IS IT misery and woe, misery/woe or misery plus woe? Is misery the main course and woe the dessert or vice versa? What's the appetizer?
In the past six months or so at our house, we seem to have sampled generously from both Column A and Column B of the menu.
You have to flash back to summer when temperatures threatened triple digits rather than singles.
We'd just gotten a new roof on the house and neither car had broken down recently. Life was good and I was living it. That's probably why I didn't see the omens. While I'm not a purely optimistic person, I also don't sit around awaiting doom either. Doom is where it finds you.
In the summer, my wife and I decided a lawn mowing service might be a nice treat. In most cases, a lawn service indeed is a wonderful institution. Three guys -- two operating mowers and one a string trimmer -- show up and mow God's Little Acre in an hour, a job that normally takes me four. Speed is of the essence, time being money and all.
So what if they knocked a few boards off the fence, chunked out the pressure-treated timbers along the terraced plant beds or left open a gate or two so the dogs could get out and run around the neighborhood? The guys got in and out in a hurry, didn't they?
OK, so some of that stuff is more annoying than deadly. Nail the boards back on, reconnoiter the gates in the post-mowing, pre-dog release period.
The take-no-prisoners string trimmer operator should have put us on real portent alert. Enthusiastic about his work, he believed in close cropping. If this grass happened to grow up near something else perpen dicular to the earth, such as a small bush or tree, what the hey? Girdling was a small price to pay.
First went the dawn redwood, garroted in its pre-towering prime. Then, the lilac; it'll never be back. Then fell the holly; so young we hardly knew ye. After that came apologies and partial replacement. The guys planted one bush but left the other sitting in a root ball by the fence. Life as we knew it continued.
While all this was going on, the 19-year-old well pump declared an end to its mortal toil, and thistle and crabgrass took over the herb garden and every other bit of ground not being mowed or trimmed.
When school started, my wife, a school administrator, decided she'd boot up her Mac computer at home. Instead of the normal happy disk face on the screen, a frowny face appeared with a question mark on it. The hard disk had crashed.
We had a quiet fall, except for the basement, which started inexplicably taking on water along one wall. On the bright side, water never comes in now unless it rains or during a thaw. And I've found another recycling use for old newspapers. Old Suns seem to retain water better than yesterday's copies of the Post or New York Times, although I have no scientific explanation for it.
Between Christmas and New Year's, my wife, off from school, set about to catch up on the backlog of clothes-washing. On the third load, water poured out into the first floor laundry room. She went down to the basement. A river ran through it. The source of the Nile was the laundry room, its mouth near the far wall. My wife bailed and sopped and didn't wash any more loads.
The plumber came. "Well," he said, "the only way we'll know for sure whether it's the washer or pipes is to fill up that washer."
"It's the washer," he said, as the river returned. The plumber left. My wife bailed and sopped and got angry.
We now are enjoying a new washer and dryer. They've worked pretty well except the ventilation duct somehow got disconnected from the dryer, creating a new heat source in the laundry room.
The VCR just went out, but it's not really too bad unless you want to play a tape in it. The picture has a lot of horizontal lines and can't decide whether it's in norm or hi-fi mode. The sound comes out a little garbled, too. This coincided with the lumbar support in my car springing an air leak, although I don't see any obvious connection.
We made it through the big January deep freeze in relatively good shape. Our lawn service guys, who do snowplowing in the winter, came promptly on that first night of heavy snow and rain, cleared the snow off the driveway and left our shrubbery intact.
Temperatures immediately dived near zero and turned the driveway into a very nice ice skating rink.
However, power was off only three hours on one of the coldest days of the century and mail was delivered all week, despite the adverse circumstances and the adventurous trips required to get from house to mailbox.
So things were looking up. These seemed to be good omens. Then my wife got the flu, despite that October flu shot.
To brighten her spirits, I burned a cheery little fire in the fireplace, and smoke came back into the house on a downdraft through the second flue. Smoke is one of her allergies. The house now smells like das barbecu.
And, I almost forgot, the well seems to be going dry.
Wayne Hardin is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun.