bed, get up tomorrow and get a life---please!

I've got a super-heavy stainless steel grill for sale.  "I want your grill.  Will you deliver?"  Response:  "Uh----no."

A $10 waffle maker.  "Times are hard.  Will you take $5?'  Response:  "If times are that hard you don't need to be eating waffles."

Sometimes the exchanges remind me of unsuccessful pickup attempts at a bar.  "I WANT YOUR CHAIR!!  WILL COME GET IT TODAY!!"  Reply:  "I'm here.  Call me @ --------- and I'll give you your directions." Nothing.  Followup:  "Hey, are you coming to get the chair??"  Nothing again.  Gosh, we seemed to be hitting it off so well.  I even gave her my number.  Was I too forward?  Maybe we should have taken it slower-----.

One woman drove all the way from the other side of town to buy a $10 desk lamp.  First, why would you do that?  Does your time have no value at all?  She shows up in a big BMW SUV, then announces that she really doesn't like the finish--she thought it was more pewter-y looking.  I'm like, "You mean to tell me you're coming way out here and going home with nothing?  Give me the money and make it work."  She left with the lamp.  Geez-----------.

My favorite Vegas story involves a couple who came by over the weekend and really wanted our outdoor furniture.  They just didn't want to pay the asking price, which though expensive was more than fair.  He worked me over hard but left empty-handed when I wouldn't budge.  So I was surprised to get a call from him the following Monday saying he was coming to pick it up after all.  As we were loading his truck he said, "In case you're wondering why we're doing this, I won $500 playing cards at the casino last night."  Only here--------.

I think it's about time for Craigslist and I to break up.  It's been great and we've had some laughs together, but in this case I'm not using that famous excuse that we "need to see other people."  No, I've decided I need to see a lot less people!  

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

We Haven't Killed Each Other-----Yet-----------------

Sorry to be a bit slow with this post.  Easter weekend was spent doing a LOT of packing.  Which is a convenient segue into today's subject.  Once you've decided to move overseas, the next question, to paraphrase Shakespeare, is, "To ship or not to ship?."

There's no "right" answer, and a lot of folks dump everything except what they can carry in their suitcases and just go.  In fact we ate dinner last weekend with another couple here in Vegas also, amazingly, moving to Cuenca soon, who are doing exactly that.

But we love our "stuff" and a lot of it is pretty new and not inexpensive.  Plus we look forward to the comfort of our residence feeling like home, even if it's in a very unfamiliar place.

So the choice was easy, but it certainly wasn't the easiest choice.  Because that has meant we have to literally pick up every single item in our lives and decide what to do with it.  When you're moving across town or even across the country you may decide to have a garage sale or take a few things to Goodwill, but it's easy enough to load most of it in a truck and haul it to the next place.  We know; we've moved 10 times so far.

But this is different.  This is serious moving.  Take documents, for example.  Cynthia's been very diligent about retaining official records, especially ones that are tax-related.  In fact she's been so diligent that we've got receipts and forms dating back to what seems like the Nixon presidency.  With increasing threat of identity theft (although at times I would pay some fool to take over my identity for awhile) you can't just throw it all away.  Nope, one---damn---page at a time you purge any with your signature or SSN to be shredded.

My sister gave us a shredder for Christmas a couple of years ago and at the time I thought (graciously), "Well, that's an interesting gift."  Little did I know I'd now be using that blasted thing more often that I use the toilet.  Twice so far it's literally overheated and shut down on me.  Trying to find humor in even this task my new nickname around here is "Edd the Shredd."

Next comes the furniture---the artwork---the decorative accessories---the dishes & cookware---the clothes---the linens--the boxes in the garage you still haven't even opened from the last move.  Are we going to ship it?  Do the kids want it?  Can we sell it?  Should we just give it away?  These four questions are asked about every---single---thing we've managed to accumulate in almost 39 years of wedded bliss.  I've started channeling Jesse Jackson and Johnny Cochran as I endlessly repeat my latest mantra:  "When in doubt, throw it out!."

Perhaps I'm making all this sound too negative.  Is it a royal pain in the ass?  Yes.  Are we glad we're doing it?  Honestly, yes again.  A Chinese sage said, "The less baggage, the easier the journey."  As each page is shredded, as each Craigslist item goes out the door, as another piece of furniture is tagged to go to our children, our material world is not only smaller, it's better.  We've realized we're boiling our world down to its very essence, and consciously choosing to continue to surround ourselves with only what really matters to us.  Things that at one time had meaning or usefulness are still around because---they're still around.  By forcing ourselves to do so we've found we're actually happy passing them on to new owners who can use and appreciate them.

As a result of this arduous process we've interestingly discovered our mental "baggage" is lightening as well. I've often joked that the main problem with moving somewhere to "make a fresh start" is you keep taking you with you.  It appears we'll be taking a new "us" to Ecuador to begin our new adventure.  Time will tell.

Oh, I'm happy to report we're no longer homeless and now have a temporary place to stay while we finalize our visas and find our "real" home.  But there's still so much up in the air only a few weeks before departure I'm amazed how calm we are about all this.  Because we have LOTS of reasons to be frantic.  I'll fill you in next time.