The Ridiculous Rudy the Roomba Story

I have a Roomba. Yeah, I know, they’re silly, don’t do a very good job, and you have to pretty much childproof your entire house as if you had a two year old when you have one of these things because it will try to eat electrical cords, cell phone chargers, throw rugs, get stuck under furniture and generally try to destroy itself if you allow it to. It also is horrible at cleaning up cat barf. It is also brain dead because it can’t find it’s own charging dock and just sits there complaining when it’s battery runs low.

Still, I got the dopey thing, so I use it. When I remember I have it, anyway.

So, the other day I’d tracked grass in all over the kitchen, and I go ‘ooo, Rudolph can do this for me!’.

I call him Rudolph. The Roomba, I mean. Rudolph the Roomba. Hey, don’t look at me, his parents named him, not me.

So I fire up Rudy and send him on his merry way, and about 10 minutes later he stops dead and starts yelling about something. I come running in expecting to find him wedged under the refrigerator, or maybe he tried to suck up one of the cats and they beat him up or something.

But no, his little side brush thingie fell off. It’s that little arm like brush that sticks out the side to get along edges and into corners and stuff. Screw fell out and he tried eating his own brush, the idiot. Just what I need, a robot that is fond of self-canabalism, right?

Okay, so I pry the brush out of his gizzard, and then… Okay, where’s the screw? It’s a teeny, tiny, almost microscopic little screw, judging from the size of the hole, and it’s nowhere to be found. I looked around on the floor, even dumped out Rudy’s little dirt catcher thing. Not there. I figure he must have already digested it. Or one of the cats ate it.

No problem, I’ll get another one. Off to the trusty Internet to go look for Roomba parts. This isn’t an uncommon problem. Someone must sell these screws, right?

Uh, well, no. Seems not. You can get replacement brushes, which seems a bit silly because the brush part never wears out. Usually they get wrecked because it falls off and the Roomba eats it. I don’t need a brush. And most of the brushes for sale seem to be conspicuously missing the screw. Brushes you can get all over. They’re cheap. They don’t come with screws, as hoards of complaining product reviewers proclaim in their one star reviews because they didn’t need the damn brush, they just needed the damned screw. And even the brushes that are advertised as coming with the screw, don’t.

I scoured around and finally found out place that offered the brush and the screw. They specifically mentioned, twice, that they included it. So I ordered it. Whopping $6.95 or something like that. It arrives two days later. It comes in an unpadded envelope labeled “replacement battery”. Folded in half. Ripped, shoved into another envelope, also ripped, with a mailing label in Sri Lanka or somewhere. That, in turn, is shoved into a third envelope, which actually has my name on it.

And, of course, it doesn’t have the screw.


I dig some more and try to find the actual size of the screw to see if I can buy some locally. After almost half an hour of Google searches I finally find a forum somewhere, where someone actually found this precious secret known only to the Zen Roomba Masters of Lower Passaic New Jersey. This is one tiny, tiny screw. No one around here has it. I finally resort to the internet again. I find someone else who had the same problem got his hot little hands on a whole box of the damned screws, and out of the kindness of his heart, is sharing them with his fellow Roomba owners. For $5.

So, I know people. Really, I do. I don’t just sit here complaining about my cats all day long. I do have a life, people. Sort of.

So I start making some calls. I have a friend who works for a military contractor. Seriously. They make battleships or submarines or bomb proof attack trucks or giant robots or something. He’s always really vague about what they actually make there,

So I tell him I’m looking for this tiny, tiny screw, tell him the size. Hell, I can get you those, he tells me. I’ll get you a box of ‘em. I’m like, well, I’m not going to have the NSA or the CIA or the FBI or the ARRP or one of them alphabet agencies showing up on my door or something. He says don’t be an ass, we get ‘em from Home Depot. Six bucks for a box of ‘em.

A meeting is set up in a dark parking lot. Money exchanges hands… Well, okay, it was a Starbucks and he was on his lunch break, so maybe that part isn’t really accurate.

So, the damned screw fits! Wow! Rudy is back on the job again!

But now I’m sitting here looking at a box with 4,999 teeny, teeny screws…

The CEO of Soylent Is Enraging LA by Throwing Parties in a Shipping Container | MUNCHIES

The CEO of Soylent has run into trouble with the city of LA over his sustainable living experiment.

Source: The CEO of Soylent Is Enraging LA by Throwing Parties in a Shipping Container | MUNCHIES

If you aren’t familiar with Soylent and it’s more than a little irritating CEO, Rhinehart, let me give you the background.

Soylent Green was a 1973 movie starring Charlton Heston about a dystopian future where the world suffers from out of control over population, horrific environmental pollution, dying oceans and a seriously degraded climate due to climate change. Abject poverty is the norm. Housing is so bad a dozen or more people can be crammed into a single room. You know, sort of what like the “small house” movement wants to do to us, only they’re trying to make us think we want to do it.

Oh, dear, I just realized something. Horrific environmental pollution, dying oceans, seriously degraded climate, housing so bad a dozen people are crammed into a single room… Sort of like, well, what’s going on right now, isn’t it?

Never mind…

The movie was named after a food product, Soylent Green, which is the primary food source, often the only food source, for the vast majority of the population. Heston is basically a drone, an unthinking cop, an enforcer for the government/big corporations, mindlessly following orders and committing what are just flat out atrocities, all in the name of keeping the ‘peace’, including one horrific scene where they deal with a riot by bringing in huge armored garbage trucks and simply scooping up the protestors, dumping them into the back of the trucks, and presumably, well, squeezing them like garbage.

A key element in this new culture is death, and the promotion of death. Basically trying to talk people into committing suicide voluntarily in the hopes of attaining some kind of peaceful, more pleasant afterlife (I think — it’s been decades since I saw the thing).

The kicker to the whole story is that Heston’s character discovers that Soylent is made from people. Presumably the people the friendly government has been scooping up in garbage trucks and talking into offing themselves in pleasant, luxurious government operated death palaces.

Anyway, the new Soylent is all about food, as in not having to actually eat any. Seriously.

Rhinehart, well, apparently he doesn’t like to eat. (I say ‘apparently’ because I don’t really know. Never met the guy. While he’s probably a nice person, doesn’t kick stray dogs, doesn’t yell at the hired help too much and all that good stuff.) He seems to think eating, cooking and all that fun stuff that normal people like you and I enjoy, even relish, is evil. Total waste of time. He thinks everyone should just gulp down this green goo he calls Soylent a couple of times a day, and you’re good to go. This way you don’t have to cook, don’t have to go through all the hassle of, well, what he thinks are stupid things like enjoying time with your friends over dinner, and eating really tasty food.

The green goo (i.e. Soylent) is, he claims, supposed to supply everything you need to survive, all crammed into a drink a bit smaller than a Big Gulp.

Now as silly as this may sound, he apparently isn’t the only one who thinks this way. There are people, allegedly real live actual people, who actually pay allegedly real live money for this stuff, and allegedly even (down stomach, down boy…) drink it.

(Easy there, stomach. Hang in there, we don’t have much farther to go.)

And not just a few people. Him and his company are now supposedly worth about $100 million, for heaven’s sake.

Oh, and ignore the fact that there is at least one lawsuit going on at the moment over the alleged safety of this goo.

Rhinehart, not content with attempting to utterly destroy the joy of food, seems to be trying to expand his realm into also destroying our enjoyment of living in general. His solution to the world housing crisis is — shipping containers. As in shoving in a chemical toilet, cutting a few holes in the side to let in light, and living in them. And like all good ideas, he basically stole it from someone else. Using shipping containers as housing has been going on for a long time with mixed results.

And judging from the example he’s set up out in California, well, let’s just say that living in the original Soylent Green’s conditions is pleasant when compared to what he’s got set up.

The thing is, well, it’s just flat out horrific. It’s an old shipping container, a few holes cut crudely into the walls, a chemical toilet, and, well, that’s about it. Looks like there’s no insulation at all, so under the hot California sun interior temperature will… Well, let’s face it, you’re inside an uninsulated metal box. In California. You could roast a turkey in that sucker for heaven’s sake.

The photos, well, dear lord, it looks just bloody horrible, there’s no other way to put it. If this is Rhinehart’s “vision” of how he wants people to live… Well, considering what he wants us to gulp down instead of real food, trying to shovel people into what is little more than an oversized coffin with windows shouldn’t be surprising.

Rhinehart has, of course, never actually lived in the thing. No thank you. He claims that he has, true, but according to at least one source cited in the article, he’s never actually lived it in. He has a perfectly nice, luxurious real home to go to at the end of the day.

He has, however, used it for parties. Although how he got anyone to actually go there is beyond me. Now I admit that some of the frat houses from my college days were pretty much real, live, waking nightmares and you’d want to dip your entire body in sanitizer just looking at them. But this — this thing? Oh, my…

Well it seems the local government feels pretty much the same way, and is going after this pusher of green goo and his rather curious idea of what constitutes “housing”.

To get to the point, though…

Rhinehart reminds me of something my father once said about a particular Christian church with a reputation for being — irritating, shall we say. I was still a child and was curious about this bunch and asked him what in the world was going on with them

“They’re the kind of people,” he told me, “who live in constant fear that someone, somewhere, might be having fun, and believe it’s their job to put a stop to it.”

Those weren’t his exact words, I’m sure, but it’s close enough.

But that’s not why I’m posting this. Oh, no.

This is a test. For the next thirty seconds, this station will be conducting…

Oh, all right, I know, really, really bad joke, but I tend to do that. Sometimes a lot, I fear. I blame my father. I think I inherited his snarky sense of humor. Which is curious because I’m not actually related to my father. Or to my mother for that matter. Or to my sister.

But that’s a different story entirely. I also tend to go off track, I fear.

Ah, now I remember!

This was a test. And a kind of shot across your bow, you poor people out there reading this. I just found the “Press This” tool! One click and bang! Up pops my editor, I drop in a few pithy comments, and instant post!

Well, okay, so I had the ‘press this’ thing for a while now, but I didn’t actually use it because the one from Tumblr is so wonky it hardly works at all and I figured this one was probably going to be wonky too.

But it works!

Oh brother, you’re in trouble now…

Jumping The Shark –The Arrow

One day I was scrounging around Netflix looking for something decent to watch when up popped a television show called The Arrow. From the accompanying blurb it sounded suspiciously like an old DC comic book character called Green Arrow. I ignored it at first, because when it comes to super heroes, GA was pretty much down at the bottom of the barrel.

His only super power was being able to somehow keep off the sexual predator watch list while running around wearing green pantyhose, matching green man panties, a silly green tunic, an even more silly hat with a feather in it, and sporting a dyed blonde goatee. Oh, and let’s not forget a just as ridiculously garbed pubescent boy named “Speedy”.

(What is it with all of these super heroes from the ‘golden age’ of comics and their scantily clad adolescent male companions? Batman and Robin, Green Arrow and Speedy, Flash and Kid Flash, Aquaman and Aquaboy…)

Anyway, the only thing Green Arrow had going for him was an endless assortment of utterly ridiculous arrows. Like boxing glove arrows when he needed to knock someone out. Net arrows when he needed to catch someone. Rope arrows when he needed rope. Exploding arrows when he needed to blow something up… The list was endless. Whenever he got himself into some hopeless situation, guess what? He would just happen to have yet another ridiculous arrow to get him out of it.

Batman wasn’t ‘super’ any more than Green Arrow was, but at least Batman was intimidating looking. The Green Arrow with his green pantyhose and green panties and ruffled shirt… Well, let’s just say that even back in the 1960s when I ran into the comic, people kinda wondered…

Well, they’ve been busy “rebooting” all kinds of comic books of late… SHIELD, Flash… I’d seen some of SHIELD and it wasn’t bad. Flash, well, it was silly but at least not truly horrible. Good enough to keep me watching. So I’d take a shot at the Arrow (ha ha… take a shot at the Arrow… get it? God, that was bad even for me.)

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t actually bad. Not at first, anyway. In true reboot fashion they’d made it gritty and dark and ridiculously complicated with about a dozen different subplots all running at the same time. But they did manage to keep things interesting enough to keep me watching.

(Aside: What’s with all of these former actors from Dr. Who turning up in these comic book reboots? The woman who played River Song, the fellow who played Jack Harkness from Who and later from Torchwood)

The Arrow (NOT Green Arrow, thank you very much. At least not at first. By the second or third season he is Green Arrow, although they don’t change the title of the show itself.), had been a young, naive, wealthy playboy until tragedy struck and he ended up shipwrecked on an island that would have been too sadistic and horrific even to include as one of Dante’s circles of Hell. The whole island story gradually comes out gradually in flashbacks extending through the entire length of the show as the writers attempt to somehow justify the ever more bizarre corners they write themselves into by the end of the second season.

Eventually they turn his teenaged sister (I think she’s a teenager. At least she was too young to legally drink in the first series so she was under 21) into the old Green Arrow sidekick, Speedy, because she’s learned mad, crazed ninja stuff from her evil biological father and member of the Assassin’s Guild…

Assassin’s Guild? Wait a minute… Where the hell did a guild of assassins come in?

Hell, I don’t know. I’d given up trying to figure out what the hell the writers were doing by that time and realized I’d been sucked into some kind of bizarre and possibly drug induced evil vision that the writers were trying to work out by writing instead of going to therapy like normal people.

So, we got Green Arrow. His sister, now super ninja assassin girl, Speedy. We got your drug crazed super soldiers. We got an assistant DA who dressed up in a black latex jump suit and a mask and screams at people who calls herself Canary. We got people coming back from the dead. Literally coming back from the dead.

The Arrow’s girlfriend, who just happened to be the sister of the assistant DA and the daughter of a police captain, died in the same shipwreck… Only she didn’t. She comes back and it turns out she’s some kind of wicked super ninja assassin too only she’s a good super ninja assassin…

And then it turns out the daughter of the head of the assassin’s guild in the lover of The Arrow’s risen from the dead girlfriend. And then Arrow has to fight the head of the assassin’s guild to the death and sort of kinda gets killed himself only not really, and then Arrow’s sister gets almost kinda sorta killed and they have to take her to the guild and shove her into this magic spring that heals people but only by turning them into occasional monsters who have to kill people every month…

There is a phrase that’s come into common usage in the entertainment industry: jumping the shark. It originates with an episode of the old Happy Days series where they put The Fonz, complete with leather jacket, on water skis, and made him literally jump a shark.

It referred to the fact that the writers and producers had so completely run out of anything even remotely entertaining to do that they had to resort to outright insanity in order to try to keep going.

The Arrow has jumped the shark. The assassin’s guild, the Hive plot, government conspiracies and now outright magic? Come on, guys, you’re not even trying now, are you?

So, Grouchy – you had the day off you must have read something exciting, right?

Screen Shot 2015 12 03 at 6 04 39 PM

Oh, you bet! Found this fascinating article on the development of the bailer twine knotter. It started back before the civil war, it seems with this guy named Appleby and after the war he moved to Beloit where he developed a knotter that would work with sisal twine instead of wire..

What? Oh damn, I really need to get a life, don’t I?

Decisions, decisions

While it’s a beautiful fall day out, crisp, cool, sunny, the weather dudes are predicting we’re going to have up to 8 inches of snow by this time tomorrow. So I should take advantage of the nice weather to get the snowblower out, prepare it, dig out the shovels and basically prepare for this early season snowfall.


In the stall next to the snowblower is a 500 HP, 0-60 in under 4 seconds, slightly (slightly? Ha!) hopped up sports car with high-speed rated track tires, beefed up brakes and a suspension to match and alleged to have a top speed just north of 200 MPH. And I know every twisty, curvy backroad between here and the state border. And this might be the last time I get to drive it for the season.

Decisions, decisions…

The hell with the snow… IMG 0236

New Feature! Ask The Grouchy Farmer! This week, “Why Do We Use the Term ‘Horsepower’?”

Dear Grouchy,

Why do we use the term ‘horsepower’ to refer to the amount of work an engine can perform?


Interesting question. The use of the term goes back to the very early days of the internal combustion engine and Henry Ford. Before the development of the compact internal combustion engine, most work was performed by horses.

It wasn’t until Henry Ford came along that the engine became viable thanks to Ford’s experiments with biology and reproduction.

While the world primarily thinks of Ford as an engineer, administrator and inventor of the assembly line, Ford’s real claim to fame was in the breeding of horses. It wasn’t until Ford began to breed the ultra-miniaturized horse that small, compact power plants were available.

Ford developed a relatively compact, cast iron case in which could be installed several tiny, tiny treadmills, each powered by one of this ultra-miniaturized horses. (See Figure 1.)


(Figure 1. Henry Ford installing his miniature horses into the seven horsepower “engine” on  his 1920 era tractor prior to a long day’s work plowing the wolverine fields of northern Michigan.)

Modern breeding technologies, genetic modification and improvements in miniaturization technology that took place over the years have permitted engineers to shrink the size of the treadmills and horses to every smaller sizes, permitting the installation of four, five or even six hundred horses into an engine hardly bigger than a suitcase.

Of course there are drawbacks to the system. Mr. Ford discovered that the miniature horses had correspondingly short lifespans, able to live only for several hundred miles. This led to the development of the now almost microscopic horses to be delivered in liquid form through pumps located in almost every town in the country. This allowed owners of these new engines to quickly replenish the horses inside of their engines, as well as proving a food source for the ravenous beasts in liquid form.

The French Baby Story

For reasons I don’t fully understand myself, I’ve decided to tell the French Baby story. I’m also going to do something no author is supposed to do, which is tell you that you probably shouldn’t read this. It’s way, way too long. It rambles all over the place. It isn’t really all that amusing. It features two girls named Gretchen. The only pay off you’ll get if you manage to get through the whole, painful thing is a really, really bad joke.

Oh, and it also insults the French. But that’s okay because they started it.

I was going to put this up on my blog on Tumblr at first, but decided those poor people over there had suffered enough. It also doesn’t really suit that venue. So I decided to put it over here on grouchyfarmer where no one will ever be forced to read it.

Oh, and whether any of this is true or not is up to you to decide. I’m a firm believer in not letting the truth get in the way of a good story.

So here goes nothing.

It was nineteen seventy-mumble. It was spring. I was sitting in an outdoor cafe about twenty miles from Nice, France. Sitting across from me were two quite beautiful but very intimidating young women, the Gretchens.

The Gretchens were Valkyries. No. Seriously. Valkyries. Or at least as close to Valkyries as I’d ever get. They were identical twins, almost six feet tall, impossibly fit, long, straight blonde hair, icy blue eyes, and if you’d put them in breastplates and winged helmets would have fit right into a Wagnerian opera.

Now the Gretchens and I had been together since the Channel crossing, where the three of us had shared a railing as we deposited pretty much everything we’d eaten during the last three days over the side of the ferry. British cuisine being what it is, it wasn’t much of a loss, really.

In between retches, we managed to introduce ourselves. The first one was Gretchen. The second one’s name was apparently “urrppaarrghh”. Not that it really mattered because if you said “Gretchen?” both of them would turn, look at you, and say “Ja? Vas ist los?” Which basically means something like ‘what’s up, dude?’ So I just called both of them Gretchen.

As you might guess from their Teutonic appearance and language, the Gretchens were German. They spoke almost no English at all, which was okay because I spoke almost no German at all except for an extensive collection of obscene words and phrases taught to me as a child by a very odd uncle. Oh, and I’d been taught how to count to 89 by a nazi wanna-be back in the seventh grade. And no, I don’t know how a seventh grader becomes a nazi. I didn’t want to know.

For reasons known only to themselves, the Gretchens decided they were going to travel with me. Perhaps they felt sorry for me. Or perhaps they felt it was their duty to keep an eye on me until the people at the asylum I’d escaped from came to get me. But for whatever reason, when we got off the boat in France, I found myself flanked by two Valkyries, each of whom could probably have bench pressed a Volkswagen without breaking a sweat.

I must admit that the Gretchens intimidated me. It wasn’t the language barrier. I was used to not understanding what people said because my grandparents and a lot of my aunts and uncles spoke German whenever they didn’t want us kids to know what they were talking about.

Still, I was grateful for their presence when we hit the shore and had our first encounter with the French authorities at customs.

Now the French Tourist Board tells everyone about how friendly the French people are. They wax poetic about the beautiful countryside, the incredible food, the amazing wine, the astonishing art treasures. Most of the people speak English. And they all absolutely adore tourists.

It’s a lie. All of it.

The French universally hate everyone who isn’t French, and from what I saw, they don’t like each other much, either. No one in France speaks English. Or at least they won’t to you. You can overhear a Frenchman speaking fluent English to someone, go up to him to ask directions, and he will shrug, launch into a lengthy rant, in French, insulting you, your mother, your dog, and make disparaging remarks about the size of your genitals before sending you in the wrong direction.

Now I’d been told that French customs was no big deal, more of a formality than anything else. The people who told me that were liars as well.

A very tiny man in a very small uniform, wearing a peculiar had and sporting a slightly obscene mustache glared at my passport. He called over another fellow who was even smaller, and had an even more disturbing mustache. He called over a third. One of them brought out a magnifying glass.

Meanwhile, my bags were being strip searched. Litterally. Everything was removed from them. One guard slit the linings of the bags open. Another rifled through the pockets of my clothes. All my tooth paste was squeezed out onto a tray and fingers were poked through it.

I had to turn out the contents of my pockets. Everything was removed from my wallet and examined with the magnifying glass. My parents were insulted, as were, I suspect, my genitals and my bad haircut.

The Gretchens, meanwhile, had breezed through customs. They hadn’t even looked at their bags. They were getting impatient and came over to see what was going on. THey stood on either side of me, arms folded, glaring at the head customs official.

Being on the wrong end of that glare was something no one would enjoy. Those cold, ice blue eyes probed the official’s black soul and found it wanting. The official started to get nervous. Gretchen 2 started tapping her foot impatiently. He started to sweat.

He barked something at his comrades. Everything was shoved hastily back into the bags. My passport was stamped, scribbled in and handed back to me. My ancestry was insulted, as were my shoes, and I was finally allowed in.

Now you’re probably wondering why simply having the Gretchens glaring at him made the fellow so nervous. To understand that you have to understand the French’s attitude towards Germany.

Once upon a time, France had a wee bit of a disagreement with Germany. You might have heard about it. It was called World War II. And the French are fully aware of the fact that if the Brits and Americans hadn’t saved their skinny Gallic asses they’d be singing “Deutschland Uber Alles” at football games instead of “La Marseillaise”. So while they hate the Germans just as much as they hate Americans, British, Australians, Russians and pretty much everyone who isn’t French, they’re scared of the Germans and don’t want to piss them off.

Oh, they’re not afraid Germany will attack again. Germany doesn’t do that kind of thing any more. No, what they’re afraid of is Germany coming down there and just buying the whole bloody country out of petty cash, and then charging them rent.

So we finally get to the train we’re to take to Paris. It lurches out of the station a half hour late. It runs about two miles, shudders to a stop. It backs up a few feet. There is a rather disturbing sound similar to a distant explosion. The train shudders.

An unintelligible announcement comes over the speakers which not even the French can understand, it seems. An Italian man traveling with his daughter shakes his head.

“I think they said they’re looking for volunteers to get out and push,” he said in English when he saw the puzzled look on my face.

The train shuddered again, and then backed all the way back to the station at about 2 miles an hour. We were herded off that train. It was dragged away and a different train was dragged over. We got on that one. The engine caught on fire.

Another engine was brought in and we embarked again. All of a sudden about a dozen police officers swarmed past the window towards the front of the train, dragging two members of the train crew with them. Hopefully to the guillotine.

A replacement crew was brought and away we went again.

Finally we reached Paris. City of lights! City of Beauty! City of Culture! City of Art!

Uh, well, no.

I’d planned on staying in a cheap boarding house for the few days I’d planned to be there. The Gretchens had other plans. I was hustled into a taxi. Curses and insults were exchanged between the Gretchens and the driver, and we finally arrived at, well, let’s just say it was beyond posh.

The crowd in the lobby parted like the sea before a pair of magnificent battle ships as the Gretchens stalked into the place as if they owned it. I suspect now that they did.

By that time I was starting to pick up a bit of German as I began to remember my high school German classes. Gretchen 1 told the fellow behind the desk that we required a two bedroom suite and if he pretended he didn’t have one he would be working at the local frog canning factory the next morning.

He never even blinked. We were escorted up to the very top floor of the hotel and into a suite of rooms that looked like something out of a fantasy movie. One of the bedrooms was given to me, the Gretchens took the other.

The Gretchens were hungry, and I was made to understand they would take me to a restaurant that was ‘less filthy’ than most. It was only a short distance from the hotel so we walked. It was a rather small place and smelled, well, odd. I’m not sure what it smelled like, but it wasn’t anything I would associate with food.

We were taken to a table and we waited. Half an hour later Gretchen 2 got a waiter’s attention by tripping him as he scurried by. I let them order for me because I hadn’t a clue. I just hoped it wouldn’t be snails.

Another half an hour went by. A waiter unceremoniously deposited an already open bottle of wine on our table and three glasses. Gretchen 1 eyed the bottle suspiciously. She sniffed it warily. She then picked it up by the neck as if it were some kind of dread disease and dropped it on the floor.

The waiter shrugged as if saying “Well, it was worth a try”, scurried off and brought up a still corked bottle and opened it at the table and poured a little into a glass. Gretchen 1 tasted it and seemed surprised that it was drinkable. Glasses were filled. Waiter went away.

Gretchen 2 was curious about the bottle. She examined it, and poked at a corner of the label with a fingernail. The label came off and under it was another label. Gretchen 2 began giggling. The restaurant had slapped a French label over a bottle of German wine.

The meal was edible. Barely. One dish looked like a used bath sponge covered in catsup. It pretty much tasted like a used bath sponge as well. Gretchen 1 amused herself by throwing snails at the waiters between courses.

The next few days were occupied by sightseeing. The amazing art was all out to be cleaned. My genitals were insulted on several different occasions. Taxi drivers scammed us, we’d all developed a hacking cough because of the smog, and terminal indigestion from the amazingly bad food. The only good meal we had all the while we were in Paris was at a German restaurant.

The taxi drivers were in a class by themselves. A 15 minute trip would end up being a 15 mile excursion through the most unsavory parts of the city, during which time our ancestors would be insulted, our morals called into question, and snide remarks were made about our shoes.

Once we got out of Paris things did start to get a bit better. The insults became less personal, the food got a bit better. The wine was always horrible, though. And some parts of France are genuinely beautiful.

So there we were, outside of Nice. In a few days we would be parting company and we were reluctant to do so. IN spite of (or perhaps because of) the bad food, horrible wine, insults and all the other stuff we’d gone through, we’d had a great time. The Gretchens had a wicked sense of humor, and had exactly the right kind of personality to deal with what we’d endured for the trip through France.

So we were at the cafe and feeling a bit melancholy. We’d be parting at Nice, the girls to return to Germany, me to go on to Italy. We would not, however, be disappointed about getting out of France.

Two young women were at a table near us, their babies screaming and screaming. It was really annoying, but the two women didn’t do anything about it.

I turned to Gretchen 2 whom I had been helping to learn English.

“Why are they crying like that? Why don’t they do something?”

“Ah,” she said, nodding wisely. “There is nothing they can do. They are screaming in terror because they have just been told they are French.”

And that is the French Baby story.

I did warn you, remember?