Friday, August 19, 2011

Nice Weather for Gila Monsters

It rained hard here on the east side of Tucson yesterday. It really brought out the critters. To the left is a stock photo of a gila monster just like the one that was lolling around our front yard yesterday. Gila monsters are beautiful, but wickedly poisonous. Luckily they move slow and are not aggressive.

Just do not try to pet one.

As far as I know, the gila monster seen yesterday now lives burrowed somewhere in our front yard -- where last week I saw a golden eagle perched on a big Mexican pot. The two have not met, to my knowledge. Yet.

But I digress.

When it rains in a desert, people act weird. For example, they run out of stores and stand there looking at rain. The TV weatherman, who is the only journalistic bright spot in a very dim local media universe, acts sad when a storm threatens from down in Mexico and then bends away and passes the Sonoran Desert, as storms usually do. "Bad news," he calls it -- whereas in other places I have lived, of course, the arrival of a storm is considered the bad news.

We get most of our annual rainfall here during what is called monsoon season, when the sun shines all day and then, some days, the monsoon storms barrel in during late afternoon or after dark -- which I think is awfully decent timing of them, incidentally.

People here go on and on about rain, which definitely can cause problems, especially when the water gathers in the mountains and comes roaring down those washes that are usually bone-dry the rest of the year. A desert wash can turn into a suddenly raging river, and you do not want to be in one when the water tumbles down and the wash crosses the road. I personally have seen an SUV swept 500 feet downstream.

Anyway, I believe we have now had enough rain this monsoon season, thank you, even though we are short of the annual monsoon average. People keep saying "We need the rain," but I ask, what do you need a lot of rain in the desert for? The saguaro and other cactuses are doing fine; they're blooming. They get by just fine on a little bit of rain. The critters are thriving. My front yard looks like a damn Disney cartoon, with all those bunnies and lizards and quail and ground squirrels scampering around. (At least till the eagle lands, whereupon everything else abruptly disappears till well after the eagle flaps away).

By the way, for stickler grammarians, I insist that "cactuses" is the correct plural of "cactus." I mean, the plural of "circus" is not "circi," is it?

Anyway, there is enough drinking water here, despite it being a desert. Tucson is not like Phoenix, where the desert landscape has been has carpeted with green grass and other exotic plant life, and allergy clinics do a booming business. Tucson, the progressive capital of what some of the locals now call Baja Arizona, is not plastered with lawns and golf courses. I barely remember what lawn mowers and leaf blowers sound like. In recent years, Tucson's per-capita water use has steadily declined. By and large, people in Tucson understand that they are living in a desert.

Meanwhile, there is still snow on the Rockies, and the last time I saw the Colorado River, a few months ago, it was fat and swollen with mountain runoff. Way up at the Nevada border, the water level in Lake Mead, which I actually landed on two months ago in an amphibious airplane, was high up on that white bathtub ring around the rocks.

Long story short:

When it rains hard, as it did yesterday, the phone service in our house goes wacky, with a loud hum on the line. When that happens, I contact the phone company, which always hems and haws, and suggests that it must be my doing, and not the doing of their crappy 1970s-vintage wires.

Eventually, they do always send a guy out. Then the repair guy always hems and haws once he sees our property, which is many acres of desert land, in horse country, where the phone company many years ago tried to save money by placing the connection box down by the big wash, maybe 1,000 feet from the house, where it was more readily accessible, decades ago, than from the road.

"Where's the path?" the phone company guy always asks, looking worried.

"There isn't one," I have to tell him. And off he trudges morosely through the brush and the cactuses, lugging his tool box and ladder, in the 100-degree heat. We always offer Gatorade or other cold drinks, incidentally.

"Watch out for rattlesnakes," I always need to remind him.

This time, I'll have to add, "And for that gila monster. Don't pet him, whatever you do."

Anyway, long story short again, there's the loud hum on the phone line this morning, and I brace myself for the initial contact with the phone company.

The phone company has changed its name again, by the way. Most recently it was called Qwest, but now, evidently, it has become something called CenturyLink, which sounds to me like a struggling real estate company in San Diego. But what the hell, anything had to sound better than the readily misspelled "Qwest."

You can go to the CenturyLink Web site, where there is an online repair feature -- which of course does not work. Gamely, I try it, as usual. Of course, the user-name and password I have carefully kept a record of over the years is not recognized.

O.K., it demands, what then is my account number? Search me, as my phone bill is paid automatically and I never see the paper statement. Of course, I can retrieve a copy of the statement with my account number on it online -- but only by entering a valid user-name and password, which I obviously no longer possess. However, I am informed that I can in fact retrieve the valid user-name and password! All I have to do is ... enter my account number.

Mood darkening, I see another link that I know will yield nothing but frustration: "Need help with your user name and password?" it asks. Warily, I click it. It requires me to answer the following "security question":

"What is your favorite pets?" it asks with puzzling grammar.

Baffled, I try the names of each, and then both, of our parrots. No good. Next I try the name of my wife's horse. When that doesn't work, I type in the formal name the horse once had during his short-lived career as a thoroughbred racehorse back East.

Naturally, that does not work either. Incidentally, his fancy racing name is long-gone; my wife's horse is just called "Fred" here in Tucson, where we joke that he is living under an assumed name in the Racehorse Witness Protection Program.

Next I try generic answers, "parrot" and "horse," and then the plural forms.

Rejected every time.

Oh, incidentally, the online help-link does say it will call me with the answer if I so choose, which I do. The phone rings in a minute, but of course I can't hear the message because of that loud hum I am trying to have repaired. The last alternative I am offered to have the mystery answer mailed to me. Mail, as in U.S. Postal Service.

Finally I find an 800 "customer service" number, and call it, using my cellphone.

The automated voice asks me to say the phone number of the phone that has the "issue," which I do, fully aware that I will soon be asked to repeat the same number when I speak with a live person, as I know I eventually will. It then asks me whether the "issue" is regarding "local" or "long distance." What the hell does that mean? Do people have separate home lines for local and long distance? I start pressing the * button.

Finally a guy answers. I always hate it when I get men on customer-service lines. Just as I am wary of male flight attendants, as they often have Attitudes.

He asks me local or long distance. I know enough not to rile him, but I reply, "Aren't they combined?"

By his tone I can tell that I am on thin ice. He calls me "Joseph," which always sets my teeth on edge. Whatever happened to "mister" in this country? But I let it pass.

At length I succeed in obtaining an agreement to have a repair person come to our home, where I know from past experience he (haven't ever had a "she" phone-repair person) will sigh and trudge back to the wash, and fix the problem till the next time it rains really hard and the cheap wires the phone company put in back during the Carter Administration fail again.

I am informed: The repair person will be here anytime between now and 8 p.m. tomorrow.

Will I be home?

I suppose I must.

Or maybe the gila monster can assist.



Anonymous said...

We're in Brooklyn and we're waiting for phone repairs, too, after the BIG rain last weekend. A few days ago I was on the boardwalk in Coney Island and someone had their 2 pet parrots and pet iguana and pet alligator out for some fresh air. I kid you not. I can't say for sure if the rains have brought them out or not, but I didn't get too close.

James said...

This story would have been greatly enhanced with photos of your front/back yard!

Anyway, I'd have taken a stab with your phone number as an account number. It ought to be unique, so maybe they use it. Of course, they'll then send your password to that old email service you left back in 2002.