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Monday, May 10, 2010

How to PCS Like a Genius

In Army-ese "PCS," or Permanent Change of Station, is the infinitive for "to move." We recently PCSed from San Antonio to Ft. Leonard Wood, in Somewhere-in-the-middle-of-a-big-ass-forest, Missouri. Maybe you've heard of it? It's about an hour and a half south of Frankenstein, MO, my dad's hometown and my prime childhood summer vacation spot. Surely you've at least heard of Frankenstein...

This was only our second official PCS (reporting to the first duty station didn't really count, even though we did have an Army-paid-for move, because we didn't really have our own furniture, so we had them just go to my dad's (in South Dakota - for some reason, he got to bug to leave Frankenstein during his youth) and pack up my old bedroom furniture). And I personally believe we've accomplished a boastful list of PCS must-dos.

Indirectly murder sister-in-law's dog? Check.
Drive 34+ hours for what should have reasonably taken little more than 13? Check.
Sign a year-long lease without having ever set our eyes on the house? Check.
Choose a house that can only be reached on such winding, Ozark backwoods roads that the moving truck physically cannot deliver household goods? Check.
Lose all hope after seeing new house and the dreadful condition of it? Check.
Regain hope after seeing how much better house looks with things in it (even just unpacked boxes)? Check.
Laugh until I cry about ridiculous and dreadful condition of new house (and pretend that all the tears are happy tears)? Check.
Repeatedly tell myself, "it's just a year. It's just a year?" Check.
Discover secret gremlin doors in various walls of new house? Check.
Flood new house with an explosion of soapy water from the washer and a leaky pipe from the dishwasher? Check.
Fail to be surprised that two of the four of our major appliances were broken during the move? Check.
Be ecstatically happy that two of our four major appliances were not broken during the move? Check.
Discover half-eaten rotting mammalian creature in garbage can swamp water? Check.
Succeed in pissing off new property manager with maintenance requests within 48 hours of signing lease? Check.
Declare ice/water dispenser on fridge (which belongs to the house) in the kitchen to be unsanitary and place Haz-Mat signs over both openings? Check.
Declare jacuzzi tub in master bath to be unsanitary and debate placing Haz-Mat plywood board over the top but decide against it because it "would look too tacky?" Check.
Feel bitter toward myself for having previously said, "I can live in anything for just a year!"? Check.
Be glad (and smirk in an "I told you so" way at Husband) that packing our toilet seats purchased for the last house was a good decision? Check.
Discover termites in new house within a week of moving in (just like the last house)? Check.
Get excited about the new post with it's new (to me) PX and Commissary? Check.
Find thought-to-be-lost items while unpacking every single item we own? Check. This has to be the biggest perk of moving every year.
Start an ant farm in my refrigerator? Check.
Finally accept my fate in this ridiculous house and regain some of the initial excitement of moving to a new place after reinstating my constant mantra, "it's just a year?" Check.

What an interesting two weeks it's been.

Instead of driving straight up here from San Antonio, we decided to go and stay with Husband's parents (who only live 4 hours away), so we wouldn't be stuck in lodging on post for a week. It was a good decision, overall, but it almost tripled the amount of time we spent driving. Not because they live out of the way, but because rural, small town Missouri is run by small town folk who are bound and determined to have the final say in all matters related to their small town, in spite of the enormous Army post threatening to take away their small town status (oh, and helping their small town to thrive by flooding their economy with tons of money and outrageously overpaying rental prices out of necessity). We, naively, thought we could call in and switch the utilities to our name over the phone (because we've been able to do that everywhere we've ever lived - and so have all of our parents, everywhere THEY'VE ever lived). But we were wrong. Also, we naively thought we could sign the lease and THEN get the utilities in our name. Also wrong. And finally, we naively thought we could meet with the property manager on the morning our household goods were scheduled to arrive to sign the lease and get the keys. Guess who was wrong again?

So we drove up to Arkansas, spent a day with the parents, then left Boy with them and drove up to take care of utilities/lease (as per Property Manager Bitch's demands) on Friday. The utilities were easy enough - one perk of the small town is that all utilities are maintained by the City Hall - water, electric, gas, waste, and trash/recycling. All one bill, all from City Hall. After getting our proof of utilities in our name, we attempted to meet with PMB, whom we had informed of our short day trip to town and desire to escape town quickly with the looming 4 hr drive home lurking over our heads. PMB, however, refused to meet us until 3pm.

We were early to her office, and she, of course, made us wait. Her ridiculous grandma hairstyle with tight curls was dyed a ridiculous maroon color, and the look was only complimented by her capri-length wind-breaker exercise pants. The real irony was that her screen saver was a floating marquee stating "You are a beautiful, smart, and sexy woman!" She copped an attitude with us almost immediately, informing us that we were supposed to come to her office BEFORE going to City Hall to get the utilities in our names, so that we could pick up her form for them to fill out - stating which companies we were paying for each of our utilities. Not only did she neglect to tell us this (and evidently expected us to get the paper at 3pm, go to City Hall before they closed at 4pm, go BACK to her office to sign the lease papers, and THEN drive 4 hrs back to Arkansas), but the two-page form seemed a bit excessive to write "City of Waynesville" for every utility (since there is no other option for any of the utilities within the city limits).

She also informed us that she "just wanted to be fair." Stating that the house was "not perfect," and we should know that it's "been lived in hard," I joked that it wouldn't be a problem (oh, my naiveté!), as long as she didn't expect to get it back in perfect condition. She glared at me and said, "I think we should just all be fair." Evidently, she's not the joking type.

After a painful hour of going over the lease with the PMB, she finally handed over the keys. Well, she tried to, but she couldn't find them. Then when her secretary managed to find them, she informed us that she didn't know which keys went to what at the house, and she only had a copy of the front door key, so if we could please find out what the other keys went to and get her a copy of them, she'd surely appreciate it. I put that at the top of my to-do list.

After a cursory glance at the house (long enough to feel the impending dread weaving itself into the fibers of my being), we drove the 4 hours back to Arkansas.

We decided to relax the next day. Husband went to play outside with Boy and the dogs (our dogs were also staying at their house, and Husband's sister had a Westie dog). After a few minutes outside, Husband came rushing back in, holding a hysterically screaming Boy. "Pog bit him," he said as he handed Boy over. I calmed Boy down (who was most definitely hurting, but probably more scared, and was babbling about "dog" in between sobs), and looked at the damage. Fortunately, it was on his ankle, and he was wearing pants. The dog broke the skin, but only from sideways scratches - there were no puncture wounds. As far as dog bites go, we were as lucky as you can possibly be. Boy calmed down after not too long - but he's still very nervous around our dogs.

Husband called his parents right away - and his dad drove home from work, picked up the dog (Pog), took him to the vet, and had him put down. This was not Pog's first biting offence - he'd bitten Sister-in-law just the weekend before, and he'd bitten Father-in-law once very badly on the hand. I think there were other biting incidents in there, too, but overall, he was a very unpleasant dog. But Boy wasn't even playing with him or paying any attention to him. He was minding his own business, and Pog just snapped, turned and grabbed his ankle and started to shake it. Everyone (including Sister-in-law) agreed the dog needed to be put down. But Husband and I still felt awful - we're the best kind of house guests - we'll come visit and kill your pets!

Later that day, Boy fell on the driveway and skinned his knee, cut the side of his nose (somehow), hit himself in the face with a wooden ball-and-cup toy, splitting open the skin under his eyebrow and giving himself a mild black eye, and then face-dove into a wicker indoor plant basket, scratching his face again. It must be exhausting to be a 20 month old boy.

The next day (Sunday), Husband and I drove back up to the house in the evening to fill out our walk-through inventory form (it only took about 3.5 hours to write down everything wrong with the house - which is basically everything in the house), and stay the night in preparation for our moving truck to arrive Monday morning. We were at the house and ready to go by 7am. Our driver had called around 7:15 and said he'd be there within the hour.

By 8:30, we were getting antsy. Then the driver called again to inform us that he couldn't possibly get up the street into our neighborhood. It was simply too windy, too steep, and too narrow. At first, I felt disbelief. Husband informed him of another road that goes into our neighborhood - he said he'd try it.

An hour later (what was the guy doing for an hour??), he called again to say he couldn't make it up that road, either. So he was calling his company to see if they had a pallet truck he could use for the day - to transfer all our household goods onto and then make multiple trips with that truck to the house. After another hour, we decided to run to Starbucks.

Husband called the driver to see if we had time to make our Starbucks run, and he told us they got a truck, and they'd be there with the first load in about 45 min. So we drove down to the Starbucks (it can't be THAT small and rural of a town! Don't worry, it's not a self-standing Starbucks, it's in the local grocery store - Price Cutters - or as our friendly new neighbor called it, "Price Rapers"), and as we were about to pull into the parking lot, I saw it. OUR moving truck. I knew it was ours, because it was a United van with the same origin company name on the side. I started screaming loudly in Husband's ear. We stared, unspeaking, as the truck pulled into the grocery store parking lot - followed by a rented U-Haul. I made Husband go over to talk to the driver, who informed us that they would, in fact, be moving all of our stuff from the truck into the U-Haul in the middle of the parking lot. I felt like I was on Jerry Springer - here were all of my possessions - my entire identity, being dragged out for all to see, and in the Price Rapers' parking lot, no less. If only my fridge had been cheating on my deep freeze with the scantily-clad elliptical, I'm sure Jerry would have been there with cameras rolling.

We got our Starbucks and headed back to the house to wait. Husband went inside to do something, and, to keep myself busy, I began to explore the outside. There are trash cans left over on the side of the house, so I went to look at them. Behind the three with lids, there was a forth one, not in the little wooden trash can stall. I glanced in it and saw that it was half filled with stagnant, filthy water - and about a billion bugs. I could only imagine the size of the mosquito nest that must be thriving in it. I called Husband over to dump it out - which he did obligingly. He tipped the garbage can out, pointing the disgusting swamp water downhill, and suddenly, out of the garbage swamp, there it was.

Lying in the grass, surrounded by the remains of garbage swamp, a half-eaten mammalian creature. Of course, this all happened right as the U-Haul truck pulled into the driveway. The smell that was unleashed from the creature and the swamp was the worst thing I could ever imagine. Layers upon layers of the worst smells possible - death, rotting, stagnant water, mosquito nest poop. Laughing hysterically at the absurdity of the situation, I stumbled away from it, gagging and trying not to throw up all over the driveway. I looked up and saw 4 of the 5 person moving crew looking at me like I was a complete lunatic. Husband tried to explain to them that there was a dead animal in a trash can swamp, but these Ozark folk were not fazed - nor did they find the humor in the situation. Evidently, dead garbage swamp minks are a commonplace occurrence 'round these here parts.

The movers were excellent, though, and got everything unloaded in just a few hours (and only 5 trips with the U-Haul). As soon as everything was in the house, Husband and I jumped back in the car and headed BACK to Arkansas (we'd left Boy with Sister-in-law there so he wouldn't be in the way of the movers - it was a very smart decision).

After one very short day of resting, we packed up all our bags, dogs, and kid, and drove up to the new house on Wednesday morning for good. Thanks to some miracle of the timing fates, my dad had just finished his annual fishing trip with his brothers not far from us and drove down to spend a few days with us. He played with Boy while we unpacked, helped us unpack, ran to the store for us, and played with Boy some more. After just 3 days, we got the last box unpacked.

Unfortunately, my beautiful new fridge that we bought in San Antonio just last year does not fit in the fridge nook in the kitchen. Instead, we had to leave the fridge that came with the house there - and banish my beloved to the garage. It wouldn't be so bad if the fridge in the house weren't older than I am. It also would have helped if the cleaning crew that supposedly came through the house had wiped out the hardened puddles of food spillage and rot. Somehow, this ancient contraption has a water and ice dispenser. The spill tray on the dispenser looked like it had never seen a cleaning rag in it's entire lengthy existence. But I told myself it would be fine. After all, the water doesn't touch the spill tray.

But the water DOES touch the water spout. And the ice touches the ice shoot. Upon further investigation (instigated by my desire to scrub everything into oblivion with clorox disinfecting wipes before any member of my family could ingest any terrible particles from any part of the house), both were revealed to be the happy homes to a healthy colony of mold. Reeling from disgust, I reassured myself that I, at least, had ice trays already from three houses ago, and I could simply make my own ice. And it wasn't so bad - I still have my beautiful fridge and deep freeze out in the garage, patiently waiting for me to fill their lovely shelves with over-flow food and ice storage.

I went out to bask in the warm glow of my darlings, now banished to the garage. I threw open the doors in a show of ceremonious reuniting and love, only to be horrified by the sight that greeted me - and will haunt my dreams for days (maybe even weeks) to come.


All over my lovelies. How they got in to both closed and sealed units, I have no idea. At this point, I was too overwhelmed to react. I simply went and sat on the couch, staring blankly into space for about a hour, in spite of Husband's attempts to console me - he called Terminix and got us an account for life (it moves with us!); he turned on both units so the ants would die of cold; he even wiped out all three units (not the moldy dispenser, though - none of us will ever be touching that thing) so I wouldn't have to face the aftermath of Ant Takeover 2010.

Finally, I recovered by doing the only thing that seemed rational. I made laminated HAZ-MAT signs and taped them to both sides of the offending dispenser. At least now we don't have to be tempted by the lurking spores of cool, crisp, refrigerated water.

We began to settle in to the new house. After discovering that the knob to my clothes dryer had been violently torn off, Patrick called Maytag to get a replacement part, and we discovered a way we could still turn on the dryer by jimmying it with a wrench, jumping up and down on the dryer, and doing an ancient Mayan warm air-invoking smoke dance.

One evening, after putting Boy to bed, we decided it was time we did some laundry. We started a load in the washer and went to watch a little tv and relax, since Husband would be starting back to rigorous Army life scheduling the next day. After less than 10 minutes of peace, we heard a terrible noise. It was like normal washer noises, but magnified by about 100. It sounded like a waterfall had just burst through our laundry room ceiling.

Instantly, we both jumped up and ran as quickly as we could into the laundry room - and there, to my horror, I realized my bizarre thought-association had come true. There WAS a giant waterfall, but it was pouring out of the wall of our laundry room. Husband, being the smarter and more rational of the two of us, turned the water off to the washer and stopped the waterfall. As it turned out, the draining cord from the washer had simply come out of its little draining hole - and soaked the entire room with gallon upon gallon of clean, soapy water. We also learned that the wall between the laundry room and the garage is not a very good one, as the garage, too, got soaked in our indoor water-slide experiment. We used the 8 extra towels I could find to mop up as much water as we could.

After fixing the washer hose so it couldn't possibly escape to watery freedom again, we cautiously turned the washer back on, threw the towels in the dryer, did our Mayan air dance, and turned to go back to the living room. That's when things got fun.

The washer and the dryer decided they were tired of their boring middle-aged lives, and they missed the fun, careless times they had when they were young. They decided to relive their youth and throw a dance party in the laundry room. I believe they were trying to do the Salsa, but since I'm a terrible dancer, I couldn't be exactly sure.

We immediately put an end to their youthful exuberance, spent 30 minutes trying to level the washer ("but the level says it IS level! I just don't understand!!"), and got it working again. The dryer was not so cooperative. If you've ever dried a pair of tennis shoes in a dryer, you know how loud the thumping can be. Now imagine if those tennis shoes were made of solid gold with lead laces and bass drum soles. That's a fair approximation of how loud the thumping noise is with absolutely nothing in the dryer. We called in a repairman for that one, and we're still waiting, with our clothes getting more and more desperate.

While doing our walk-through renter's inventory of damages, we ran the dishwasher to see if it worked. Everything seemed fine, and we let it run through an entire cycle. By the time we got to the basement bathroom on our check-list, it was completely flooded. The ceiling tile at the source of the leak was already missing, exposing the skeletal pipes that were draining their water onto the cheap, orange-water-stained linoleum floors. We put in a maintenance request for the dishwasher to be fixed the next day, and now, nearly two weeks later, we're still waiting.

The rest of the exciting "adventures" we've experienced here don't need as much explanation. The exterminator came to spray for ants (we still have an ant problem, a week later), and he found termites next to the house (but not technically IN it yet - hopefully we won't have termites eating through the walls here like we did in the last house). We discovered terrifying gremlin doorways in several rooms in the house, behind toilets, in secret corners of closets, etc. Inside one door, we found a used tissue and a Joe Boxer tag. Evidently, gremlins are modest and hygienic creatures. The jets in our very classy 80's pee-yellow jacuzzi tub (set around seafoam green tiles with mauve walls and a seashell boarder around the top of the room) are so black with mold and filth, I think they might be a bio-hazard. PMB acted like we were the most frustrating renters in the history of all rental homes when we demanded they install smoke detectors in the house. Among other things that either currently escape my memory or are too unremarkable to note.

The final touch provided by the house to really top off and perfect this move was this little momento we found outside the basement door, on the cement patio, staring at us with its cold, dead, unblinking, but all-seeing eyes:

Welcome to Missoura, Folks.

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