Hammered Handyman by Courtney Mehlhaff

One of the very first houses I looked at last year, in my quest for a new abode, was a 1920s two-story on the first day of its listing.

My realtor met me at the address, and together we headed inside. We sensed something "off" right away, since the door was unlocked and there was a cigarette laying beside the sink.

We called out and looked around. Finding no one, we decided to just spin through as quickly as possible. The tour was interrupted about a minute later when a very disheveled, very inebriated man wandered inside. He wanted to tell us all about the house. Loudly.

Turns out he was the owner, who happened to live across the street and had decided to fix up and sell his second property instead of renting it out. He slurrily explained all the improvements he'd made -- personally -- to each and every corner of this "nice fucking house."

It took all my willpower not to say, "Sir, you're drunk NOW! How drunk were you when you were making home repairs?!" 

But shoddy craftsmanship wasn't even my main concern. The biggest problem was that he would still be living just steps from my front door, and might get the notion to drop in anytime in an altered state.

When he started profanity-laden price negotiations directly with me, I called it a day and walked off. He may have made some nice additions to the property, but the extra three sheets were not an effective selling point.

Rock Opera by Courtney Mehlhaff

So I have to tell you this story, because I'm still not entirely sure what to make of it.

A couple months ago, I went to an opera. My seat was about eight rows back on the main floor, and in the very front row sat a man who started making noises about halfway into the first act. 

The first few times, I didn't quite know what I was hearing. I thought perhaps there was some interference from offstage. However, after about ten minutes, it became clear that the low, guttural grunts were coming from the audience. 

I'm not trying to make fun of this person, because he evidently had a condition of some sort, and he deserves to come out and hear beautiful music the same as everybody else.

The noise, which I can only describe as the sort of surprised, huffing "Hoh!" you might hear from a large ape, wasn't frequent enough to distract me for long, and I soon tuned it out. Until the first applause break, when it turned into, again, what I can only describe this time as the sort of screeching you might hear from a very excited chimpanzee.

Everybody heard this. You could FEEL them hear it. And then the most extraordinary thing happened.

Instead of nervously laughing, or shooting the guy disapproving glares, or outright complaining about the outbursts, everyone in the audience simply cheered louder.

Like, really loud. It quickly turned into, dare I say, a downright raucous crowd. I even saw the conductor kind of look up, puzzled, and then delightedly launch back into the music with extra gusto.

This leads me to two possible conclusions. 1) That audience was just full of the best people, who amped up their reactions to make the man in the front row feel less alone.  Or . . . 2) Opera-goers are always secretly looking for any excuse to express their hardcore love of arias like they're at a rock concert.

Next time I'll throw up a sign of the horns gesture during some recitative and see who throws one back.

These are Not the Droids You're Looking For by Courtney Mehlhaff

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I was planning to watch a neighbor's house while their family was on vacation.

The first day that they were gone, we had a heavy rainstorm, so I decided to just do a general check inside to make sure nothing was leaking or awry.

I was prepared to do any number of things in the way of watchfulness and maintenance in their absence -- take in the garbage cans, collect random mail, empty the dehumidifier -- but what I was not prepared for was the 3-ft. tall Star Wars stormtrooper figure stashed around the corner in the basement rec room.

Now, I knew full well their son owned this toy. I'd seen it many, many times. I'd just never been confronted with it by surprise when I flipped on a light in what I desperately hoped was an empty house.

I don't think I screamed like a girl, exactly. It may have been a more primal sound that escaped my lips, somewhere between a shout and a growl. I think I dropped back in a defensive position. You know, in case I needed to battle the  . . . wayward child  . . .  or criminally inclined little person . . . who had broken in and taken over the place in the six hours it had been unoccupied.

That must have been what flashed in my mind during that nanosecond of terror. And honestly, it was almost scarier than seeing a full-sized figure. Because WTF?!

When my heart started again, the profanity started flying, and I conducted my domestic recon mission at light speed. Nothing like an extra shot of adrenaline to liven up your homework.

Mature Content by Courtney Mehlhaff

Here's how I know I'm officially old.

And no, I'm not talking about the moment when I realized that, from this point forward, any time I have a dessert, there better be coffee with it. Although that did happen. And if you serve me something sweet at an event without also providing a cuppa joe, I'm gonna be pissed.

I'm talking about the time when I finally watched the movie "Basic Instinct," (only 26 years late) which was supposed to be quite sexy -- and, truth be told, probably is, although Michael Douglas kind of killed the vibe for me. Turns out he's a dude I just want to see solving crimes, not getting naked.

Anyway, there's a moment in the movie when he takes Jeanne Tripplehorn home after a long day at the office, and in a moment of unchecked desire, he rips off her clothes to reveal some slinky undergarments.

It was at this point that I heard myself shout loudly and sarcastically, "Oh, like she wore those stockings to WORK!"

Are your wild days behind you when practicality pre-empts passion? Time will tell.

Cat Nap by Courtney Mehlhaff

There were several city workers milling about my street today, courtesy of a construction project in my neighborhood. It reminded me of last year around this time, when I looked out my front window to see a group of guys from the utility company gathered around a pickup.

See, they'd sent out a crew to move my gas meter from the inside of my house to the outside. And it was taking a LONG time. I watched this burly round-table through my blinds until one of the men broke off and approached the front door.

"Hey, what's going on?" I asked.

In reply, he muttered something about an animal. I immediately conjured some long-dead critter they'd unearthed in my basement. He must have seen the panic flash across my face, because he quickly said, "It's the foreman's cat. He didn't know it was under the hood of his truck this morning when he left."

My brief moment of relief was replaced by horror, as I'd heard similar stories about squirrels that had nested on a warm engine, never to scamper again.

"Oh no!" I said, and then proceeded to watch a group of grown men huddle together, retching, to deal with the grisly business at hand. From what I could glean, they sent in the newbie, wearing an air filtration mask and goggles, ostensibly because he had the smallest hands.

When the task was completed, they turned their attention back to my house, and before they took off, I asked the man if everything was ok.

"Yeah," he said. "We got it cleaned up. But now the foreman's gotta go home and tell his kids what happened."

And I thought, NOOOOOO. He most certainly does NOT have to tell this gruesome tale to his children. In fact, he should probably tell them anything BUT this story. There has never been a better opportunity to reveal the existence of a lovely "farm" where that cat now resides.

My hairdresser was recently telling me about a beloved dog she'd had in childhood that "went to live on a farm." She said she was well into her 20s before it dawned on her that her pet had, in fact, died.

"All that time I thought that dog was running happily through rolling green fields in front of a charming little farmhouse with a picket fence."

At that point, one of the other hairdressers started laughing.

"What's so funny about that?!" my hairdresser demanded.

"She already knows what it looks like." The other woman shook her head a few times and continued chuckling to herself. "She's got a whole picture in her head of what that farm looks like."

I can only hope that foreman painted a similarly comforting picture for his kiddos to take into adulthood.

Captive Audience by Courtney Mehlhaff

Some friends of mine live about four blocks away from me, and tonight they dropped off a set of keys so I can watch their house while they're on vacation. These friends have had a copy of my keys since last year, when I proved I was not trustworthy enough to be left alone in my own home. Here's what happened.

I was cleaning out the basement, which had been left fully stocked by the previous owners with all manner of junk -- wobbly shelving, used paint cans, old lamps and mirrors, carpet and linoleum scraps, and about 100 ft. of coaxial cable for some reason. But they'd also left a wardrobe-sized storage cabinet that was in decent shape, and I decided it would serve me well in the laundry room, which was on the opposite side of the basement.

I also decided it would be a good idea to move this large piece of furniture all by myself. After all, I'd been manhandling everything else on my own, and if I waited around for someone to help me, it might never get done.

So I did what all foolishly ambitious people who live alone do. I rocked that bad boy back and forth on its bottom edges all the way across the basement. But when I got to the laundry room doorway, I made a fateful decision: I went in first, intending to pull the cabinet in after me.

You know what they say about the road to hell.

In a few short seconds, the cabinet was hung up on the baseboard lip, with about an inch of clearance on all sides. It was really wedged in there. And I was stuck. I'd purchased my first home and then immediately trapped myself in my own basement. Like an asshole. With a mortgage.

I'd like to think I get marginally smarter with each passing year, but sadly that's not always the case. Self-administered booby trap notwithstanding, I was bright enough to take a thoughtful pause to reevaluate my situation and regroup. I sat down and assessed my options.

There were no windows I could use for escape, but there was a utility sink, so I had water. My phone was also in my back pocket, although all my doors were locked and/or security-barred, so any rescue attempt would involve a B&E. 

There was only one thing to do. I attacked that furniture with renewed vigor and all the desperation of someone who fears having to explain themselves to first responders. Did I get the cabinet out? Yes. Did I break it? Of course. Did I pull an insane number of muscles in my chest and back in the process? No surprises here.

It's one of those stories you debate not telling anyone. But I'm glad I did. Because after I related it to my friend from the neighborhood, she said, "Yeeeeeeaaaahhhhhh . . . we're gonna need a set of house keys from you."  It was a nice way of volunteering to save my dumb ass the next time I miscalculate, which is a very neighborly thing to do.

Cap and Pwn by Courtney Mehlhaff

Last night I was sitting around a backyard fire roasting marshmallows with some friends and their kids. They were kicking off their summer vacation by throwing all their homework from the past year into the flames. This is what I asked an 11-year-old, and the conversation that followed.

ME:  "Hey! I heard you gave a speech at your school. What did you say? Something inspirational?"

BOY: "Yeah."

BOY'S FRIEND: "I thought you were going to talk about different stuff."

BOY: "Like what?"

BOY'S FRIEND: "I don't know, like video games."

BOY: "It was a fifth grade graduation ceremony. Why the heck would I talk about video games?"

BOY'S FRIEND: (thoughtful for a second) "I guess maybe that would be a way not to graduate."

Blown Out of Proportion by Courtney Mehlhaff

When I was in high school, I worked at a drugstore. Part of my job was delivering prescription medication and other supplies to people who weren't able to leave their homes. This frequently included transporting full oxygen tanks and returning with empty ones.

Now, the only thing my boss ever told me about O2 tanks was, "Don't bang them together or they'll blow up," which, as you can imagine, made quite an impression. But even though it felt like I was piloting a load of active bombs, I didn't have any good way to secure them in the delivery van other than seatbelting them into individual seats.

One day, I must have stopped a bit short at an intersection, and one of the tanks slipped out of its straps. I heard it hit the floor, followed by a loud hiss, and my 16-year-old brain immediately thought, "This is it. This is how I go." And I fucking bailed out of that van right in the middle of the street. Luckily I threw it in park before diving for safety.

I don't know how long I stood there cowering before it dawned on me that I had not been consumed by an apocalyptic ball of fire. I also don't know how long it took me to realize that nothing had actually exploded -- the valve at the top of the tank had simply twisted open, and air was shooting out. 

I do remember looking around to see if anyone had witnessed my vehicular panic attack. As luck would have it, there were no bystanders to tell the tale of a delivery run that ended not with a bang but with a whimper.