When Joe called

Life is filled with some pretty hilarious treasures. Sure they are fun to tell about at family reunions and camp outs, but some are definitely a little more noteworthy than others, and if not told often enough some of the really sweet tidbits of detail and information can be lost, thus denying the tale some of its well deserved notoriety. And there is nothing worse than that, having a fizzled response to one of your greatest experiential realities. With that said, something happened in the house in Iowa today to my dear wife and best friend Christina that jogged our memories of one of the greatest and funniest things we could ever tell people about. And with every remaining brain cell I can muster after withering away at this warehouse in Stanley North Dakota all winter long I am about to tell you all the tale of, “When Joe Called”.

It was one of those Indian summer days in late September in Charlotte, North Carolina. We were call testing for the launch of the first 3G network on the eastern seaboard. Christina and I were a call test team and lead the charge for other technicians to arrive by leaving LA early in June immediately after her Master’s graduation from Cal State Long Beach. We rented the house in Concord just outside of Charlotte. We were glad to accept our dispatcher and fellow coworker Joe as our roommate after he arrived in a fit of anxiety over traveling from Michigan. Joe was prone to anxiety attacks and could hardly handle the stress of deciding what to eat for dinner. He would break out in crying apologies at times and uncontrollably blubber nonsense and insecurities about his job performance and his deep love and respect and admiration for our boss, Anwar Tantawi. Yes Joe was a nut, but he had a good heart and we were happy to take his rent money and watch his VCR.

Chrissy and I and were exhausted from our trip across the south on Interstate 40 and had hardly settled in when Joe arrived. We were just about broke and Joe’s rent contributions and dinners at Applebee’s more than made up for his own inconsistencies. One of his needy character traits was his lack of ability to navigate. He couldn’t even find the Walmart after the fifth time we took him there just five miles away. Which is really funny when you consider he was a project coordinator and dispatcher for fifteen drive test teams covering four southern states. Let’s not beat around the bush either, when it came to THE BUSH, or herb, or gonga or whatever you want to call it, Joe was in it for life. To him it was medicinal and without it he really couldn’t function. He liked to go Frisbee golfing and tried to find courses in the area immediately because he said it was always a place he could find his stuff – the stuff that basically made him more tolerable to be around – no matter where he lived. One of Joe’s worst episodes of blubbering apologies was when I scolded him for trying to have an ounce of California’s finest “MEDICINE” sent to our house through the US mail. He did not consider the consequences for his actions and how they might just happen to effect our future. Yeah, he really whipped up the tears that night, but we forgave him.

By September, Joe had resorted mostly laying low in his bedroom in the back of the house we were renting and he usually occupied the house opposite hours than us to minimize his impact on our private lives. This was one of those days where he was heading in the door to catch his z’s while we were out call testing the network. Only when Joe opened the door to the house he immediately slammed it shut and ran out into the yard and called us with the emergent news that our house was in some sort of hazardous materials engulfment. We mustered him down a notch from extremely frantic and incoherent to frazzled and bewildered, but all he said was we had some major cleaning to do and that he was just going to brave it through the place and find sanctuary in his room.

Christina and I were over an hour away in South Charlotte and were almost finished with our assignment for the day. We knew enough about the emergency that our dogs were both okay and that we had a disaster to attend to when we arrived home so we weren’t frantic, but we were definitely eager to get home and get to the bottom of Joe’s phone call. We had no idea what we were in for.

Our dogs Charli and Buster were both one year old. Our beagle Charli had a taste for trouble that usually manifested in chewing on furniture, launching her tiny body up on the dining room table to eat flowers in a vase, or digging in the potted plants as if there was a bone buried at the bottom. So it was without fail that we crated her each time we went to work. Buster was a goofy adolescent golden retriever who, for some reason, had taken to sleeping in the bathroom and tucking his head behind the toilet. He generally had a calm disposition, except for when he and Charli decided to play tag inside the house and raced around the living room like it was the Indy 500.

I had trouble sleeping at night in the southern humidity and often ended up on the couch fiddling with the air conditioner to get the perfect temperature to sleep in. Needless to say there was a pile of bedding in the corner of the room including down comforters, pillows and some feather bed covers. I would usually go from the bed to the couch and from the couch to the floor, and even end up sleeping in the bathtub occasionally; the southern humidity is absolutely atrocious.

We arrived home around 5:30 or 6:00 p.m.. The house seemed fine and there weren’t any broken windows or smoke bellowing from smoldering wires or anything like that. Joe’s car was there and everything seemed ordinary. We could hear the beagle bawling her welcome home bawl inside the house and Buster would chime in with his deep occasional bark and we moved towards the door. Upon opening the front door we were instantly inundated with the reality of Joe’s phone calls. It was beyond words. We weren’t even really sure what it was, it was like the blob had arrived and consumed our house. From one end of the house to the other there was a three foot cloud, or ocean of some sort of a moving white mass. It was like it was alive or something. It didn’t take long to figure out they were feathers and the dogs had created the disaster of the decade. But it was truly awesome and we were awestruck. The dogs were thoroughly enthused about the matter. They raced through it in tunnels we couldn’t see creating ocean like waves on the surface. Opening the door was a mistake we soon realized as the mass ebbed and flowed like the tide out onto our porch and into the yard. Our pups were okay and that was a relief but we did not know where to start to contain this disaster. For a moment it seemed as if Joe was right; that we were going to need some sort of Hazmat team to come help with the clean up. I made my way through the blob to his room to check on him. He was still frazzled and more worthless than I had ever thought before. I agreed with him when he told me to leave him out of it and that we were on our own. Feathers were covering me; I was having a hard time breathing without inhaling them or sucking them up my nose.

I went out the sliding glass door in the back and around the side of the house to grab our garbage tote. I dumped the contents into the yard and wheeled it around to the front door. I opened the door and pushed the tote onto its side with the lid up and Chrissy pushed the container full with a wave of the blob that had consumed our hose. It didn’t work. The container was full in seconds and the blob inside just rolled like the ocean and wouldn’t settle in any way, shape or form. I decided to add water to it to see what would happen. Within an hour we had a system down of pushing the blob out the front door into the tote until it was full then we would use the water sprayer from the sink to wet down the blob in our containment center. It took about four hours and about fifty- five gallons of water to get the mess down to a vacuumable size, but we still sucked up feathers from that disaster when we did our final cleaning on December 12, 2006. It was a heck of thing to go through but it made a funny story to tell people and a heck of way to remember Joe, and his infamous phone call.

So here we are almost five years later and my wife calls me up with some incredible news. She says, “You’re not going to believe this.” She proceeds, “there’s a picture I uploaded to your email.” At this point I’m ready to hang up and check my email to see what the heck she is talking about, I’m thinking a tornado sent my van onto the neighbor’s house or something but no, it wasn’t that bad, it was just our little puppy Missy took after her naughty mother who broke out of her crate that day to ransack our house with her playful buddy shredding down comforters and pillows. She too found the joy and decadence of shredding feathers into air. She and her brother Bronson destroyed a nice pillow on our king size bed. Chrissy said she had flashbacks as she approached the door sensing the immanent blob inside as her eye caught a few feathers gushing in and out from under the door as the beast within breathed and bulged, awaiting escape.

People periodically say things to us like “I don’t know how you do it”, or “life must be so hard with all those dogs”. Chrissy says she oftentimes wonders if they would provide such face-threatening messages to people with lots of kids. “I am so sorry to hear of all your children. That must be awful living with all of them.” The truth is that we love our dogs and most days are pretty relaxed and normal, just like they were with one of two dogs (well, except for when my mom dog sits and leaves her things all over the house within a dog’s reach while also leaving them unattended; an obvious recipe for disaster). But every once in a while, we do have a day of complete and utter destruction and chaos. And I have to say, those are some of our best memories.


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