No-Visitor Policies Do Harm

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*Legal note: this is written under the auspices of both employee safety and in the interest of public health and debate. This commentary is almost universally applicable, regardless of geography. The policies I’m complaining about have negatively impacted thousands of lives without furthering our collective public health interests. They piss me off because people don’t understand the implications until they affect them personally. (Which might well be the national motto for the United States.)

Not all healthcare facilities and hospitals adopted a blanket approach, precisely because such policies wrongly isolate patients and reduce the quality of life of everyone involved. To those who properly implemented precautions without simultaneously severing the vital family-patient link, I thank you. Were such a facility nearby, you can be sure that you would be my first option for all healthcare services. The idea that a family cannot interact in person with their family member when they are ill is one of the most abhorrent ideas I’ve dealt with as an adult.

I have serious concerns about the no-visitor policies healthcare facilities adopted when covid made its appearance. Most of these policies weren’t based on science; they certainly went too far. When I see ‘heart-warming’ videos of long-wedded couples communicating through windows, my heart doesn’t melt. It hardens – and against those who insist that isolation in lieu of reasonable precaution is in the public health interest. We allow millions of Americans to wander in public without taking basic precautions. We are not making good decisions as people, as citizens, or as businesses.

Though it says something less than positive about me, the above angers me. It’s not an irritation that can be overlooked. I see the impact that misguided and poorly-executed policies have on real people. Your mom, sister, grandmother, son, daughter, and friend. Now, me.

Perhaps my inside view of how healthcare works discolors my opinion. Healthcare is a mammoth business. We routinely forget that healthcare is at our service. Though it is a business with a mission, it is one that should focus on the human impact of policies. They all say they agree, though when I outline my argument that demonstrates the no-visitor policies to be draconian, their faces harden and they fall back to a “trust us” stance. Failing that, they aggressively insist. After all, they hold our family members hostage inside their facilities. What can we do? Before you think that ‘hostage’ is too harsh a word, I suggest you drop a family member off at an ER without knowing they have policies that endanger your family member and isolate you from them.

Is there any other business you can think of that operates this way? By invoking the label of public safety, they can hide any motive or lack of reasoning in a policy that harms your interests. The fact that not all hospitals adopted blanket no-visitor policies logically indicates that there is strong disagreement among experts. In my case, it was nonsensical.

I did not have a voice in these policies. No family member did. As you’ll see through my emails, my presence in a hospital as a visitor constituted LESS of a risk to hospital staff than even those very hospital workers. One of the dark secrets of our covid response is that we failed to test each and every healthcare worker. Even while we were in Phase I, we didn’t test. Although the state mandated that surgical candidates would have to be tested prior to entry into the hospital, efforts to test healthcare workers at the same level of sensible precautions were stymied. The motive for such decisions probably jumps into your mind in the same manner as it does for everyone else. The public interest would have best been served by universal testing for everyone in a healthcare facility, followed by stringent testing on a scheduled basis thereafter. This can be done without fear of dismantling the healthcare industry. It would, however, make us all safer.

It is true that it would expose the fact that healthcare workers are working while infected with covid. How many might be up for debate but it would be foolish to insist that the answer is ever ‘zero.’ We can’t fix a problem by ignoring huge variables. Even though I’ve said it already, my commentary is couched inside the box of the public health interest. Only the most feeble arguments would stretch to claim that my mentioning it somehow lessens the confidence of our healthcare industry. The industry is staffed by fallible people, as is any other field such as aviation, police, or engineers. People try to do their best. When policies are shown to cause harm, they need to be modified in the same way that ‘best practices’ evolve within healthcare.

Although I intervened in the cases of others when they were fighting hospitals needlessly keeping them at a distance from their loved ones, I knew eventually the policies I loathed would affect me personally. I had several conversations with my wife. During each, I repeated that I’d rather risk a lower chance of survival in exchange for the simple human right to have her visit and watch over me and my care. It is for the same reason I’ve instructed her that I don’t give consent to ever be airlifted anywhere. I trust my local healthcare facilities. I trust them more because proximity increases the chances that people who know me will be able to visit and observe my care. I do not want to ever be in a facility that denies her access to me unless it is a prison. Weirdly enough in the case of a prison, she’d still be able to visit.

Hospitals of course weight varying interests when establishing policy. Covid, though, has caused a lot of decisions to be made with inadequate information or in fear of liability. You, as a family member, are powerless to appeal, threaten, or sue hospitals for their policies.

One of my friends in particular was forced to endure days of being away from her dying husband. She finally was allowed to see him shortly before his death. I think Northwest Arkansas was on the verge of mounting an insurrection had she not been granted access. All those days they were separated were needless and harmed the public interest. Anyone looking at the issue from a wide perspective agrees that blanket no-visitor policies only serve to hurt human beings. They are written to protect hospitals – which already enjoy immunity and liability protection. If you read my emails below, I address the futility and stupidity of these policies that prohibit loved ones from seeing their family.

During those weeks, despite the fact that the policies did not affect me personally, I wrote opinion pieces and contacted as many interested people as I could to object to these horrific no-visitor policies. The silence from those who could have made sensible changes was astonishing. The same was true regarding efforts to test everyone working in healthcare.

My mother-in-law was rushed to the ER. She was suffering from what we presumed to be diabetic shock. We all met at the ER entrance at the hospital. No one was allowed to enter the ER with her, despite her deteriorating condition and her complex medical condition. A State Trooper, complete with gun, badge, and uniform sent a clear message to my sister-in-law that family members were the problem.

My mother-in-law is 80. She sat in a chair unattended for quite a while, getting worse. No one was there to insist they be cautious with fluid intake, insulin, or the other things that were vital to her proper and safe care. My mother-in-law’s inability to have someone there as her advocate and loved one contributed to a level of care that suffered as a result. Now that the moment has passed, the hospital can claim this to be untrue. As we’ve discovered once again with our recent riots and the events that precipitated them, events that are recorded or witnessed are more difficult to excuse away. Prior to covid, one of the best means to improve a patient’s care was to have both companionship and oversight for that patient. Those will diligent family members directly improve and suffer fewer health complications than those who don’t. No-visitor policies have stripped patients of the right to have oversight by those who care for them.

I wrote the hospital through its portal. My goal was to request permission to assist in better care for my family member, as well as provide companionship. I knew that the approaching holiday weekend would increase her isolation. Here’s what I wrote:

“My mother-in-law is in your facility.

I work at another hospital. I’m COVID-negative and get screened each day.

I’d like to know why I am not allowed entry into the hospital to visit my mother-in-law.

She was admitted through the ER without a COVID test. I also know that even though hospitals are testing all elective surgery candidates, they are not testing all employees within the facility.

IF you have a method to allow me to visit, please advise me as to the protocol.

Thanks, X Teri”

Someone wrote back:

 

“Thanks for reaching out to us and I’m sorry your mother-in-law is ill. If you will send your phone number, I can have one of our nursing leaders call you. I’m copying our Interim CNO in case she is able to respond by email but I think a phone call would be easier.
These are certainly tough times for everyone and we are sorry for the pain and inconvenience these temporary policy changes on visitation are causing. As you know, they are in place to minimize risks of patients or staff health being compromised, particularly since many people are asymptomatic before they test positive for covid.”

In short, the above is a “No, you may not visit” response.

The next day, I received a reply from someone else, presumably higher in authority:

“Teri, ____________ copied me on your request to evaluate the possibility of visitation at _______________ hospital. As I am sure you recognize, this is a difficult time, the surge of Covid patients has required administration at our hospital, as well as the region, to place restrictions on visitor access. These efforts are to mitigate any possible exposure to our patient population already managing their illnesses or post surgical recovery.

We have made available to our staff access to ipads or recommended the use of phones to support face time calls and discussions with the nursing and physicians if requested by the identified contact family member to provide additional means of support. Nursing staff are available 24/7 to connect with families.

I can empathize with the challenges this places on families but safety is our priority at this time as we continue to care for our community.

Please reach out to me personally if you have any additional questions or needs.

Thank you for your understanding.”

 

Here is my reply:

 

“Thank you for replying.
 
My first name is X, as unusual as that is. This isn’t a “gotcha” email. Please don’t interpret this email as an attack. I am writing it in one fell swoop to voice my objection and concern.
 
I have a family member in your facility. I know that her initial care was less than desirable due to no one being allowed to accompany her during her initial ER visit. No matter how the issue is characterized, she did not receive the care she could have, precisely because the adopted no-visitor policy prohibited her caregiver or another person from being present. This absence needlessly caused the healthcare workers to lack information that would have affected both the timeliness and effectiveness of her treatment. I don’t expect anyone to enthusiastically agree with my assessment. It is, however, a hard truth – and one supported by the facts.
 
I understand the issues surrounding covid.
 
One of the things that has long puzzled me is that while hospitals pre-test elective surgery patients, we still haven’t tested all healthcare workers.
 
Statistically speaking, we know that we have covid-positive healthcare worker cases. We had the opportunity prior to resuming surgery schedules to test each team member at our local hospitals. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t do so.
 
This continues to trouble me greatly as I see families grapple with the ‘no visitor’ policies. I knew it would eventually come around and affect me personally.
 
Knowing that “we don’t know” whether healthcare workers continue to expose patients is an issue that I can’t get around. While I, as a worker in a healthcare facility in Northwest Arkansas, get screened daily, have been tested for covid and follow routine precautions each day, can’t assist in the healthcare of my family member. This disconnect isn’t logical and doesn’t serve my family’s interests or those of public health.
 
While I still would not agree with the visitor policies most hospitals have adopted, I find it illogical that hospitals are not doing everything possible to help our community; such efforts would include testing each and every team member at your facilities. It certainly would allow for those of us in healthcare and who have been tested to be allowed to see our family members.
 
The fact that I’ve been tested when most of your staff has not should be sufficient justification to be allowed to wear PPE and see my family member. Once you see it written that way, it is hard to continue to see fit to disagree with my claim that I should be able to visit my family member.
 
I don’t expect my reasoned response to draw a change of heart for your hospital.
 
I’ve argued against these policies from the day they were implemented.
 
Each of us is exposed and exposes others on a daily basis. It’s true that we might hopefully reduce our involvement, the statistical truth is that we have passed the point of logical precautions.
 
While it might be easier to issue a blanket no-visitor policy, it is one not based on consistent logic or one taking into account the needs of human beings when they are ill.
 
I only wrote back in the futile chance logic would prevail and I’d be allowed to visit my mother-in-law.
 
Absent that, I did not want my silence to be interpreted as agreement with a policy that goes too far and without merit to the extreme of impacting our companionship and oversight of the care our family member might receive.

 

The first person wrote me back, instead of the person higher up. A holiday weekend was approaching. It’s likely the higher-up was off for the holiday.

“X – thank you for copying me on this. I am not a clinician but what you say does make sense to me & I can assure you it will be discussed. In fact, we all know that – in ordinary times – we encourage involvement of family members & other caretakers. ______________ checks email regularly and would encourage you to reach out to her or the house supervisor any time you want to discuss a concern or have a question. Again, I’m sorry for the issues that have led to these temporary very strict policies”

I waited and heard nothing directly about my appeal or request. So, I wrote both of the people I’d heard from:

“I know the holiday probably exacerbated _________’s lack of enthusiasm to attempt a reply to me. I forwarded the email to you because you were the first point of contact for my issue. Each day that passes with rules that force distance between family members is one that cannot be reclaimed.

In your reply, you said something critical to my issue: “…these temporary very strict policies…”

From a family point of view, the policy that prohibits me from seeing my mother-in-law isn’t temporary. It could very well be permanent. I know people who experienced that very issue. They didn’t get the chance to speak face-to-face with their loved ones. They’d entered healthcare facilities without oversight and companionship. And they died in those conditions.

While I objected to these policies when they did not personally affect me, I’m flummoxed to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced them how needlessly draconian they are. Because I have a view from the inside, I know that these policies are blanket policies and do not generally advance the objective of public safety that they purport to. In my case specifically, they only do harm.

I enter a larger healthcare facility each day, get screened, and have been tested for covid. Yet, when misfortune touched my family, I was somehow classified as the general public and denied access to my family member. I’ve been tested for covid, which is far and away more than the overwhelming majority of healthcare workers in your facility can say.

Additionally, your healthcare workers live and work in one of the hottest hot spots in the United States. They eat, shop, and move about among a high concentration of people who do not wear masks and do not observe proper social distancing. Your healthcare workers, the ones caring for my mother-in-law, come to work after such exposure each and every day. Even though I work in a similar but different environment, I am lumped in with the general public, despite being tested and despite following protocols when out in public.

It is lunacy to deny me access to my mother-in-law. Factually speaking, I present LESS exposure to your staff and other patients than your own healthcare workers.

It’s easy for me to get preachy in these emails. On the other hand, hospitals are places where people experience tragedy daily.

When people are ill, especially as old as my mother-in-law, there is no such thing as temporary.

The policies you are enforcing might well be permanent in my case. I don’t know how else to say it.

When logic does not intersect with law (and voluntary rules), the effect is that people needlessly are harmed.

If hospitals don’t intelligently and scientifically lift these burdensome and needless restrictions, the same policies may one day befall you and your loved ones.

Again, I didn’t expect a reversal of policy but I honestly hoped that sense, logic, and compassion would prevail.

I’m still waiting. I’m not the first. And it is a further tragedy that I will not be the last.

X”

I haven’t received a reply, of course. Two days have elapsed. I wrote them a final email, after hearing nothing in response.

“Given that I wrote Saturday and did not receive a reply, I am assuming that my emails weren’t bumped up for further consideration? I didn’t know if there was an appeal process or if an edict had been announced that allows for no variance. I know that some patients were allowed visitors in the interim.

I can understand if you would have said, “The matter is closed.” I wouldn’t be happy, but it at least it would have been a final statement.

Since this issue came up for me personally, several people have reached out and provided me with details about other families and how they were dealt with. I have a lot to consider going forward.

Under the assumption that no one will reach out to me again, I’ll close by saying that it was wrong for _____________________ to prevent me from being with my mother-in-law in the ER and thereafter in her room. It’s a policy without logical footing and one which inhibits the public health you’re charged to protect.

Thanks, X”

As with thousands of others, the hospital has artificially and needlessly robbed me of my ability to be with my family member.

Looking at my case specifically, it is a fact that I present less of a risk to patients and staff than the staff members working in the facility do. I can prove I’m not covid positive. I can enter using PPE that eliminates the risk. Meanwhile, staff members caring for patients at the facility that denies me entry are working, shopping, and living in one of the hottest hot spots per capita in the United States. They haven’t been tested. They walk among a community that does not protect itself by wearing masks or social distance at a rational and reasonable level.

They are a bigger risk than I am.

I’m been tested. They have not.

Anyone who doesn’t question these policies hasn’t had the misfortune of watching their family member needlessly suffer.

My mother-in-law moved a few months ago from a remote location to Springdale in part to be closer to medical care when needed. We’ve visited more in the last few months than we have in years. Ironically, hospitals have worsened that wound of isolation by refusing to allow me to see her.

One hundred thousand people die from infections they receive while in healthcare facilities. This was true before covid.

The workers caring for my mother-in-law haven’t been tested, even though it is an obvious step to ensure the public health and employee safety.

Somehow, I’m the problem?

These policies must go. They must be replaced by sensible public policy and hospital rules that take into account the interests of the whole patient.

Test all healthcare workers, both now and on a scheduled timeline.

Allow designated visitors, even if a covid test is required.

Ask patients and visitors to sign a liability form, to address the primary and obvious reason that hospitals continue to abuse their discretion regarding visitors.

Require masks in public.

Or..

Continue to do the same.

 

 

 

 

Let There Be Light – An Epitaph For Truth-Telling

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*I’d advise against reading this post. It’s a little unsettling. Because another relative decided to wage war on me, I was expecting a call, email, or message. To be prepared, I turned on an app on my cellphone. When I got the call, I clicked ‘record.’ That choice led me to be able to post the content of the conversation below. It’s not the entirety, of course.

I’ve waited a while to share it. Honestly, I figured one of the characters in this story would have passed on by now.

We all have people in our lives who have dark secrets. Many people would choose a miserable life over truth and honesty. They fear that the concealed darkness they protect will somehow consume them. The opposite is true: secrets, especially family secrets, only gain their power by our complicity. Children grow up to recognize the disconnect between what they’ve experienced and the story that follows them in life. Most maintain the charade of silence because it is safer. Silence seldom draws much ire or criticism. If we all consciously chose to avoid making ourselves prisoners to our secrets, we’d be happier.

Although I can’t be sure who led him to my history online, it doesn’t change anything. He’d obviously found my thousand stories about love, life, laughter, loss, and lies. As with my family tree online, my stories are not hidden, private, or anonymous. I share them so that anyone can read them. I can’t force belief. I can’t force consumption.

I don’t claim to be a singular authority but I do lash back at anyone who challenges me with the asinine assertion that I have no right to tell my own story. I’m not forcing anyone to consume it. I get grumpy when people who’ve remained silent for decades suddenly get a voice or a conscience; or worse, when they go down the road of revisionism to challenge what happened or to create their own stories with the goal of mitigating the ones I’ve always shared. Several episodes of my life have been worsened because people have lashed out with their own revisions after mine have been out in the wild for most of my adult life.

I could tell the conversation had an intended point, even if we weren’t getting there directly.

He couldn’t see that attempting to challenge me would only cement my authority and right to tell my story. His anger and frustration not only told me that my words had pierced his heart, but that he recognized some truth in them.

People tend to only stand rigid in anger when something has blurred their internal belief system.

It’s pointless to argue with someone wearing clown shoes – so any defensive reaction is in recognition of an arrow cast with keen accuracy.

So, I told him. “You are supposed to let the fools talk. Arguing with them only makes you foolish. If what I say is obviously false, why are you angrily wanting to silence me? It’s all out there, on the internet. Well, not all, but a great deal of it. And those parts which aren’t out there can be inferred. I think I captured the savagery of some of my youth truthfully. My story hasn’t changed in 30 years. I think that fact alone gives me a voice of authority and finality.” I wanted him to know that my story wasn’t accusatory; rather, it was history personalized and irrefutable. I wasn’t telling it to draw blood. It was my story – and mine to tell. He had his story to tell if he wants to. He won’t though, because words won’t conceal his complicity.

“What good does it do? You’re not helping anyone. It’s over,” he said.

“It’s not entirely over. I’m not dead yet – and neither is your father. DNA has a lot to say, to reveal many of the lies we’ve been told. I can find things as an adult that our ancestors screamed to silence.” I waited.

“DNA isn’t the full story, X. And people kept secrets for a reason.” It seemed like that comment wasn’t full of holes to him.

“Well, why did your parents fight tooth and nail for no one to join me in a DNA test? Precisely because they knew we’d find skeletons, bastard children, and stories that would lead to huge lies. I often wonder if they knew my Dad had illegitimate children and that I had a black half-sister. It seems likely. They robbed me of all those years with her – and gave my Dad a chance to hide from the consequences of what he’d done. Even now, no one wants to talk about the fact that Grandfather Terry was ridiculously old to be marrying Grandmother Terry as young as she was..”

He started to object and I cut him off and continued.

“It helps me. Most of the guilty are dead. I’m not claiming moral superiority. I am better than my ancestors, though. Literally, every moment of your life is over in the sense you use the word, right? Yet, when you think about yourself, you think about the sum of your words and experiences. All history. You can choose another path and never look back. That’s not what we do, though. Telling only the beautiful moments is easy. We are the sum total of what we’ve said or done.” I knew he hadn’t thought of that.

“What about your motive? It’s obvious that you are writing about it just to hurt people.” He seemed to think that was a rebuttal.

I noted he didn’t challenge the truth of my writing – just its existence.

“My motive? What was the motive when our mutual ancestors covered up that my dad killed someone or went to prison? Or beat me with a rake? Or when your dad told me it was my fault that my dad hit me so hard I was coughing blood? History doesn’t hold a motive. And I noticed you failed to mention that there were good times amid all the blood-stained teeth. I don’t just write about the terror. It’s odd that you focus only on the things that you’d rather not talk about, that you’re heavy-handedly trying to censor me.”

He was clearly dumbstruck. “Listen, I can’t defend why he did or said things. I wasn’t there. But our dads were both more or less good people. They had problems, to be sure.”

I cut him off.

“Most people don’t beat their wife and kids. Or fail to protect kids when they are being beaten. They also don’t use the n-word or hold a buffet of prejudices. Or kill people because they chose to drink and drive. Those aren’t problems. They are psychosis. Your dad preached that he was superior to black people and that anyone sharing his religion wasn’t welcome in Heaven. My Dad literally tried to kill us and never faced the consequences of the law or even of our family stepping in and demanding he act like a human being. Their silence encouraged him to continue for decades.”

I paused, as he stammered.

“Well, my dad loves God. He’ll be in Heaven.” I could tell he was certain of the fact.

“I know you love your dad. You were almost always good to me and had a way of sharing laughter everywhere you went. It is possible to be a good person and have a parent or parents who were not good people. It’s okay to say you loved bad people because that is how love works. It’s no sin. It is a sin, though, to insist they were good people because you won’t see the truth of their badness.” I waited.

I continued.

“Your dad looked away while my dad beat me dozens of times. He told me to go back to my dad after he literally tried to kill me. He let my dad pour hot oil on me, lock me in a shed in the middle of summer, and make me eat rotted meat to teach me a lesson. He let dad beat mom and told her it was her fault and god’s will. He told people he was better than dark people. He used his job to hurt people who weren’t white. He said gay people were the Devil’s children. Man, did I miss anything?”

I was going for the jugular. “Your dad is a better person than me, I’ll give you that much. He’ll die soon enough and people will piously pretend he was a good man. But if he is the standard, I want no part of it. It is his face that I see when I imagine what real hatred and concealed bigotry looks like. That’s quite the legacy. And when he’s gone, I’m going after his legacy, if writing the truth can be twisted to be an accusation instead of a recitation. I stood in silence when he called my grandpa a degenerate drunk, all those years ago. Your dad was often great to me. He could be generous and lovely as a person. I’ve said so. I know that the negative drowns out the positive. But that is the point. You can’t escape the totality of what you’ve said and done. He might not have snapped my bones with his own hands but his beliefs pushed him to allow others to do so. Had he ever realized he was wrong and told me as much, it would have been redemptive. People like him never do, though.”

I continued. “Your dad insisted that if a thing were true he could say it with a clear conscience. Those words alone give me a license to drag his name through the mud. And I will. Because I can. Because it’s my story. One day, this conversation will be out there, too. My goal isn’t to find the mud. It’s to tell a story. I can’t change what happened. I can either silence it or share it.”

“You’re an asshole!” he said.

“It’s hereditary. That’s my point. I haven’t beaten anyone to death yet, raped a young girl, or allowed anyone to do it and get by with it, so I guess I’m ahead of both of our dads, aren’t I? As an adult, I have not once allowed another adult to beat a child in my presence. I don’t recall ever saying that I wish the white race were back in charge, that gay people should be put down, or that my religion was the only one.” I laughed.

The phone went silent.

I won’t though.

Befourth

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In a strange place, as dusk approached, I was alone, as if the world stood still. I heard echoes and booms. The frequency and intensity slowly intensified, much like a novice drummer tentatively using his sticks across the surface of a drum set. Peering through the window, I realized I had a front-row seat to a fireworks display at a church slightly more than a hundred yards from me. Because I was higher than the display, I had the best view in the house. It was a moment crafted just for me, though the dozens of spectators packed on the lawn and the parking lot behind the church would disagree. Before light succumbed to dusk and encroaching darkness, I could see the dozens of mismatched lawn chairs assembled in random order across the pavement.  I could see the dots of both adults and children restlessly moving around. Though they anticipated the commencement of the ceremony, I’m sure many of them realized how quickly it would come and go, much in the same manner as the days we take for granted overtake us. One of our modern curses is to be thinking about getting out easily after whatever event we’re attending is over; it is the opposite of living in the moment. “Parking prevails,” a wise man once said.

I pulled a desk chair in front of the large window and sat down to observe.

Because I continue to believe that 90% of our lives lie in the spaces between the grand moments, I couldn’t help but think that somehow I knew I would always remember this moment.

Though I’ve forgotten the majority of my incredible trip to D.C. with the band in high school, I’ll never forget the backdrop of the national fireworks display in the distance. Though we were confined inside due to rain, the moment was majestic and shared. We’d burned under the July sun earlier in the day. All of us were on an upper floor of the hotel. Perhaps the fireworks display I observed at Lake Atalanta 30 + years ago was more exciting because I was dangerously close to the firework system itself. I was within feet of it and found myself mesmerized by the colors and brilliant reflection of the charges on the shimmering surface of the lake as they exploded. As each charge fired, I could feel the heat and the tickle of the powder discharged from the nozzles.

This year, I had the best view, the best outlook and the most colorful advantage. In the background, the approaching dark skies blossomed with intermittent bolts of lightning above the horizon. Mother Nature competed against man and I was a sole witness.

It was an unplanned moment. Unplannable, really.

The subsequent booms and explosions of color ejected streams of dense smoke that floated slowly across to the west. The dark clouds behind and above seemed frozen in place, even as the lightning bolted from within. The smoke billows seemed artificially 3-D as they moved across the sky in front of me.

Across that same long horizon, I watched the dueling lights of the radio tower blink intermittently and the illumination of the coal electricity plant light up a small portion above the vista. Dotted all along the expanse were other fireworks displays, some large, some small, all equally observed by craning necks and fascinated watchers.

I could sense the anticipation of those at the church after so many confined moments and small rooms, behind masks, away from shared experiences.

This unscripted moment will not be rivaled.

Afterward, I watched the human dots and the lawn chairs as they dispersed back to their vehicles. I didn’t need to hear their private conversations to know the content. I now wonder why they didn’t remain there, congregated, and joined. Even in silence. The homes they’ve become too accustomed to in the last few months undoubtedly will echo falsely upon their return. How long will their memories of this exotic Fourth of July remain in their minds? Like the fireworks, things are moving explosively and with no preordained velocity, as if life must be packed into a single instantaneous moment that escapes our grasp. Amidst the temporary sizzle, all of us would probably agree that life is simultaneously on hold and flying past us with hurried feet.

Because you were not here to see, I’ll carve a tiny slice of my witnessed memory to share with you in the most imperfect way possible.

Now that everyone has departed, I remain at the window observing Mother Nature illuminate the dark clouds and the enveloping night with immense bolts of electricity. I feel that those attending the display should have remained to see this too. This eternal power abides restlessly and insistently, ignoring our movements with disregard. It needs no Fourth as an excuse; its power conjures a glimpse of a timeline so mammoth that it drowns out our concerns.

While I filmed both fireworks and lightning in their respective moments, I won’t share them with you. I’d like your imagination to fill in the gaps of what I witnessed, much in the same way I hope you fill in your life with as much curiosity and interest as these times permit.

The picture I used is not real, no more than the already-forgotten pictures you might have taken during the holiday. For me, the surprise and delight of experiencing fireworks spontaneously would overshadow the reality of data I could see. I stole that moment from a night otherwise absent such delight.

Premonition

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Earlier, the sky opened momentarily and dropped a few minutes of light rain. Given that the temperature was hovering at ninety, the humidity increased. Despite being fatigued from work, I stopped and picked up a few things at Lowes. Yesterday, the heavy rain prevented me from going outside. The truth is that I could barely move by the time I finished work. As I exited the store on the way home, the rain drenched me with its pendulous drops.

Today, I went out in the backyard, working on my infinite project. I painted a few stepping stones and reseated a few others. While I was on my hands and knees trying to position other heavy stones for the planter, I smelled the intense and overwhelming odor or tires that have skidded on pavement for several seconds. When I looked up at the dark sky, I heard someone shout. In my mind, I saw someone being sideswiped by another driver who had fallen asleep. The smell of burned tires persisted for another couple of seconds.

Whether I experienced a strange and momentary daydream or something else, I’m not sure. I’m not superstitious, though. I finished working outside and came inside and took a shower as cold as the water would go. When I passed through the living room, I saw my copy of the “The Stand” on the little table by the couch. For a brief second, the smell of burning tires hit me again.

Maybe I need to stay out of the heat or perhaps I should stop drinking so much diet tonic water. Whatever the daydream or hallucination was, it is thankfully receding, like a dream that won’t let go.

 

Hippy Fence

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Because I wanted to experiment, I decided to build a portion of a privacy fence across a portion of the right half of my rear property line. My wife wanted me to block the view from the neighbor’s back yard. She couldn’t picture my final design at all. That’s probably a good thing because some of my first ideas were truly bizarre.

It took all my self-control to avoid building the crazy thing I had in my head. After looking at various fences across the area and following that up with looking at several hundred online, I knew that the options at my disposal were almost infinite. Luckily for my wife, I went with a more conventional look. Believe me, I wanted to do something vibrant, colorful, and unusual. If such things interest you, I recommend that you Google “modern fences” and variations of it.

I also had to decide whether to take down the chain-link fence on that side. Even though it might surprise the property owners behind me, the chain link fence is on my property. The marking stakes from three surveys are still in the ground.

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This is the latest survey marker on the left side and rear fence of my yard. You can see that the chain link that was there is on my side of the property line.
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These are 3 different survey markers on the right rear property line. You can see that the chain link fence is inside my side of the property line. (And that the neighbor’s fence is actually a bit over the survey line.)

 

 

A previous owner incorrectly (but cheaply) attached chain link fencing to the barbed wire fence that separated the property. I cut away all the barbed wire over the last few weeks. The only reason I had the energy was due to the coronavirus. I didn’t cut away the chain link fence because the neighbors have a dog.

For the neighbor behind me on the left, I cut away all the barbed wire, chain link fencing, and posts as soon as he finished his section of privacy fence on his side. The yard immediately looked better. It doesn’t hurt that I no longer have to see the nutso neighbor’s roommate, the one who literally screams and shouts at the sky during thunderstorms. He’s always been decent to me but the possibility of him going off his rocker at any moment keeps me at a distance.

For the supporting posts on my proposed privacy section, I used three 8′ posts set in concrete. Because my plan was to use horizontal boards, I didn’t need support strips running horizontally. I also spaced my posts 5′ apart instead of a longer distance.

I also had to take into account the cable lines running incorrectly across the property line. (This is due to a much older neighborhood being behind the new one where I live.) I’ve learned that utility companies often do the wrong thing – and sometimes the illegal thing if it saves the contractor installing it time. I learned this lesson again in the last year as Ozarks Electric trespassed and damaged my yard. Placing the posts more closely paid off because of the shorter distance between posts gave me a greater ability to stagger away from the lines that shouldn’t be there.

For my panel, I ran two sets of 8′ boards horizontally across the 3 posts. They overlapped over the middle of the three posts, and the notched ends faced away from both the outside posts. I used star-point wood screws to attach the boards. Because my local retailer had insufficient boards, I had half cedar and half something else. Instead of waiting, I alternated the boards across both halves, creating an alternating pattern on the 16′ panel I ended up with.

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Having experimented with this type of fence, I discovered that my design is more visually appealing that most standard fence sections, such as the ones used in the ‘alleys’ between houses. I’ll probably put up a similar panel design on the left side of the front of my house – a section that will not contain a gate. I’ve learned that no matter how much you insist that people not use one side of your house to access the rear, they will do it anyway. Not having a gate eliminates the issue. I’d also like to have a couple of large boulders delivered too. I’ve always found them to be visually appealing.

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The fence blocks neighbors while we’re sitting in our rocking chairs.

Shamway

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While I worked at Cargill, one of my white coworkers approached me with his pitch. He was enthusiastic in his approach. What he didn’t know is that I saw him coming from a mile away and was already calculating how best to both amuse myself and learn something from him in the process. Being poor granted me the ability to avoid spending all my money foolishly; most of mine went for rent, pico de gallo, and an acre of french fries.

I’ve been thinking about some of my shenanigans due to the Showtime show, “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” starring Kirsten Dunst. It takes a darkly comedic view of MLMs.

I invited my coworker Mitch (not his real name) to come to my residence. At the time I lived with a co-worker from Cargill. He owned a trailer in a park in Johnson. This is the trailer that would later give me the opportunity to say, “A plane crashed on my house.”

Mitch left his car running in the driveway, a common tactic used by converts to the scheme. As I listened, my roommate Ray shook his head in wonderment. He lived for years in California. As a result, his exposure to MLMs was vast. Later, he shared some of the stories of friends who had ruined themselves with such endeavors. I let Mitch do his pitch without being too problematic. It almost killed me. At the end of the first phase of his pitch, he asked me if I was interested. “Yes, but I’m more interested in how this ends for you, in three months or a year because it is going to end. Badly.” Because he’d spent a great deal of time with someone in his upline, he had a pat answer to redirect my point. I then said, “One thing I noticed is that you didn’t identify your company by name at any point. That’s one of the key warning signs for a pitch.” Mitch became nervous. I stood up and shook his hand and told him I wished him the best of luck. “Think of this as a training exercise. I’ll make a list of things that caught my attention.”

Ray stood up and told him, “Your pitch is pretty good, Mitch. I’ve heard a lot of them. But I recommend you quit now and start your own business or do your own thing before you spend a lot of money to make $10.”

Later, I gave Mitch a list of critiques. I made my comedic recommendations alongside my serious ones. He took the list. He stuck with the program for several more months, although after a couple of months, he began to drastically talk about it less. He quit Cargill without notice. Months later, someone told me he lost several thousand dollars buying his merchandise before quitting the MLM.

Over the next few years, I went to several pitches to see how much creativity might be involved. As you would guess, not very much.

Later, as people approached me with new opportunities to own my own company, be my own boss, I varied my responses from amused to indignant to gauge how it affected them. They couldn’t understand that I’d already peeked behind the MLM curtain. I asked them all, “Name one person you know who made the kind of money you claim. I want to talk to them.” No one ever gave me such a name, at least not a reasonable one. “I’ll follow up with you in a year. I hope you strike it rich. I’m rooting for you. And you should feel free to tell me ‘I told you so’ when you do!” No one ever did.

The same was true with timeshares and other similar high-pressure sales. One of the best I ever witnessed was in Mexico during vacation. The presenter was incredibly adept at countering every conceivable question or insight. Discovering that I spoke Spanish, he tried the ‘divide and conquer’ method. I switched to ‘batsh!t crazy’ mode and completely destroyed any means he tried to get back to normal. I ran down the clock and many of the other participants/victims joined me in ruining any chance we’d be stupid enough to buy a timeshare. Despite the free souvenir blankets, ponchos, bottles of tequila, and free meals, I finally got him to admit that each session paid for itself with only ONE person or family signing up. His usual success rate was 1 in 5, much higher than the average. This interaction was one of many that reminded me that when a person argues after the first “No,” you’re being manipulated and it is best to flee by any means necessary.

I learned long ago that you can’t convince a person in the cult of an MLM to listen to reason; they must finish the fatigue and finish line of their own accord, often after weakening countless friendships and connections.

One MLM currently going the rounds had to disclose that less than 2% make more than minimum wage doing it, and very rarely can someone live on the income generated. Most quit after losing more than they ever earned. Having a family member or close friend involved in any MLM is exactly like having a used car salesman living with you.

All of us have experienced the agony of a social media friend getting started in an MLM. The cringe factor is immense. Many of us have learned that it is impossible to tell them they are making a mistake.

MLMs are like religion; those involved want to do all the talking and seldom wish to hear your input.

All of us universally cringe when someone gets snagged by the tendrils of the promise of easy money.

As with some religious views, don’t make the mistake of trying to get people to see reason. They have to discover it for themselves.

Whether it is skincare products, essential oils, nutrition drinks, or clothing, it is never worth it. I am still waiting to get to know one person who has made a living from it. I certainly know a lot of people who have lost their social media friends by abusing their connections with these ‘business opportunities.’

For just an hour a day and $43,543, I’ll teach you how to do the same.

The Never-Ending Yard Project

 

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Using only hand tools, I cut down several trailers of trees, brush, and nonsense the neighbor behind me allowed to encroach. I paid a nice Latinx gentleman I found on social media to haul the mess away. He, among several others, said he’d throw it all over the fence if it was his property. Despite making a living off doing such jobs, he told me he is constantly annoyed by how many people leave it to others to clean up their messes.

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The above two pictures of the back fence ‘before’ actually look better than they should. The condition we received the property was actually much worse. These are after I did a considerable amount of cleaning, cutting, and hauling. That’s a shame, considering none of the mess belonged to me. It’s typical for many areas of Springdale, though.

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The above two accurately represent the way I received the property, despite what the builder promised. The City of Springdale doesn’t really do much to property owners who fail to maintain their lots, even when utility access is involved. That’s a great thing if you’re accustomed to living in an unkempt jungle but not so joyous if you’re trying to enjoy what you have. It was this way at my last house on Cottonwood. We paid several thousand dollars to improve it, especially so for those who don’t maintain their property.

The ax I bought recently at Tractor Supply nearly took my head off. I have one remaining stump along the slovenly neighbor’s back fence. Because I wanted to make a sunflower box in that area, I have been waging war with the stump a little bit each day. It’s winning but I’m incrementally reducing its width, depth, and strength. I was counting down the number of swings I’d give it that afternoon. When I reached the penultimate swing, the ax split and the head surprisingly came up several feet. I’d like to say I dodged it. However, it was over before I realized what happened. (Which is often true in life as well.)

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The next day, I decided to put the sunflower box almost all the way to the left end of the back fence instead of waiting to buy another ax or stick of dynamite to eradicate the stump. I did buy another ax yesterday, though, one that is almost unbreakable. We’ll see if that holds true. I’m still surprised that I was using enough force to break a rugged ax like the one I bought at Tractor Supply.

This morning was cool and windy. Unlike most days, I didn’t go out until after 7. Despite the haze of the Sahara dust, I spent a few hours adding more 12 x 12 painted stepping stones, installing a whiskey barrel planter for daisies, another birdhouse, as well as a couple of other miscellaneous things. I also climbed up to one of the previous birdhouses and stuck a finger inside. The nest therein felt a bit odd to my finger. I didn’t fall off the ladder, though.

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My cat Güino enjoys sitting in the kitchen window, both to watch me as I continue to add things to the back yard, as well as to twitch at the dozens of birds and squirrels that now visit us daily.

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Though the above picture is from a previous stage of my project, the top arrow indicates the picnic table feeder that the squirrels love sitting on. The bottom arrow points to a bird caught in the picture as I snapped it. I’ve discovered that there are unobserved animals in several of my pictures. No Sasquatch or Godzilla appearances yet, though.

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A closer view of the picnic table feeder. I used a horizontal board to allow me to screw the table to the 4 x 4 post in more than one location. I’m not a fan of the ornate birdhouse on top of the blue pole. My wife took this picture this morning and cropped it. We throw a combination of shelled bird peanuts and human peanuts out, as well as putting them in the picnic table feeder.

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The above picture shows the whiskey barrel crate planter on the right, as well as few more stepping stones I placed going left to right. We discovered that a couple of the squirrels sometimes dangle upside down from the upper board to drink from the birdbath.

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Normally, I’d say I’m not a fan of these kinds of planters. My wife got it, so I decided I’d better find a place for it. I put a decent amount of lava rock in the bottom to both reduce the weight and the amount of soil needed to fill it.

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From the back left corner of my yard. I took this picture after a great deal of cleanup on my part, especially removing the horrible barbed wire and chainlink that languished there for a couple of decades.
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Another picture from when I had initially started adding color to the yard.
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Another one from when I barely started.

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This little bird flew into the window one morning. I coaxed him back around the house and finally up to the top of the fence. He finally flew into the safety of the trees, but inexpertly, like an over-sized plane struggling to get aloft.

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I bought an orb for my wife. The cat watched in amazement as it transitioned through the colors.

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The hibiscus has done well. Dawn was reluctant to spend so much on something for a plant. It’s flourished, though, and blossomed at least once a day since we repotted it.

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Coming home this afternoon, I put the components of a gag gift on the bed. He pounced on it, preventing me from assembling the gift box. I could have used the rubber mallet on him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye, Dear Rug

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I have some unusual habits. For instance, I’m not a fan of a rug outside of the shower. Few people have good ones and others tend to smell odd. I’d rather clean the floor. Since the only product I use in the shower is a bar of soap, I don’t have the usual array of issues most people have in their bathrooms.

A few years ago, however, I spent a good deal of time making a personalized rug with dozens of pictures of people I know on it. It did cost a bit, but I wanted something personal and colorful. Once it arrived, I couldn’t bring myself to place it outside the shower, so I put in front of my bathroom sink.

A couple of people seemed unhappy that their faces were on a rug.  I promptly ignored them. If they couldn’t see the honor in having their faces emblazoned on a bathroom rug, I had nothing to say to them.

After years of faithful service, the rug has succumbed to hazy, indistinct detail. For that reason, I’m going to discard it.

I considered leaving it someplace, perhaps on a neighbor’s porch. It would be a great story if said neighbor recognized someone featured on the rug.

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I modified the famous bathroom scene from “Dumb and Dumber.” It’s on a 16X20 wood panel I had custom made. People are surprised when they use my bathroom and discover that it’s real. (See below for shower curtain explanation on the right…)

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This is my infamous Jesus/ Zach Galifianakis wood panel outside my bathroom. People often notice that something isn’t quite right about it but struggle to figure out exactly what.

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The above picture is the one I designed to be my shower curtain. It’s huge. I paid a bit for it to get it correctly sized. I still wonder what the tech who made it wondered as it was fabricated. I forget how odd it looks to be people who’ve never seen it. As with most of my other decorations, a lot of people think I’m joking about how I have things decorated.

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The above chalkboard is outside my bathroom. As you can see, it currently holds a drawing of my cat Güino my wife made. I added a Trump fart to the cat. That seems to be the only relevant news lately.

 

 

 

Easy and Creative Birdhouse Pole

 

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My backyard is a nascent work-in-progress. Only recently did my neighbor to the rear even pretend to maintain his yard. I cut down a couple of trailers of his horrible brush and ‘trees’ and hauled them off. He then put up a cheap fence across the back.

If you are looking for a creative and relatively easy way to erect a birdhouse pole, I have one for you. You can control how high it is. I’ve learned through experience that the taller ones draw the birds more rapidly. If you can place it near something that provides cover, you’ll have better luck. If you have a neighbor who does not want to see your birdhouses or hates anything creative, this is your chance to tower above his or her boring fenceline.

First, visit Lowes, Home Depot, or anywhere else you tend to spend five times more money than you planned due to the array of cool things you find when you visit. Go to the plumbing section. First, choose a couple of 3″ or 4″ wide PVC drainage pipes. They are usually white. 3″ pipes are easier to handle. 6′ lengths will fit into cars and other vehicles easier.

Since I recommend that you get two 6′ lengths, you’ll need a coupler of the same size. If that confuses you, all it means is that it is a collar, usually about 4″ high that you use to attach the 2 long pieces together. Not that you would need to, but you can buy a specialty saw for cutting such pipes; a common hacksaw works perfectly well, too. If you use a collar to connect 2 6′ lengths, you won’t need to cut anything.

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Additionally, if you want to easily attach the birdhouse to the finished pipe, I recommend that you buy a drain flange to attach to what will become the top of your pole. The advantage of such flanges is that they are flat on top and have slots and holes for screws to pass through in any direction. Once you finish your pipe, you can use a ladder to mount just about any birdhouse to the top of your finished pole. Some flanges have mesh on the top. Any of them will work if they look like the picture I’ve attached.

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Before putting a metal collar on the base and attaching a birdhouse.

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In the above picture, I draped my neighbor’s fence with a cloth to prevent paint from hitting his fence.

If you spend a couple of minutes in the plumbing section of your favorite home improvement retailer, you’ll discover that they carry a huge variety of couplings, bends, and assorted connectors. These allow you to deviate from my pictured “straight pipe” example. You can add s-curves, cross branches, and several other options. PVC is used to create a variety of things because it is able to be modified by length and direction so easily.

You’ll also want to buy a small metal can of pipe cement. It’s cheap. You apply a bit around the circumference of the couple, pipe, or flange that you attach to the two pipes that create the pole. If you have a glue-sniffing addiction, you’ll need to be careful at this point.

To create the pole, glue the pipe coupler to one end of one PVC pipe. Glue the pipe flange to the other PVC pipe. After a few minutes, glue the two pieces together.

You’ll have one 12′ pole with a flange on the top. A foot or two will be concealed below the ground.

For the ones I make, I usually spray expanding foam into the ends or glue plastic into the sections so that they don’t fill with water. It’s not required.

You can see my previous extremely helpful post regarding digging holes to cement such poles in place. Burying and Cementing The Pole

Once the pole is cemented into the ground, you can get a piece of curved metal to cover the base. They sell them at home improvement stores. Such a piece of metal can be found in the HVAC section or the construction section. The pieces I buy do not quite reach all the way around the pipe. The gap is concealed by my placement of it toward the back. I use screws to attach the pipe sheath to the PVC pole. Clamps will work if you buy ones large enough. I don’t always buy exactly the same type of pipe. For the one pictured, I face the crimped portion below the surface of the soil around the base of the pole. If you were so inclined, you can cut the pipe to varying lengths and/or cut away the crimped portion.

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You can see in the picture that I also have several 8′ x 4″ wooden posts buried in the ground. They’ll hold fence panels, multiple feeders, birdhouses, and plant hooks in any direction.

I learned the hard way that it is much easier to paint the poles and posts after cementing them. I paint them before adding soil or covers around the base of the poles. I use spray paint. All the major retailers carry a huge variety of types and colors. As you can see, I prefer to use a variety of colors so that it appears that magical unicorns have visited me. Bright, crazy colors aren’t for everyone.

 

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The above post holds a picnic table-inspired bird feeder. You’ll quickly discover that the squirrels will also love these, too. They often lay flat in them to feed. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll see one sitting on the opposite side of the table; in such a scenario, the squirrel appears to be sitting at the table eating. I attached my picnic table with an additional piece of painted wood to allow for support screws to go underneath in three places.

If you carefully pre-drill holes in the PVC pipes, you can attach other things to it as well, such as themed metal art.

In a later post, I’ll tell you how to use these pipes to make elaborate wind bassoons and wind instruments.

 

 

 

 

 

Against Popular Advice, Dig Yourself a Hole (A DIY)

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Need to install a fencepost, birdhouse pole, mailbox, or your ex-boyfriend upright on your property? For the latter, it is more efficient to dispose of his body in a large body of water using an impermeable tarp and dumbbell weights. (There’s a precise scientific reason for those details, so don’t skimp to save a few bucks. Lawyers are very expensive. Good ones are, anyway. Stupid ones are free.)

You’ll need to buy a bag or two Sakrete or Quikrete quick-setting concrete mix. If you’re using it to set PVC plastic pipes, it takes much less than a traditional wood post. If you’ve never used Sakrete or Quikrete to set posts, this is an ideal way for you to learn to use it. It doesn’t take as much strength as you would imagine. Leveling such posts is easier than it seems, too. If you’re not concerned with the idea of ‘level,’ forget I mentioned it. If you’ve ever bought a Rausch-Coleman home, you know what I mean.

It’s better to have extra quick-drying cement mix than you’ll require. In most places, it is about $6 a bag. If you have leftover dry mix, pour it in the back of your neighbor’s pickup truck. That last part is a joke.

Employees in the outdoor, masonry, or construction part of your local home improvement retailer can answer questions for you. It’s best to pretend you’re poor as you approach them. Feigning stupidity works well for me, too. They’ll know to avoid trying to up-sell you on things you don’t need for the project.

If you’re a day drinker, you’ll soon discover that none of those concerns come into play at all.

If you are not attaching fence panels, very heavy items, or lopsided weights, you should be less concerned about getting it exactly right. You’re going to be nervous the first time you use fast-drying cement. There’s no reason to. If it turns out horribly, you can also have a teenager drive over the post or pay him/her to take out his aggression on the ruined pole with a sledgehammer or your mother-in-law’s banana bread recipe.

If you’ve never used the stuff, once you learn, show someone else. It seems too easy.

You’ll want to dig a hole about a foot wide for a 4″ post. If it’s larger, it will cause no harm. You might need to use more Quikrete or Sankrete, though. You’ll want the hole to be 18″ – 24″ deep. Honestly, you don’t have to go much past a foot if you’re putting in one of my PVC drainage pipe poles, but it helps to make the hole as deep as possible – and doubly so when you’re placing a wood post. If you watch YouTube DIY videos, they’ll blather on endlessly about ratios and radius. Ignore that.

Most people also mention avoiding digging where all the utility lines are. This seems like overkill if you’ll pardon the pun. If you need more excitement in your life that includes random chances of death, you should dig with glee and abandon.

Utility companies have a number for you to call in the event you’re not seeking immediate death. If you want to kill yourself slowly, get an internet package from Cox or AT&T.

While I’m at it, let’s talk about post hole diggers. You don’t need one. A good shovel and a spade will do the work nicely unless you’re putting up a border wall in Afghanistan. Don’t waste your time making an elegant hole. You’re just going to fill it in again. The one exception to this is if you plan on digging trip holes in the local golf course. In that scenario, keep the hole as clean as possible.

You’ll need somewhere to dispose of the dirt you remove, too. Holes result in more dirt than most people expect. If your lawn isn’t manicured and professionally maintained, you can scatter the soil over a large area of your yard, removing all the rocks and debris from it. If your neighbor is often gone, just shovel it over the fence instead of his or her yard in the dead of night. Since you’re reading a DIY I wrote, it’s safe to assume that you are drinking and lack any sensibilities.

My preferred method is to put the extra dirt in a tarp on top of my Ford Focus. I then drive until I find a dump truck and pass it. Once I’m ahead of it, I slowly pull the release cord until the dirt, rocks, and debris come out at 70 mph all over the dump truck’s windshield. I estimate I’ll be even with those evil bastards in 20 years.

Additionally, this method is often referred to as both ‘green’ and ‘felonious.’

Semantics.

Quick-drying cement comes with directions on the back in case someone thinks it would be an ideal thickening age for soup. It’s absurdly easy to use.

You don’t have to wear a mask or bandana when you pour quick-drying cement, but it doesn’t hurt. I’ve seen some cartoonish outcomes and gritty teeth while watching people pour it quickly or during high winds.

If you fill the hole around your pole carefully, you’ll see that you have plenty of time to do it without help. You can use a garden variety level to check each side of the pole as the cement sets and hardens. It hardens fairly quickly – in about the same amount of time it takes your father-in-law to become set in his ways.

You can cement a pole without anyone helping you if you’re interested.

Note to self: replace cremation urn contents with quick-drying cement and observe the effects on those standing nearby during the scattering ceremony. (And hope for rain…)