Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Hearth & Soul

By Suzy Banks

DECEMBER 1, 1997:  I've always been fond of fairy tales. Not so much the ones about sleeping princesses or wicked stepsisters, but the ones about the magical world of work ethics. I mean, life's a chore; why should fairy tales be any different? Consider the pigs: Put a little effort into building a strong house and you won't be eaten by wolves. There's the grasshopper who fiddles all summer while the ants work diligently preparing for winter. Or what about the Little Red Hen, a fable most people have conveniently forgotten, wherein a cat, a dog, and a duck continually refuse to help the Little Red Hen plant, cut, thresh, or mill the wheat? They won't even help bake the flour into bread. The Little Red Hen does it all alone. But when it comes time to eat the bread, the lazy animals line up for a handout.

Because of my own laziness and procrastination about a multitude of banal maintenance tasks around my house, I was recently forced to live through my own fairy tale. Do you know the one about the Old Woman and the Pig? Stop me if you've heard this: A woman buys a pig at market and can't get it over the stile (a set of steps used to climb a fence). She asks a dog to bite the pig (it won't), she asks a stick to beat the dog (it won't), she asks a fire to burn the stick (it won't), she asks a pail of water to quench the fire (it won't), and on and on until she finds a cat who, for a saucer of milk, begins to chase the rat, who begins to chew the rope, who begins to whip the butcher, who begins to pen the ox, who begins to drink the water, who begins to quench the fire, who begins to beat the dog, who bites the pig, who goes over the stile. (And hopefully runs away from this brutal multi-dependent woman.)

Now imagine all this in reverse, compounded by the technologically rich era in which we live:

I have a back injury which I ignored for years. One day I barely raise my arm above my waist. I go to the chiropractor who, after my initial adjustment, says I should rest and take a warm bath. The only problem is I need to clean the water valve in our hot-water-on-demand (expect when it's broken) water heater. It's been giving me fair warning for some time that I should tend to its maintenance, but I've waited so long it won't even go on anymore, and now I can't raise my arms high enough to unscrew the valve to clean it.

Thank goodness we have a hot tub. I fire it up (by blowing on an air tube until I nearly sprout gills; long ago one of the dogs ran off with the little button you push) and water starts spewing out the filter housing like a hotel fountain. There's too much pressure because I need to clean the filter, a chore I should've done weeks ago. I would hose it off, but the pump in the barn which supplies our outside water fried a few days ago and we haven't replaced it. I could take the filter to the car wash to clean it, but both headlights are out in my car. I can feel a spasm starting in my neck and spreading to my toes.

Maybe if I just stretched out in my warm bed. But the temperature in the bedroom is around 48º F because our thermostat went out (about the time the pump broke in the barn) and we just haven't found the time to replace it. By now, I'm hobbling around like an aging troll, looking for a stick to beat something with (not the dog, of course), finally comprehending the source of all the violence in fairy tales.

Dizzy with frustration, at last I simply pop two Advil and stretch out across the kitchen counter next to the cooktop. I turn all the burners on high (I refuse to acknowledge the one that doesn't work) and I cover my torso with copies of National Geographic magazines, the ones featuring photos of deserts and volcanoes. I close my eyes and contemplate the moral of my fractured fairy tale: If you can't take no heat, get into the kitchen? Don't put off until tomorrow what you can afford to hire a handyman to do today? He who laughs last lives in an apartment with a 24-hour superintendent?

Send your fabled questions to Suzebe@aol.com

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