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Rising Damp 

The monsoons make life more sticky. But it could be worse.

The authors of my all-time favorite book on mom-ing, The Mothers' Almanac, identify late afternoon as "the arsenic hour"--the time before dinner when blood-sugar plummets, tempers fray and stay-at-home parents are all too likely to pour themselves a stiff one. (TMA wisely suggests a slug of orange juice laced with brewers' yeast and a few deep breaths instead.)

The monsoons, for all their charms, are in some ways the annual equivalent of the arsenic hour--earthquake weather. This is the time of year when the barometer drops and everything goes wrong. My hair, soaking from the shower when I leave the house, doesn't get dry on the way to appointments the way it's supposed to. Blinking messages about "severe storm warnings for extreme northeastern Pima County" stream across the TV, leaving those of us born without a map of Pima County imprinted on our brains wondering what, exactly, God is smiting now. Everything is faintly sticky, the sheets are damp and crackers sog. Ants keep finding the dogs' dish. The glass of ice water necessary for life sweats pools of water on the desk, soaking the covers of books and bleeding ink off notes. The neon light in the kitchen is skittish. Communications break down, plans go astray and annoyance rules. The humidity goes up in Tucson and everything falls apart.

This year it started with the doors. We replaced six ugly, chintzy, hollow doors in our '50s tract house with some hardwood doors we found going cheap last winter at Gerson's. My husband finished them, one by one, out in the front yard on nice days, and then we called our genius house-guy, Chip (and, no, you may not have his last name or phone number), and waited a couple months until he could come hang them. That took about a week in early June, at the end of which we found ourselves living in an earthly paradise of solid wood, good hardware (you know you're middle-aged when you start caring deeply about hinges) and silent, perfect fit. Chip told us that he'd probably have to come back once the monsoon started and fine-tune them, but for several hot dry weeks we reveled thoughtlessly in no creaking, no sticking, no slamming. We'd open and shut them just for fun. (The amusements of midlife, as I said, are quiet ones.)

Then the clouds rolled up over the Catalinas and one day the bedroom door wouldn't quite shut. By the end of the week, none of them could be closed, and Chip, of course, was booked for a month.

Our stalwart Accord stopped starting, twice, for two different reasons. My son's old car--which had been running fine--suddenly needed $500 worth of brake work. Then we decided to sell it. After we did, it wouldn't start, according to the weird old party who'd bought it. He took to calling late at night, complaining.

The old wooden chair in the study split.

A whole week disappeared when the hard drive on our main computer began behaving oddly. After two days of advice on software fixes and an operating system re-load, it frankly went up. First, the CD drive abruptly vanished from the computer's field of vision. Then, while I was on hold, being assured once again that my call was important, the A drive disappeared from the screen. My heart, needless to say, was in my mouth as I e-mailed myself 12 hours worth of work. (Naturally, I blame my failure to back up earlier on the damp.)

None of this is anything, though, compared to the Job-like monsoon trials of my friend Charlie. He moved into a house near Speedway and Kolb the last weekend in July. On August 5, the Monday of the big storm on the northeast side, he was driving home when the deluge became so intense that he couldn't see more than a few feet in front of the hood. He turned south off Speedway into Green Hills Avenue, the street that leads up toward where he lives, only to encounter deep water churning in an unpleasant way. The guy who lives right on the corner was watching and waved him out of the truck. He said that this happened every time it rained hard and he didn't know why the city didn't put up some kind of warning.

The truck sat there as the churn--created by water sluicing down Green Hills hitting the de facto river pouring down Speedway to the wash--became a standing wave a couple feet high. After it subsided, the guy on the corner towed Charlie home, where he cleaned out the engine and dried things off. On Tuesday, the truck seemed OK; on Wednesday the soaked carpet and upholstery stank so badly that he had to take it into the shop, where it still sits.

While it's true that the world is full of sad car stories, Charlie's has features unique to earthquake weather, the main one being that, because he'd just moved into the house, he had no way to know what happened at the corner when it rains. On the other hand, he claims that the same storm dropped part of a eucalyptus tree on the stairway of the place he just moved out of.

This week, he says his cooler's leaking.

So I count my blessings. All that's gone wrong today is that the ceiling fan in the study has developed a wobble and is tinking unbearably as I write. Nothing to complain about, though.

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