Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

Visual Art – Creative Writing – Social Commentary



When Bad Things Happen To Good Appliances

thinkerPeople use all kinds of different sources of wisdom to help predict the future and guide their decisions. Some methods of divination include reading the flights of birds or searching for answers to the mysteries of life in oracle cards, yarrow stalks, coins, tea leaves or the entrails of animals. For the ancient Greeks it was the Oracle at Delphi. The Vikings were big on reading rune stones. For some it’s the Bible. For others it’s the daily horoscope in the newspaper or Dial-a-Psychic. Me, I draw old folk sayings from a hat.

Old folk sayings have guided me through many of life’s tough choices. Here are some of my favorites:

A poor excuse is better than none at all.

Better late than never.

Better weak beer than lemonade.

Better bowlegs than no legs at all.

Bad breath is better than no breath at all.

Good things come in small packages.

Bad things happen in threes.

Go all the way on the third date.

More on this later.

We were doing a load of laundry last week. It was business as usual until the final spin cycle which sounded like the space shuttle lifting off from a launching pad in the utility room. The entire house vibrated with the sound and fury of a star going super nova. After it wound down and stopped, I unloaded the laundry and spun the basket around a few times. It sounded fine. So I thought this might be a small hiccup and it would go away by itself. This is where folk sayings come in handy to help me justify sheer insanity. Let sleeping dogs lie, I thought. This kind of logic is like hoping a flat tire will repair itself while you’re driving. This is why I’m not a mechanic or a surgeon.

A few days later I mustered the courage to do another load of laundry and everything sounded good until the final spin. This time it was the starting line at a NASCAR race or an F-15 taking off from the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. The machine was vibrating like a jackhammer and walking across the floor under its own power. This was as close to poltergeist activity as anything I’ve seen in this house. With another nugget of folk wisdom blazing in my brain, All good things must come to an end, we put in a call to a repairman.

The repairman arrived at the appointed hour looking every bit the part of Dan Akyroyd’s classic depiction of the Norge repairman. I did not, however, look at his ass to see if his crack was showing. It took him less than 30 seconds to diagnose the problem as a bad bearing which probably caused collateral damage to the fleegywinkle, bearing straits and various and sundry other parts. He hammered away at his iPad for a few minutes and handed me an estimate for parts and labor. After I recovered from my apoplectic episode, I stammered: “It would cost less to buy a new machine.” “Exactly,” he replied. “Too bad you didn’t have the extended service contract. This would have all been covered.” I have always thought that extended service contracts were like buying protection from the mob and that stuff should last beyond it’s warranty period. But still, I was silently kicking myself for not buying protection from the mob.

“You know” he said, “there’s an old saying that appliances break down in pairs.This dryer is a ticking time bomb. Could go anytime.” Yeah.” I thought, “ Washers and dryers mate for life like black vultures, gibbons or albatrosses.” 

“I’m just sayin’,” he said, “If that fleegywinkle goes bad it will be like a claymore mine exploding in your utility room. If the shrapnel doesn’t kill you, cleaning up the flood will be like Love Canal exploded in your house.’

After he left I briefly contemplated going back to washing my clothes by beating them on rocks in the river. Then I realized there is no nearby river and that I had never beaten my clothes on rocks. I started shopping the internet for a washer that would mate with my dryer for the rest of its troubled and uncertain life. I also needed a washer that would stack underneath the dryer.

I quickly found one that I thought would work. It was also the least expensive. I was starting to feel like a mail-order-bride broker. I was also haunted by the old folk saying that a man who marries twice is a two time loser. I started to get the creeping feeling that it might not be possible to remarry my old dryer to a spanky new washer.

Armed with internet quotes, a newly approved store charge card, coupons with guaranteed rebates, perks and discounts and the resolve to drive a hard bargain, I entered the store. I had a quote for a washer for $599. With all the rebates, coupons and Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free cards, I thought I could wheel and deal my way out of there for about 500 bucks. I figured I could cover that by recycling my empty beer bottles.

What happened next will always be one of the darkest events in the voluminous annals in my personal Hall of Shame. It is why you should NEVER allow me to negotiate the final price of a new home, new car or a double de-caf, half-caf latte at Starbucks.

A sales associate came to my assistance with iPad in hand. He was quite near sighted and asked for my help inputting data into his iPad. Of course, luring me into this “helping” role immediately sucked me into letting my guard down. It took mere minutes to go from driving a hard bargain on a washing machine for $599 to the purchase of new washing machine, new dryer, (They mate for life, you know. Just like albatrosses.)  and all the hoses, fittings, duct tube, mounting brackets and five year service contracts for just under two grand. I’m using the term two grand because that’s how we roll when we’re playing the numbers in the back alley gambling houses of Detroit.

I left there with my head reeling and wondering if I need to enroll in a 12 step program for gambling addiction. I’m taking delivery on my new appliances tomorrow. Sometime between 8AM and 5PM. I’m waiting for my man.

At least, this time, I did purchase protection from the mob. For five years. We’re gonna drive this thing ’till the wheels fall off! Even if a fool and his money are soon parted, maybe by that time, I’ll be living in a Buddhist monastery on some bleak hillside, dressed in an itchy woolen robe and won’t be needing a washer and dryer.

Self Portrait
Self Portrait

Lost in the Matrix Again: Consumer Madness and the Zombie Apocalypse

Lunch Laddy at the Dirt Track Races
Enough with the zombie apocalypse already!

I just returned from my mailbox. Today is Saturday and it’s a light day. There were only four catalogs. On any given day, it’s not uncommon to find a half dozen catalogs, and more as we approach the holidays. I wonder to what extent this may actually be keeping the US Postal Service afloat? Consider this scene from the classic Seinfeld episode “The Junk Mail.”

Postmaster General: “Kramer, I’ve been, uh, reading some of your material here. I gotta be honest with you: you make a pretty strong case. I mean, just imagine. An army of men in wool pants running through the neighborhood handing out pottery catalogs, door to door.”

Kramer: “Yeah! Ha ha.”

Postmaster General: “Well, it’s my job. And I’m pretty damn serious about it.

(from:Seinfeld Scripts episode 5 season 9)                                                                      

I must admit, I’ve wondered how I ended up on so many catalog mailing lists. But then again, considering how much shopping I do from catalogs and from the internet in general, it should come as no surprise. Pretty much every active consumer in today’s economy ends up on multiple mailing lists. It’s almost impossible not to. All you need to do is subscribe to a magazine, fill out a warranty, register a product, enter a contest, carry a mortgage or auto loan, use a credit card, give to a charity, have a baby, use a retail store charge card, register to vote, send in for a rebate, belong to a supermarket loyalty club, or purchase anything from a catalogue or online. If you do any of these things, forget about it, you’re on someone’s direct mailing list. Unless you’re a monk or in an institution, that covers pretty much most of us in 21st century America. I’ve done all of these things so I’m on a diverse group of lists. So much for my fantasy of going underground.  Companies rent or sell these lists to other retailers who are searching for new consumers for their products. Hell, even a casual internet search puts you in the crosshairs of internet search engines. That’s how you end up with so many whacky ads showing up on your Facebook sidebar and your web browser.

Even though I like to think I’m doing my part to help bring our economy out of recession, there are times when I wonder if I’m contributing to the destruction of the rain forests with so many paper catalogs filling my recycle container on Thursday morning. Sometimes the sheer volume is a little much. People don’t write letters much anymore, and nearly all of my bill paying is done online, so most days my mailbox is filled with nothing but catalogs. It can be a little vexing. Consider this scene from that same Seinfeld episode.

Kramer: (entering Jerry’s apartment) “Will you look at this? More catalogs! ‘Omaha Steaks’, ‘Mac Warehouse’, ‘Newsweek’?! I can’t stop all these companies, so, I’m gonna attack this problem at the choke point. I’ve had it with these jackbooted thugs!”

Kramer: (throwing his catalogs in the Pottery Barn store) “Hey, you like sending out catalogs!? How do you like gettin’ ’em back!?

(from:Seinfeld Scripts episode 5 season 9)                                                                      

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. They make marvelous reading material in the bathroom where I do most of my heavy thinking and profound intellectual work.


This is not really a new phenomenon. Going as far back as the late 19th century it was possible to purchase nearly everything you needed to survive from a catalog including food, clothing, shelter and even a mail order bride. From 1908–1940, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold more than  75,000 homes through their mail-order Modern Homes program. You could buy a kit for a complete house ranging from $425-$3,000, which is about what it might cost you to buy a garden shed today.

Now you can do it all online. All you need is an internet connection and a credit card. It is consumerism run amok on steroids, but I am an unabashed internet consumer and certainly not the only one who is attracted by the ease and convenience. However, I could do without those annoying live chat boxes. “No I don’t want to chat! That’s why I’m shopping from home on the internet in nothing but my underwear !”

In Buddhism, desire and ignorance lie at the root of suffering. By desire, Buddhists refer to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality. If consumers are jonesin’ for that, then internet commerce certainly fills that need.

Happy Buddha

One catalog I got this week advertises “nothing you ever needed but everything you want.” That about says it all. From another catalog, it’s possible to purchase such other items of necessary esoterica as a genuine brass periscope from a World War II German U Boat, a “Faithful Freddie” Royal Navy Submarine Binnacle for $6000, Japanese Admiralty Signaling Searchlights for $3,000, Italian Air Force Long Underwear.  (I guess I never think “air force” when I think of Italy. When a country produces the quality of wine they produce, who needs an air force?) This catalog also offers dozens of Swiss Army surplus items, which are of superior quality. I can see why the swiss Army has so much surplus to offer since the country has been neutral since 1515 and their last armed conflict was a brief civil war between the Catholic and the Protestant cantons which resulted in about a hundred casualties. Instead of waging war like the rest of us idiots, they invested their time and resources inventing cool stuff like Ricola and the Swiss army knife.

Swiss Army Knife

Other catalogs in this week’s mail offer a men’s leather shearling coat for $3,000, a beaver fur felt stingy brim hat for $800,(who actually wears beaver hats anymore?) shirts for $200, an English pub sign for $1500, an Allied Victory Sidecar Motorcycle, a wireless Pavlovian canine trainer, a variety of haunting zombie statues and zombie garden gnomes. Still other catalogs offer classes like Defense Against the Paranormal for Men and Women and the Zombie Apocalypse workshop.


Enough with the zombie apocalypse already!

If you’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt and adventure travel is your thing, then why not take the 14 day Mongolian Horse Trek, or if your bucket list’s gettin’ a little low, how about  Around the World by Private Jet ~ a 24-day journey to five continents by private jet for $72,950? What’s not to love?

Yesterday, I got the ultimate catalog crammed with dozens of “must-have” items that you just can’t live without! Now you can have your own kitchen hot dog roller. Nothing handles a hangover better than a couple of gas station grade roller dogs. What about a flask that holds a gallon of your favorite libation? How can you say no to a pair of zombie flamingos for the front lawn? But wait! There’s more! You’ll be the envy of the neighborhood with your very own Zombie Apocalypse Tactical Tomahawk & Kommando Survival Tools and nothing settles an argument faster than a One Million Volt Zap Baton Stun Gun! And who can live without your own personal Backyard Tiki Bar~ on sale now for only $499?

Hold on a second ~ let me get my credit card …..


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