It's not about the house.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

What Does It Say About My State of Mind...

... that this:

...and this:


...made me laugh so loud I scared the cat?

J Auclair, if you're still out there, I think maybe you were right. Dredging up the kitchen memories might not have been the idea most conducive to maintaining a sedate (as opposed to sedated) temperament.

"I will brake you," though? That's just big comedy.


I'll take "Anger Issues" for $1000, Alex.

Picture Pages! Part 2: Trim

I tried to take pictures of the windows without the trim, but I was too stupid to try to take them when it was dark outside. And even the new camera can't help but go all snowblind on my ass.

If there were trim, it would be a big white outline round the panes of glass. No white outline, see?

Okay, here's a closeup. You can probably actually see something in this one:


Ooooh... Pretty...

Made especially so, don't you think, by the packing tape I stuck up there last winter when the breeze was blowing through and freezing the dishwater to my hands? Yeah, turns out window-trim ain't just for decoration anymore. Also turns out packing tape ain't exactly insulation. But that is what I thought of at the time, and that is how it stayed.

Till now.

I'll say more about this later, but Johnny finally painted those walls a couple weeks ago. When he did, he pulled the tape down. And once more, my fingers froze. So in the meantime -- until we get the kitchen finished-finished and replacement trim picked out and hung -- this is the new solution I've come up with:


Pretty....

Picture Pages! Part 1: The Floor

This is what the floor looked like under those ugly tiles:

Very thick, very hard, very old oak boards, painted barn red, which has worn away over the almost-century this floor's been down. I actually kind of love it. Except for that blue patch, which is part of where the sink rotted and some of the color leached out of the tiles (oh yeah, I guess there was also blue). I particularly like how it goes all wonky in places, and you can tell where the old back door used to be.

I wanted to just leave it as it is, but everyone -- but everyone -- gasps and cringes when I say so. Plus, it is kind of hard to get the Christmas jimmies out of the cracks between the floorboards after the Football Buddy comes.

Although the Dirty Devil does a much better job at it than the Eurekan old one used to do.

Right now, I think the consensus is that we'll give it a light sand (that is: we will someday, not now, pay someone else to give it a light sand) and see what we think about it after that. If it's passable, we'll varnish and leave it. If not, Johnny will paint it red again. We will not tear it out or cover over.

Oh, but that grey stripe down the left side of that top picture there? That's Durock. Slight miscalculation regarding the little kickspace under the cabinets. I don't know what we're going to do with that.

Any suggestions?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Jean, Jean, The Poem Machine

Jean loves Upstate, she do, she do.
Jean loves Grey Gardens and Chesterfields, too.
Jean has a kitty who likes to go poo.
Jean loves that kitty, she doo, she doo.

I have a kitty, I've two, I've two.
I love Grey Gardens, but Chesterfields? Boo.
I took me a picture -- hey kitty cat, shoo!
I see him in there, do you, do you?




Jean saw it first; she knew, she knew.
Jean spied the paw and the little nose, too.
Jean -- wait a second, now, that isn't true.
Jean spied the paw but the nose, she blew.



Looking at that picture again, now, I'm not sure that is his nose. But I like the poem the way it is, so we'll pretend...

Counting Headless Chickens

The new stove was delivered before the gas was ready, so we signed for it – affirming that it had arrived in acceptable condition – based on nothing more than a quick peek inside the box.

It’s the right color. It doesn’t have any holes that look like they don’t belong there. And it’s not on fire. Great! Where do I sign? Now can you stick it in that corner over there? Because we're having counter issues, and I don't have time to think about the stove right now.

See, the counter I picked out and lugged home by myself from The Home Despot had an overhanging lip edge in the front. And the cabinets that I chose and put together had drawers on top. Drawers don’t pull open very easily when the counter has a lip edge that hangs over in the front. This may seem obvious to you, but we did not discover this handy little rule of motion until after we had trimmed the edges off the counter and cut a great big honking hole out where the sink was supposed to go. So I could not exchange my drawer-blocking counter for another, lipless one.

It was Andy's idea to cut a sink-hole in a piece of ¾” plywood and put it down underneath, to raise the stupid lip up past the drawer. We had to do it twice, because ¾” was not high enough. I actually like the super-tall countertop that we wound up with, but poor Johnny is 5’3”. And ½”. He still opts to knead his bread dough on the kitchen table.

By now the pipes were ready for the stove, but of course now the stove was an inch and a half shorter than the surrounding counter. This is not just odd-looking, it’s actually illegal. The inspector wouldn't sign off on it this way. The idea being that if you’re sliding a pot of boiling spaghetti from stove to sink to drain it, you don’t want to catch the bottom of it on the counter-edge and wind up like Freddy Krueger.

So Johnny and Andy spent the better part of an afternoon, shimming and leveling and shimming the stove again. Once it was all finished and hooked up, we went to put the bottom pan-drawer in, only to discover that the back of it was warped beyond all hope of fitting in the slot.

“Why did you sign for it in that condition?” the Whirpool people asked me when I called.

“Because I’m a frigging idiot and I thought it would be more fun to accept it as it was and pick a fight with you about it later.”

Seriously, how did I know what to look for with my “visual inspection”? That drawer, when it arrived, was encased in bubble-wrap and sitting on the range. I was supposed to look at that and intuit that it wouldn't fit?

Thankfully we had the warranty, so we agreed to pretend we broke it and they sent us out a brand new drawer. That one didn’t fit right, either, which led us to believe perhaps the slot itself was actually off-kilter. But it’s not a functional piece or a safety issue, so we decided to ignore it. We managed to get it to go in and have agreed to never try to open it again. Who really keeps pans in the pan drawer, anyway?

The dishwasher, a hand-me down, was installed with no problem. But apparently the last time it was used, someone put regular dishwashing-liquid in instead. The first time we turned it on, the kitchen filled with suds, and I ran it empty for a week before the problem really stopped. Also, the special nuts to hold the kickplate on went missing and we can’t find replacements for them anywhere. So underneath it there's this big old gaping hole.

When I went to put things in the cabinets at long last, I realized I’d forgotten all about the drawer pulls and cabinet handles, so I went dashing back to Home Depot for those. Maron, there are so many! The ones I chose cost $4 a piece, which didn't sound so bad until I realized that I needed twelve – and then twelve more for someday in case, whenever we got around to the other half of cabinets, these handles had gone out of print. Or whatever you call it. Twenty-four times four is a hundred freaking dollars! For drawer pulls! But having made the decision once, I couldn’t bear the thought of going back and pawing through all those thousands of knobs again, so I paid the g-d hundred dollars. Dang. I wonder where I stashed those dozen spares?

As of this writing, I do not believe the sink has yet caused any trouble.

She said, while chewing vigorously on her tongue.



Tomorrow: Pictures!

Blowing a Fuse

The activity after that came in scattered flurries. One day we’d have a plumber, a gas fitter, an inspector, an electrician and two Outies grubbing around in there – then, for days on end, nothing.

The electrician’s name was Jack. Poor old Jack. He had thyroid cancer. He was actively dying at the time, and we didn’t even know. Nobody did. He didn’t tell anyone. Didn’t want people feeling sorry for him and making a big deal about it.

Johnny had met Jack up at his local here. Let’s call it – oh hell, let’s call it by what it’s really called, which is The Sandtrap. (All the bars around here have nautical names. We live within shouting distance of the old naval shipyard where Kilroy was first Here.) We didn’t know Jack was dying, but we did know he was old. Pushing eighty, I would have guessed. He didn’t actually do any of the work – he’d been retired for a while, and was, you know, dying and everything. But his license was current, so he pulled the permit and sat on a kitchen chair drinking O’Doul’s and supervising, teaching all the Outies how its done.

I would have liked to learn, too, but there wasn’t room enough in that small kitchen. Besides, we’d been at this long enough by then for me to know when it was a good idea to get out of the way. And be thankful for the chromosome that gives me the excuse. I’d put the cabinets together, and in the end that was really all I’d do. Except cook the banana bread when it was over, which was all Jack would take in payment for his expertise.

Oh, and get yelled at by the electrical inspector.

It was time to call him in for the preliminary – wires run and live, blueboard not hung up yet – and so I did. He was a bit terse on the phone with me, but I still feel like I’m playing grown-up with all this stuff, so I’m never shocked at people acting like I’m doing something wrong. It’s the same way I used to feel when the private school I went to was on vacation at a different time than the public schools in the town where I grew up. Like everybody’s watching me ride my bike around, and someday one of them’s going to call the Truant Officer.

Do they even have Truant Officers anymore? Did they even then? Did they, really, ever?

Anyway, so the inspector on the phone was mad at me because, I figured, who did I think I was trying to play Homeowner and everything? I ignored his attitude and answered his questions, until we got to this one:

“Contractor’s last name?”

“Oh, jeez, I’m sorry. I don’t even know. How awful. Jack? What’s your last name?”

But before Jack could tell me, the inspector spluttered through the phone:

“He’s there?”

“Well, yes.”

“Put him on the phone with me. Right now.” I did. And he tried to tear poor Jack a new one.

“Don’t you ever have the homeowner call to schedule inspections!” Blah blah blah and on like that. Jack took it in stride. He was dying, what the hell did he care if the inspector wanted to shake his balls around?

I was afraid he’d flunk us to be nasty, but we passed. Work stopped there for a week or so while we prepared for, held, and cleaned up from our annual St. Patrick’s Day Extravaganza. That year, we set up sawhorses and plywood where the counter was supposed to go, and cooked sixteen pounds of corned beef in five different crockpots.

The fuses held up nicely.

Wish I could say the same for Jack.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Fumey Interlude

It has been brought to my attention that this:


May (or may not) be the exact same tile as used to be in the nasty kitchen. It describes out the same way, sure enough – yellow and red with black and mottled grey – but for some reason I like this patch of tile. In fact, we have decided that when all is said and done here, this little patch of floor will be the only thing that we let stand unrenovated. And I hated the moldy old crap that got thrown away.

But wait. I just remembered: there is still some kitchen-tile left! Under what remains of the (probably not) original cabinetry. You can’t see it, of course, what with the cabinets being on top and everything, but some sticky-outy corners do poke through – I know, because it makes it very difficult to clean out under there.

Let’s go have a look, shall we, and see what moldy red and yellow pieces we can find?

Oh, and green. Until I saw this nasty thing, I plum forgot about the green (P.S. Congratulations, new camera, for getting me this shot!):


Hey, I told you it was hard to clean out under there. In my defense -- which ain't worth much, I grant you -- that white stuff is plaster dust from some sanding Johnny did a week ago. Apparently I forgot to get on my hands and knees with the new Dirty Devil's brush-extension. And the black under it is tar-paper. I may not be a Domestic Goddess, but I am not that bad a housekeeper as to let black mold and white fungus grow unchecked on my kitchen floor.

Not anymore, at least.

Anyway, now I'm even more confused. Green, no green? Same, not same? I don't know.

But wait again. Johnny just walked in the door from a day of working on a rehabilitation project not our own. Let’s go ask him!

“Johnny?”

“Whu.”

“How was your day?”

“Stoned.”

“Slow?”

“Stoonnneh… duh.”

“What? Oh, from the Zinsser?”

“Yeh. From zinzur. Yup. Lend me twenty dollars so I can have a… have a… What was I saying?”

“Sure, honey, I’ll give you ten bucks for a pint [you see what I did there? Is tricky, yes?], but can you do me a favor and riddle me one thing first?”

“Rid-duh? What doo you meen? Gee, I wish I had a su-moak.”

“I mean, can you answer me one question? Are you capable right now? Or should I just wait and ask you later?”

“Nope. I ken. Wha dizit?”

“You know this floor here, in the little hall outside the bathroom? Come and look…”

“O-buh-kay-bee.”

“Is this tile—”

Smell fart!”

“No! No, honey, that’s the cat box. Sister was just in there. I’ll change it in a minute, but can you focus for me now?”

“O-kay. Whud?”

“Is this tile the same as used to be in the kitchen?”

“Yes. Yup. Same thing.”

“There was green in the kitchen, though.”

“Yup. And yellow.”

“Right, Honey. There’s yellow here.”

“And black.”

“That’s right, dear. There was yellow and black in the kitchen, and there’s yellow and black in this little hallway here. And also red, both places. But there was green in the kitchen, and there’s no green here. So is this the same as that? Or different?”

“Too small.”

“What’s too small, Honey?”

“Hall way. Too small.”

“For green?”

“Yes. Yup. Too small for green.”

“Okay. Thanks, hon. I’m sorry I bothered you. Here’s twenty dollars. Go buy yourself two pints of Guinness and a pack of—”

“Guinness will pull the poison!"

"Right, honey."

"Guinness… it cleans the… and it pulls…”

“Cleans the blood and pulls the poison out. Yes, dear, I know. A burger in every pint, there is. Now go have two and we’ll discuss this again in the morning.”

If we can get a decent picture of the tiles that are under those cabinets when they come out, we will. In the meantime, this whole thing will have to remain a mystery.

To those of us who remember the conversation, anyway.


P.S. Micky: I sent him your kisses from the Chi-town girls. He said "They can't see me now. Can they?"

No, Dear. They cannot see you. Now have your pint.


P.P.S. Can anybody spot the cat in either of those pictures? I'll write a POEM for whoever sees it first...

Luca Brasi Slept Here

Sorry, Other Bear (and others who haven't asked but might be wondering): I actually don’t have any before-pictures of the kitchen. All of this was back before I found that Coke bottle in the Kalahari. But when I finish the renovation story (just a few posts away now, I swear), I promise to put up a slew of afters.

Or, well, not exactly “after” – more like in-between.



Johnny had painted a basement for the Jimmy the Gas Fitter a couple years before, on the “someday, I'll call upon you to do a service for me” Godfather barter system. Now the day had arrived at last, and I drove Johnny to the Irish Bar to collect.

We hadn’t been in the Irish much since we bought this house and moved over the bridge, but nothing had really changed. The vending machine by the front door that used to sell cigarettes sold scratch tickets now, but the video game on the other side was still PGA. We took our usual places at the short end of the long wooden bar. Ordered beers. Said a round of pleasantly-surprised hellos.

I didn’t know Jimmy the Gas Fitter well enough to recognize him from across the room. Mostly, I knew him by his nasal squawk. He has a smallish face on a sturdy, block-shaped head, and when he speaks he sounds as if he’s forcing a large voice out through a tiny hole. Which I suppose he is.

Needless to say, I didn’t recognize the back of his baseball-hatted head among the hundred others that bobbed over a hundred identical plaid-quilt coats. But Johnny did. He pointed out through a hole in the crowd a particular Spotbilt-logoed cap and, after we’d been sitting for about a half a beer, excused himself to head off in that direction.

But he didn’t stop. He walked right past what I still was only assuming must be Jimmy, and went into the men’s room. After a few minutes, he came out, walked past Jimmy again, and sat back down.

“What about Jimmy?” I said. “I thought you were going to -- ?”

“He saw me.” Johnny said, and turned back to his beer.

Sure enough, ten minutes later, Jimmy appeared at Johnny’s elbow.

“How you doing, Erin?” he said to me. But to Johnny all he said was: “Is it time?”

I read my paper while the two of them hashed out the details. The materials and stuff would come from Jimmy’s stash, so all we'd pay for was the permit. He'd go down to Town Hall the next day they were open, and as soon as he had permit in hand, he’d start the work. He’d call us the night before and let us know to expect him.

With hands shaken all around (even though I had really nothing to do with it, I got to shake hands, too), we bought Jimmy a beer. While waiting to pay for it, Johnny asked if maybe Jimmy knew of a plumber who was straight-up and available. It just so happened Jimmy did.

Jimmy had recently done some gas-fitting work for Plumber Bob, so Bob owed Jimmy a favor of his own. Jimmy said he wasn’t ever going to need a plumbing job, but he was willing to give us the favor Bob owed him, if Johnny would someday come back and paint another room at Jimmy’s house. Done and done.

So we got our plumbing hooked up for nothing, too. That was, like I keep saying, two years ago almost exactly, and Johnny's not been back to Jimmy’s yet. We check in at the Irish once in a while. Their eyes meet from across the room. Johnny nods his head up once to say hello. Jimmy nods his, then shakes it one time to the side.

I didn’t used to speak this language, but I get it now. What Jimmy’s saying is:

“I saw you.

“It’s not time yet. ”

And for all I know, that day may never come.

But if it does, Johnny will not refuse.

Keeping Trim With Men Around

It’s been a week and a half; this is getting ridiculous. I’ve got to get this kitchen story finished! At least before the new cabinets arrive and it all begins again. So this time I mean it:

Camp Speedy or bust!



I honestly don’t remember anymore what the kitchen looked like when I got back from California. I do know that they (meaning Andy) had found a reason to pull the trim off both the doors and windows. The trim that, although far from lovely in its present state, did exactly match the stuff that I’d spent (say it with me) two years stripping paint off of in the living room.

Lord knows I didn’t plan on stripping that woodwork now. I couldn’t. Not until my nose hairs grew back, at any rate. But the thought was out there. In fact, the idea had occurred to me that I might pull it out of the kitchen myself – someday. I might strip it and put it in the dining room, to replace the truly fugly brown crap that some madman thought would be a good idea. Or I might just leave it where it was and paint it a nice color instead of its current shade of Forty-Seven-Years-Of-Kitchen-Grease.

Who knows what I might have eventually thought to do with that nice antique trim? But now all I can do is burn it.

Because not only did Andy pull it off, he took a sawzall to it and left in outside in the rain.

That shit is toast.


(Please remember, if you’re commenting, how much we love our Andy. And please keep in mind that Johnny was at least an abetter to the trimicide, if not a full-fledged accomplice. I have made my peace with this, and so can you.

Then again, I've had two years to come to terms. So go ahead and grouse away.

But if you say anything mean about my boys, I’ll killya!)

Monday, January 28, 2008

Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again

With the cabinets all put together and lined up on towels in my bedroom, I took the train to Logan and said goodbye to all of that.

Really.

I had a plane ticket to go visit my Bestest Friend in the Whole Entire World and I was hardly going to cancel my trip over a little thing like a kitchen that looked like it had thrown up on itself. Now, you may think this was selfish of me. You may think me short-sighted. You may even think (heaven forfend!) that I was Stupid. But what would you think if I told you this was the second time I'd made this same decision?

When we were in the process of buying the house – in between signing the P&S and having the inspection, a span which cannot legally exceed ten calendar days – I jetted off to see said Bestest Friend for seven. And look how well that turned out for everyone!

In my defense, I have to point out that it wasn’t the exact same thing this time. Not really. First of all, she was living in Arizona then: in Tucson. And second: that time Johnny had come with me. By now, Bestest Friend had moved to Northern California, and I was leaving Himself home.

See? Not the same stupid thing at all.

Johnny kissed me good bye at the door (he doesn’t drive, remember, so he doesn’t ever see me off) and assured me that the kitchen would be finished by the time I got back home. Something in me wanted so badly to believe him that I let myself pretend.

After I landed and collected luggage, arrived at Best Friend’s house and went with her to walk the dog, I called home to let him know I was alive.

“How was your flight, love?” says he. “Grand, grand. So anyway, guess what? George came over looking for something to do, so we pulled all the tiles off the floor!”

What!? We never talked about pulling tiles off the floor!

These tiles – well, truth be told, I did not love them. They were not ceramic tile, or porcelain; they were linoleum or, for all I know, asbestos. Probably two inches square, in yellow and red and black and a kind of mottled grey. Great hunks of them had fallen out in random spots around the room, especially in front of the sink where the floor rotted away, and what was left had a perpetually dirty look no matter how often I scrubbed. Which wasn’t all that often, to be honest.

The only reason I ever even considered keeping them was that certain people – people whose opinions I respect – would come into the AssVac and admire them, saying things that seemed to take for granted we would never pull them out. When these people would leave, I’d examine that floor again and try to imagine a world in which it was not the most atrocious thing I’d ever seen.

Really, I always knew down in my heart that they would go – we’d just never so much as discussed the possibility of doing it right then. And we certainly had not discussed what might go down in their stead. Not that we had the cash to do it, anyway. But you can’t just live for two years with whatever the floor looks like underneath them, can you?

Apparently, you can.

Now, I could hardly be mad at George for doing all that work for us out of the goodness of his heart, but I had every right to kill my—

Well, okay, wait. Since I'm being honest, here, I knew it wasn’t really fair to get mad at Johnny, either. Considering the fact that I was three thousand miles away and not planning anything more strenuous for my week than a visit to the Jelly Belly outlet store, I knew I ought to be grateful and supportive of whatever work he chose to get done in my absence. So I didn’t yell at him. I did, however, extract a promise that he would not do anything else while I was gone that had not been previously discussed.

With me, I should have said. Discussed with me.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sunday Shortie

1. Once again, I'm over here today. Death and dismemberment, rape and cannibalism, adultery and fly-i-cide. It is a riot!

2. Remember the dingbat at my dentist's office who told her to say hello to Osama Bin Laden for him and I reported his racist ass? Well, that racist ass got fired! I don't know when it happened, but I just found out on Friday. I feel a little bad, making a guy (who, let's admit, is no spring chicken) lose his job and everything. But the receptionist said he'd had it coming for a while, that nobody ever liked him anyway, and that he just finally said the wrong thing to the wrong person.

Damn right, he did! Anybody else out there want to piss me off?

3. I'm thinking of putting the kibosh on those giant ads over on the right-hand side, there. I'm not getting the hit count I hoped for out of them, and I think they're kind of gauche. Plus, they're giant, and seem to be getting bigger. What do you guys think? Should I ditch them, leave them, or do you just not really care?

4. Not shaved yet!


Although our other dentist did pull out a few hairs when they got caught in her rubber glove. He couldn't feel it, though, because he was numb all over his face except for where she had to drill. She said she'd never seen anything like it before, and this is not the student. She's been at it for a while. She even (and the woozy might want to skip this next part) gave him a shot right down through the tooth itself, and still it didn't take. He had to feel every second of it -- except the pulling out of hairs. And he has to do it all over next week, on the tooth next door.

I don't know how, or if, any of this affects the decision to shave or not to shave. His head has been pretty sore for the last few days, but he keeps asking me where the haircutting scissors are.

I genuinely haven't got the foggiest idea.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Schmone Schmad Schmapple

Cabinets were my job. They came with wordless, diagrammed assembly instructions, and I’m better at following those things than Johnny is. So while he and Andy continued the destruction – tearing out the floor that had rotted under the leaky sink; deciding to go ahead and tear the floor out along that entire wall; putting Durock down instead of sub-floor so we wouldn’t have to worry about that problem again (or maybe in addition to sub-floor, I don't remember); ripping out the ancient, grease-clogged exhaust fan which, when we moved in, had been covered with an equally greasy rag against the cold; and filling the greasy hole it left with foamy Great Stuff – while he and Andy continued all of this, I assembled cabinets in the master bedroom and lined them up, on towels, on the brand-new wide-pine floor around my bed.

(I am inordinately pleased to note that even Microsoft Word doesn’t think that last sentence is a run-on. 120 words, and not a scoldy squiggle to be seen. Beat that!)

I actually enjoy this kind of work. It’s like a game, a puzzle. Look at the picture, find the piece that looks like that, and make the shape you see. Hm. More like an IQ test, now that I think about it. Or a psychiatric evaluation. Well, then...

No wonder I enjoy it!

Anyhoo, one of the kits had a piece with a smashed bit on it, but I put it together anyway. Enough wood glue, I figured, and it would hold up fine. Johnny said no, and Andy agreed. Because the smashed bit was on the corner, it encompassed the holes where the hardware was supposed to go. Without the hardware in its proper place, the structural integrity of the cabinet was compromised. And without its integrity, the cabinet couldn’t be trusted to bear the countertop.

Whatever. Just pretend I never said anything, okay? Just use it? Please?

No.

Johnny called the company to ask them their opinion, and they said not to use it. They said they’d send us a replacement piece. And they did. In less than three days, too. But with all that wood glue I’d slathered in, I couldn’t get the g-d smashed bit to come off without smashing all the other bits to match. And of course, with it all put together and glued-up like that, I couldn’t even return the faulty thing. So I had to go back to Home Depot and buy another, non-smashed cabinet as a replacement for the one I was too defective to know not to use.

And Johnny, being Johnny, didn’t want to throw away the smashed one. It sat in the front hallway for half a year while he and I tried to out-stubborn one another. I guess he won, because finally, when we had the floors done, I threw the damn thing in the attic. It’s still up there now. It’s got no doors or shelves – or top, for crying out loud – so the crap that wound up getting shoved in there could just as easily be sitting in a pile on the floor. But hey, you never know, that doorless, topless cabinet might come in handy someday, smashed corner-bit and all.

As might its replacement piece. Which, still packed in shipping cardboard, stands vigil in the attic by the poor broken bastard's side.

Friday, January 25, 2008

(Lost, and) Found

Sparkle Plenty wrote today about some things she found in her recently-moved-in-to cottage, and she asked what sort of stuff other people found in their newly-adopted domiciles. I didn't want to clog up her comments section with all my thousand-words, so I'm putting up some pictures here instead.

This is probably my favorite, I don't know why:

It's a serving tray. With a picture of a '50s-era Dad-type, grilling and drinking under a measly tree. I L-O-V-E love it. Unfortunately, we've never really used it, cuz it's huge. It takes up the whole table, and any food you put on it gets dwarfed, making it look like people shouldn't eat any because there's not enough. I made Johnny hold it for this picture, so you could gauge the size. He's not a big fella by any stretch, but he's big enough to show.

(And no, that is not a coke nail on his right pinky finger. That is a guitar-pickin' instrument, thanks very much.)

Next up, this hat box:

It is shiny and vinyl and I heart it, too. You'll just have to trust me that it doesn't look quite so banged-up without the flash. But I've never put it to the use for which it was intended, because when I wear hats, I tend to wear the men's kinds...

And this is where I keep the poor things when they're not in use:

Somehow the old bastard always whips back into shape.

Thing #3 that I found in this house and kept, is this pretty purse (and yes, it's on the same kitchen table the hatbox was pictured on, there's just something about the camera's flash I haven't figured out yet):

I don't know if you can tell: those spider-leggy things are actually the handles. Okay wait, hang on. It looks like this:

And this:

And this:

Oh hey wait! There's my other little old purse on the inside! Who knew that Payless thing was tucked in there?

Well, anyway, this one is suede (I think), and stiff, and fab-u-loso, and I carry it when I get dressed up. Which is not often. But when I do, I don three-quarter gloves in black velvet(ish), slip this purse on my arm, and I am Breathless -- Breathless, that is, with just a tiny touch of Goth.

Next up, and Johnny's favorite, the water pitchers:

Are they Fiestaware? I don't know. They say "USA" on the bottom, but I'm not a girl who cares enough to look them up*. They're a bit more blue-green in real life than in this picture. And we've never used them, either. But we will.

So now let's pass it on: What have you found in your houses?
*[Okay, I looked them up. Apparently, the jugs are Cronin. And apparently, also, the tray is Stoyke. And apparently they're both a dime a dozen. But knowing that takes all the fun out, don't you think?]

Then Wimpy Came Along...

First of all: I don’t need the oral surgery again! Actually, technically I do. Everybody wishes I could have it. They’d all recommend that I re-do it if I could. But I can’t. Because, well, let’s just say that if I had any more surgery, I wouldn’t have any more tooth. Which is probably why the surgeon stopped where he did in the first place. So that’s good news. I guess.

Thanks for all your sympathies and insults about my dentist. It’s really not her fault. But I’m having this procedure done at B.U. dental school, remember, because it’s cheaper there than going to someone with a degree and everything, and because this is not covered by my Massachusetts Public Health Universal Coverage Poor People Plan (which is otherwise fabulous – but that doesn’t mean
anybody should be voting for Mitt Romney. Ugh.) Students do the work, supervised closely by experienced professors, and every procedure is in a different academic field. It’s as if, if I was at a regular school, I had to go to the Physics building for one thing, the Language lab for another, then to the Athletic facility for number three. Apparently, I’m caught in a sort of pissing contest between departments – which is not a pleasant mental image, when you consider that I’m in the chair with my head back and my mouth wide open.

So let’s get back to the kitchen saga, shall we?

While I waited at the customer service desk to actually place the order for the stove – because the hour’s worth of paperwork we filled out in the stove department didn’t actually, technically, count – Johnny took himself on a spin around the store. He’s not good at patience in public, generally (nor am I, come to think of it: gad, who thought the two of us buying a house would be a good idea?), and he had been very patient with everything so far. So, like an indulgent mother, I told him: “Go play with the lawnmowers or something. I’ll find you when I’m done.”

And he was off.

Everything at the customer service desk at Home Depot takes an hour and a half. Place an order? Hour and a half. Rain check on a sale item? Hour and a half. Lost your husband? Hour and a half. When I got there, there were three people in front of me. After three hours, it was down to only one. I was going to be next, when I heard Johnny’s voice behind me.

“Oh, you need to talk to me wife. Hey, Horse! HORSE!”

He calls me Horse. I never think about how odd that is – in fact, I rather like it. Until he shouts it out in public. Or, ahem, I post it on a blog.

Hoping to avoid a line of people wanting to inspect my hooves and teeth, I turned around and shot Johnny The Look. Unfortunately, I think you have to learn The Look and its possible repercussions from your mother, and Johnny’s mother – well, with so many of them running around, I imagine it was hard to get a line of sight on any one. Johnny’s impervious.

“Horse! C’mere!”

Are you kidding me? I’ve been standing in this line for three weeks, and you want me to leave it when I’m next? Look! That happy couple’s just been reunited and they’re about to call on me!

“Don’t place the order yet, Horse. Not till you see this! C’mon!”

Oh, balls. I had no idea what was going through his head, but if I ignored him and it turned out he’d discovered that the stove we chose had a tendency to blow up or something, then I would be the asshole. On the other hand, if I lost my place in line to look at a freaking recipe, the asshole would be him. And I would kill it.

HORSE!”

I left the line.

Around the corner, at the end of the aisle where he stood, sat a little man at a little folding table. On the folding table was an array of orange papers. On the papers were the words: “10% off your initial purchase!”

He wanted me to sign up for a credit card.

I love him, but Johnny can be a sucker. He wants to order every thing he sees on television, sign up for every junk-mail offer that arrives. So, when I repeatedly insist that he’s the voice of reason in this family, what I’m trying to tell you is that we really had no business being homeowners at all.

Fortunately, Johnny has no credit rating. He couldn’t take this sucker-bait without my help. And if there is a single, mature, voice-of-reason lesson that I have learned in my lifetime, it’s that extended credit is not necessarily your friend.

I told him no, it was a scam, I didn’t do that. I didn’t do it and besides, we didn’t need it. We had the cash to cover the half-kitchen we’d agreed on, and we were not going to over-extend ourselves to go any deeper in than that.

“We’re all set,” I told the little man at the little table. “Thank you, anyway.”

But then, just as I turned around to take my place behind the five people who got in line behind the woman who should have been me, Johnny said this:

“But if we get the card, and we don’t order the stove today – if we come back and get the stove and the cabinets and the sink and the faucet and the pig and the counter and the doors and the knobs and everything at the same time, as our first purchase on this 10% discount offer – we could save ourselves three hundred bucks! Then, since we have the cash, we’ll just pay it when the bill comes in and throw the card away!

“Why wouldn’t you?”

Hm. I considered this. My gut was still telling me to stand my ground, but it wouldn't tell me why. I considered the three hundred dollar savings, and I considered the two more months of waiting in that still-getting-longer line, and I decided that coming back tomorrow sounded like a great idea. I filled out the paperwork, the little man gave me something that would act as a temporary credit card until the real one (which we would never need, right?) came in the mail, and we went home. We measured for cabinets and decided and discussed. We picked a color for the countertop and talked about what we needed from our sink. We determined that we would pick the cheapest faucet we could find that was not completely hideola, and in the end we plain forgot about the knobs. We went back the next day, we bought and ordered and paid for everything, and we saved three hundred dollars.

And before the bill came, Johnny lost his job. We used our cash to pay our mortgage, and we carried that damn balance for two years.

But at least we weren’t paying interest on it. Because I switched it over to the first junk mail 0% offer that arrived.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Then Andrew Jackson Got Involved...

First of all, since I plumb forgot to put an end-time on The Johnny Game, I will leave it open to entries for one more day. It officially closes tomorrow when I wake up and sit at the computer. Probably sometime around 6:30. In the morning. My time. Got it?

Second: so many good things are happening in our life (well, not necessarily good things, but things that would make killer stories) and you’re not getting to hear any of it because this kitchen recap is dragging on so long.

Hm. Methinks perhaps there is a cosmic kinship there between the story and the telling of it. Anyhoo…

I’m going to Speedy-Delivery the rest of this. Which might mean several posts a day, if I can find the time. I want to get it told already, so that next week we can get back to our Regularly Scheduled Programming of Me, Bitching About My Life. Chapters you’ve missed now include: Why I Have to Have My Oral Surgery AGAIN*; Why We Can’t Finish Starting to Finish the Kitchen For At Least Another Month; Why I Just Might Be the Worst Person on the Whole Entire Planet; and How Johnny Seems to Have Gone Down in Dental Sympathy With Me.

Aren’t you excited? I knew you would be.

So, to task:


We had no clue how the process of cabinet-buying was supposed to go. Do you order by the shelf? By the foot? By the room? What if your kitchen is really, really small? And you’re only doing half of it? From the waist down? For all we knew, the answer to all these questions might be “twelve.” But, having filled out the ream of paperwork it took to order a simple stove, we were flush with purchasing and decision-making power. We sidled over to the cabinet department, sat down in front of The Guy – actually, there were Two Guys – and announced:

“We need to redo our kitchen. By St. Patrick’s Day. Because, you see, we’ve got the family coming over for corned beef.”

Two Guys looked at each other and laughed.

“That’s three weeks,” one said.

“Never gonna happen,” said the other.

“I hate you both, you big mean meanies,” I telepathed. But what I said was:

“…

“?

“!”

After I’d made that perfectly clear, they allowed as how we could go with the do-it-yourself cabinetry, which comes in a variety of standard sizes and colors, plus fillers for the gaps -- because your kitchen is not a standard size. If we bought those and put them in ourselves, they said, we just might make it. But if we wanted custom-ordered installation, we were looking at sometime well after Easter.

Johnny and I looked at each other and laughed.

“Custom-ordered?” he repeated.

“Never gonna happen,” I chimed in.

Can you imagine paying somebody to put your cabinets in? That would be a luxury on par with, I don’t know, having running water in your kitchen! Which we, of course, no longer had. Because it makes sense to tear everything out before you get any of the new stuff. So you can wash your dishes in the bathtub and dump your spaghetti-water down the toilet bowl. Except of course we didn’t have any spaghetti-water, because we didn’t have any spaghetti, because we had no stove. But you see what I’m getting at: no running water in the kitchen. You may call me Half-Pint, if you must.

Guys 1 and 2 walked us through the steps we’d have to take to do this job ourselves. The first involved measuring your kitchen and deciding what you need – which we obviously hadn’t done yet, so we obviously were not going home with any cabinets today. Other steps had to do with working around existing structures, which we just ignored, seeing as how there were no structures existing anymore. There were a few that involved cutting holes in countertops etcetera, and then, as we walked away with our brochures and graph-y kitchen maps, Guy 1 (or else Guy 2) tossed out this gem:

“Make sure you hang the wall cabinets before you put the floor ones in. It makes for—”

Silly Guy. We aren’t even getting wall cabinets. Not for years.


[*WAIT! Update: Dentist just called. Maybe I don't have to have the surgery again, after all. But I do have to go in this afternoon for a consultation, so the Big Mucky-Muck can look in my mouth and make a Final Decision. So I won't be able to post again today, after all. Hell damn crap!]

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Play the Johnny Game!

[Contest is closed, now. Sorry, late worms!]

Johnny has a beard.



It's a very handsome beard. Not every man can grow one like it.

But it's making him itchy, which is making him sad.

See, Johnny usually starts growing his beard on Hallow's eve, and then he shaves it off on Easter. But this year he started early, as you can see by this picture I took from my gimp-bed on November 1...

And by now it's driving him to...

So he wants to hold a pool. Like you have when a baby's due. Except this one's better than the ones he plays up at the pub, because this one's free!

Guess the date and time that Johnny's beard comes off, and we will put it in an envelope and mail it to you!

Kidding.

We'll send you a little bit of what we had for dinner last night?

No, huh?

Okay, we'll send you this.

Did somebody say chick-un?

All right, all right. Seriously:

Johnny says he will draw a picture for the winner, of whatever you decide -- or, if you'd rather, he will decide for you. He's a very good drawer. Just ask my football buddy

Uncle Johnny draws very good aminals!

(I'm not kidding about this. He is a really good drawer. Unfortunately he always gives them away, so I can't show you any of his work. But they are good. They actually look like stuff and everything.)

Also -- because hey, I live here, too -- I'll throw in this Very Funny Book that I found at my Special Store the other day.

(The picture is a link to its Amazon page, as if "Don't forget to carry your thing" wouldn't be enough to get your crave on.)

And we'll also throw in a few more fun things, chosen just for you.

Okay, it's time for Official Rules and Reminders:

1. Johnny will not see the comments, so he will not be influenced by what anybody says.

2. Don't forget, he's supposed to last till Easter, but it's driving him insane. So you've got a wide spectrum to choose from.

3. I'm going to have to say one guess per customer. It wouldn't be fair if the first few folks took up all the good days.

4. If nobody gets it exactly, then whoever's closest wins.

5. I'm counting from both directions -- in other words: there is no Price is Right, "without going over" rule.

6. In the event of a tie, whoever guessed first is the winner. (That's why I said to guess the time of day as well. To narrow the chances of a tie. Also, this way two people can guess the same day if they want to.)

7. Johnny also has mad hair:

... but if you suggest he shave it off, I'll killya.


For all you housebloggers et al. who are popping your tenterhooks, I'll continue the kitchen saga first thing tomorrow. For now, though, the sun is up -- so I gotta go!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Delay of Game. AssVac. Automatic Let Down.

Sorry, guys, but we won't be announcing the JOHNNY CONTEST until tomorrow morning after all.

The good news is, once I post it (which will be before it's light out), I won't be home again until waaayy after dark (poor me), so ya'll will have plenty of time to comment and discuss and call us all kinds of names behind our backs while we're away.

But if you drink my beer, I'll killya.

So… Shopping

You’re not going to believe me, but we actually did look around a little bit before settling on a stove – we went to locally-owned businesses and everything. Unfortunately, the faux-antique-y gas range we liked at the appliance store was marked $6000, and I got tired of picking the salesman’s nose out of my nether regions. So our next stop was Home Depot.

At Home Depot, they don’t work on commission. On the one hand, this means they aren’t following you around, sniffing at your pockets, trying to gauge the contents of the billfold that you keep there – on the other, it can also mean you’re pretty much on your own. As if to underscore the fact that they aren’t trying to push things on you, sometimes I think they try to actively not-care.

Hello? Hello? Is there anybody here to help me? Aha, there she is, standing in the pretend-kitchen with her friends in matching orange aprons, telling jokes around the coffee maker like they’re at a cocktail party.

“Excuse me? I wonder if you could tell me more about this $1400 stove, please? As opposed to, say, that $600 jobbie over there?”

“Okay, um. I think I’ve got a brochure around here somewhere.” To her credit, she does not actually roll her eyes. But after ten minutes of standing around like a dork while Johnny wanders and the orange-aprons reconvene their idle chitchat, I am handed the “brochure” and then cease once more to exist.

It’s a one-sheet, black and white. Nothing on it but a fax-quality image of what might be the stove in question, and a bunch of numbers I don’t understand.

The fact is, we want this stove. It has convection (which we’ve not 100% figured out yet), a mini-burner in the middle (convenient for coddling eggs, if I had the patience), a super-boost burner in the front for, say, boiling giant vats of homemade beer (which we haven’t done since we got the thing, but still – that boost also comes in handy for sterilizing jars when making jelly, which we have done; so there). It’s even self-cleaning (though it turns out the cabinets we put in adjacent to it aren’t guaranteed not to self-combust if we turn that feature on).


Okay, in retrospect, maybe living with old Sparky for so long made us a little greedy when it came to What We Needed From Our Stove. But as far as What We Needed From Our Salesclerk, that was simple. It boiled down to this (ha, there’s a little stove-pun for you, get it? ugh):

We didn’t need to be talked into it. Didn’t even really need it much explained. Just wanted to be reassured that there wasn’t any inside information the store employees had that we would wish we’d known before we bought it. Because it was the delivery man who informed me that the washer/dryer he was bringing in tended to barely outlive the warranty. And the dryer has recently taken to honking like a foghorn. Only when it’s running, though. But still.

Johnny finally got someone to talk. (I tell you what: if you can afford one, you really ought to keep a 5’3” Irishman around. They come in super-handy for situations when you need strangers to be nice to you. Like when you’re traveling in Middle Eastern countries, or shopping at Home Depot.) He came away assured that the brand we were buying was a good one, and that it came with a decent warranty. And so it was decided. Though we did, just to be extra-sure, purchase the additional, hundred-dollar, four-year contract offered by Home Depot.

Now hang on. Before you cry sucker – because you know you want to; oh, you are just dying to tell me what a rip-off all those contracts are – may I just remind you who I am?

Yeah. I put that sucker-ass contract in a secure place, where I can find it at short notice and everything. In fact, hang on...

See?




Oh no, wait. That’s the receipt. Hey, apparently the stove was only $1200 – not the $1400 I claimed above. And the warranty was only $90. Cool. But crap, where is the warranty!?

Ah, here it is, all folded up and hiding behind the – hang on. What is the cabinet-installation crap doing in the stove folder? Good thing I found that when I did. Anyway...

See?



So you can rest assured I’ll get my $100 worth – or my $90, rather. In fact, in case anyone out there is still skeptical, I'll jump ahead a bit and tell you this: I’ve already used it.

Twice.



Johnny wants me to run a Very Special Contest on his behalf. We haven't quite figured out the details yet, but we'll be announcing it sometime later on today. So stay tuned...

Monday, January 21, 2008

Out! Out! Damn!

We didn’t actually intend to rip apart the room. But the old, blown-up stove was only 24” wide, and electric. Who lives like that? So out she goes.

And if we're getting a new gas stove anyway, we might as well go for a 30-incher. That would mean moving the sink, so out it goes. Eh, it needed to be moved anyway, since it wasn’t under the window where a kitchen sink belongs. If we’re calling the plumber in to move the sink, though, we really ought to have him hook up the hand-me-down dishwasher that's been in the basement now for how long?

Plus, as long as we’re moving the sink, we might as well get a new sink. Out. And faucet. Out. And if we’re doing all of that, I want a pig.* That means a new cabinet for under the sink, but it’s only right, seeing as how the bottomless old one is teeming with tetanus and rust. Out.

Now, we can’t very well get a new cabinet for under the sink and leave all the old ones there. Out, out. And the new arrangement of cabinets and sink mean we’ve got to replace the counter. Out. Of course, if we’re ripping everything along that whole wall anyway, it wouldn’t make any sense not to tear the walls down and re-wire. Out, out, out. The electrician’s going to be here anyway, for the dishwasher and the pig. Oh yeah, and the stove.

Well, and if we’re opening the walls we might as well go ahead and replace the window—

NO!

Ahem. That was me.

Well, at this rate we were going to end up working our way round the entire freaking house! I didn’t see any logical stopping-point to all the madness, but I knew we could not afford to let this illogical train keep rolling on. So I threw myself under. Johnny and the entire Outie Show insisted I was crazy-stupid for choosing this of all possible places, but I lay there like a rag doll and refused to move.

New windows did make sense, they were correct. But not in the same way as, say, having a plumber hook up the dishwasher we already owned when he was here anyway to move the sink. People replaced windows all the time without tearing out entire rooms around them, and we could do that, too. Someday. Not now.

And that’s how it’s all my fault we’ve been living two years with a (literally) half-ass kitchen. Me. I was the one. I executive-decided that we would renovate from the floor up to the counter, from the studs out to the blueboard, and from the outside wall around to the doors on either side, but that was it. We could finish it later. Right then all I wanted was my working kitchen back.

Ha.


*Sorry, garbage disposal.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

“Now,” Says Jedy...

“What's next?”


Sunday Sidebar

We interrupt this Kitchen Nightmare to muse on a few unrelated issues, whilst my brain takes an unapproved Sunday vacation.

1. I'm blogging over here today. It's not the best thing I've ever written, but I'm blaming that on Andy.

2. I had a dentist appointment yesterday. Turns out I have to have the surgery again. I'm not as upset about this as I ought to be, because -- considering the date on which this whole ordeal began -- I had been a little nervous about putting it behind me before... before...

Well, being of a superstitious nature when it comes to Certain Things, I can't allow myself to say exactly before what. Let's just allow as how I don't so much mind that I won't be finished with the dental drama by the time February rolls around. That way I can't be blamed if everything goes all to hell.

And I will be expecting thank-yous for my extended suffering if it does not.

3. Speaking of which: thank you, GQ! From this month's "Men + Money" column (not available for linking, unfortunately):

How many people have told you that renting is just throwing your money away, that you're not a real grown-up until you own a home, that buying a house is the surest way to achieve financial stability? We've got news for you: those people are full of crap.

This article says everything that I've been saying (and getting pshawed at for saying) for four years: My mortage costs twice as much as my rent did, and 99% of it is thrown away on interest and taxes; any equity I'm building up is offset by repairs and never-claimed-on insurance premiums; any increase in property value (which itself is not a given, anymore) will be balanced out by inflation rates and cost of living increases.

In short: owning a home ain't the cash cow it's made out to be. And I'm glad to have some official backup to my argument at last.

Unfortunately, if I'd known this four and a half years ago instead of only four, we could have saved ourselves a lot of kicking and screaming. And money. And time. And my brain might work a little better of a Sunday morning...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

...and Enzo Made the Bread

By the time the stove blew up —

Okay, technically, the stove did not Blow Up. Who cares? You stand in the kitchen dodging flaming arcs of whatever-it-was, and see if you don’t think you’ve earned the right to call it what you like. I’ll say I saw a g-d mushroom cloud if that’s what I want to say. Got it?

Now, where was I? Oh, yeah.

By the time the stove blew up, we had been on hiatus from serious renovation for just about six months. There might have been a floor going in here, or a light fixture being wired there, but the real, tear-your-hair-out, get-drunk-every-night-and-dream-about-waking-up-that-way-in-the-morning work had been over for a while. We hadn’t forgotten, but we’d rested up.

We’d also saved up. See, a nephew of Johnny’s had come to stay with us for six months of 2005. He’s another story for another day (a story that only starts with the fact that he has the exact same name as Johnny, so I literally called him Nephew the entire time), but the reason I mention him here is that he’d been paying rent. Not much, but I’d been socking it away.

So, having gotten used to two whole burners and at least a half an oven, and having a whole $2000 in the bank just twiddling its thumbs, we decided the explosion was a Sign: it was Time to Do the Kitchen.

Now, for those of you who’ve been through this, you know $2000 isn’t going to get you very far. But we had backup:

· Mom & Dad had promised us a stove as a housewarming present. Two years later, we would hold them to that deal.

· In the years that we’d been waiting to bring the gas line in the house, Johnny’d managed to do a favor for a gas fitter, so we could get that work done for free

· The gas fitter, in turn, had done a favor for a plumber, and was willing to call that in on our behalf. (Our old plumber? The one who put in the new bathroom? While waiting for us to be ready to do the kitchen, he had actually died.)

· Johnny had befriended a retired electrician up at his local pub. Jack. Although Jack was very old and even less well than we knew, he kept his electrician’s license current. He wasn’t up to actually doing any of the work himself, but he was happy to pull the permits for us and sit on a chair in the middle of the room, drinking O’Doul’s and supervising. All he wanted in exchange was a banana bread when we got the oven working. (Poor old Jack. He’s dead too, now. He did get his bread before he went, though, and a jar of homemade grape jelly from our vines.)

· We had a bunch of blueboard leftover from when we did the back room. Overestimated that beaut by almost half, I did, but by the time we figured it out it was too late to bring it back.

· My friend Marie had decided to treat herself to a spanky-deluxe new dishwasher, and she said we could have her old, fully-functioning-but-not-deluxe one for our very own.

· Then, of course, there was good old Andy, and all the supporting players from The Outie Show.

So our $2000 really only had to stretch to cover cabinets and a sink and counter. And a faucet, because did you know sinks don’t come with faucets? And a pig. And all the bits and pieces of copper tube and wire covers. And doors, because did you know cabinets don’t come with doors? And Durock for underneath. And the spread on the stove because we chose one so super-extra-deluxe that we couldn’t possibly ask my folks to pay for all of it...

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first step was demolition.

It just so happened I had a vacation planned for that very week.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Earth, Air, Water and... What Was That Other One?

Like I said: for about a year the Countertop Army provided our MREs. Then one day, out of the blue, Andy showed up with this astonishing device.

I never did find out what it was called, I don’t even remember what it looked like anymore, but this device’s job was to find out at which point along the way the electricity stopped flowing. Andy poked some part of it into some part of the stove, and either the little needle wiggled, or it didn’t.

In this manner, Andy determined that one more of the stovetop burners could be made to work, and one of the oven elements as well. He went to the store and bought some things – he didn’t even let me give him any money – then he came back and did some things. (I don’t know what; I don’t know what; stop asking.)

More yucky stuff fell out the back. I have nightmares about the things I saw beneath the burner pans. But sure enough, after a few hours of fiddling and a couple of beers, we had a big burner that worked, and an oven-space that actually got hot! For dinner that night I made a giant baking pan of mac-and-cheese, and it was the best goddamn meal I ever tasted. I even, because I was feeling all big-hearted and grateful, left some in the pan for Johnny.

I could now – after a lengthy year of having to wash eighteen appliances for every meal – make an entire supper in a single dish. And that is huge. I could make casseroles with everything, bake fish with peas and scallions, roast pork with potatoes, even heat up a cookie sheet of Totino’s Pizza Rolls (my favorite!). But baking macaroni is not exactly baking, and I still couldn’t bake – cookies, breads, pies, what-have-you – because I couldn’t, not by a long shot, rely on what that single element might do at any time.

That’s okay. We still had the bread machine. And it turns out they sell cookies at the store.

* * *

Every year, we go to my parents’ for Thanksgiving, but every year we buy a turkey anyway when they’re on sale. Stick it in the freezer, have it in January sometime when we’re all snowed in. It didn’t snow that year until February, by which time we almost forgot about the bird. Or I did, at least.

Johnny remembered. He pulled it from the deep freeze one Friday afternoon and set it in a metal bowl to thaw. We woke up Sunday morning, threw a bread in the bread machine (washing one extra appliance is worth it for a loaf of crusty French), tossed the turkey in the rehabilitated oven, and settled on the couch in our pyjamas – me with my newspaper, Johnny with cartoons, the two of us taking turns adding logs into and poking at the fire. We aren’t real big subscribers to the baste-every-twenty-minutes school of Turkey Cookery, so all we had to do now for our dinner was wait.

After a couple hours, it started to make those popping noises turkeys make so well. Hiss... POP! … Ffff… FOOM! …Hhhh… HOW! We checked on it, basted it once, turned it assways, sat back down. Old Tom kept right on cooking. Hiss... POP! … Ffff… FOOM! …Hhhh… HOW!

A few more hours later, his cartoons and my newspaper spent, Johnny and I wandered out into the kitchen. Turkey was done. Roasted to golden perfection. Maybe just a little dry, but hey, better overcooked than under, right? There are enough germs floating around this kitchen as it is. We took it out and set it on the stove to rest while Johnny tended to the mashed potatoes.

Hiss... POP!

Huh. That’s odd. Must be some grease left in the oven. Oh yeah, that’s right, better shut it off. Johnny, would you? There we go.

Ffff… FOOM!

Huh? That’s very odd. Johnny, are you sure you turned the ove—

POW!!!!

There was an arc of … something. To this day I don’t know if it was electricity or fire, but an arc of definitely something shot across the room directly in between myself and Johnny. From the stove all the way, more or less, to the facing wall. Johnny and I gaped at each other like cartoon yokels and then I, being closer to the cellar door, made the mad dash of my existence.

Down the stairs, across the cellar, over to the breaker-box in 2.5 seconds. Throw the switch, kill the juice, then sniff the air. I don’t know if that tingle I feel is actual voltage or simple adrenaline, but I’m fairly certain I do not smell smoke. No. I’m sure I don’t.

“Johnny?” I holler. “Everything okay up there?”

“Yes, love,” he answers. “That was… Huh.”

Indeed it was. But, somehow, both we and the AssVac seem to have survived.

I think I’ll leave that breaker off, though. Just to ensure that we don’t hurt ourselves.


Next: the renovation begins!

FOR JEN

Because she knew something I didn't, which, like, never happens. I don't mean just with Jen. Jen knows stuff. Lots of stuff. Like where heaven is, and who isn't gonna be there. But me? I usually know everything.

Right?

Anyway. For Jen:

I do not read mysteries, I never have.
Can't figure them out, and they just make me mad.
Even Dennis Lehane, who does hail from my town,
Makes me wish I was Encyclopedia Brown.
As I try to determine who done it and why,
I end up frustrated, and I want to cry.
(Not really, but still, you must see what I'm saying:
If I can't have the ball, then I want to stop playing.)
I'd have to solve three more to make it a hat trick --
So you see, I'm no Angie, and Johnny's no Patrick.

Ta da!

I'm running veerrryyy ssslooow this morning, but I'll get the burn-the-house-down story up before you all leave work today, I promise. Unless you live in, like, Ireland or something.

In which case: Slainte!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Rallying the Countertop Army

We lived with that disease-ridden stove for the best part of a year. Mostly, it just provided extra counter space, but that one functioning burner could sure whip up a mean-ass cup of tea. Fortunately, Johnny had spent years collecting what I refer to as his Countertop Army – every single RonCo doo-dad you have ever seen on late night television, we’ve got at least one of them in our house.

So for that year, despite the fact we didn’t have an actual oven and only had one burner worth of stove, we still managed to eat. Cooked food, even. As a matter of fact, between all the gadgets on the counter and the gas grill in the yard, we pulled out some pretty darn good meals. And by “we,” of course, I mean “usually Johnny.”

Well, it was his fault we were in this situation, so damn right he had to be the cook! I mean, I couldn’t very well blame him for the stove not working, or that we’d bought ourselves a shitty house – although actually, now that I think about it, he was the one who purchased the lottery ticket that provided the down payment that kicked off this whole nightmare in the first place – so yeah, I guess the shitty house is his fault, too. But what I meant was: it's because of him we’d not yet replaced the contaminated stove.

See, I’ve already registered Johnny’s preference for gas. And I actually prefer it too, although I don’t feel quite as strongly about it as he does. But when I called the gas company to turn our system on, the little round man they sent over said oh no, that connection in the AssVac’s basement was decades old, long-dead. We did not, as it turned out, have a gas line running to our house. All our neighbors did. Not us.

Little Round Man explained that if we told them we were thinking of converting to gas heat, they would most likely run the line for free, but a) we weren’t -- planning on it, that is (ahem, this was four years ago) -- and b) they didn’t believe us anyway. They wanted fifteen hundred bucks to run the line.

Guess what? We paid it.

Guess what else? It took them six freaking months to get around to doing it.

Guess what other thing? They only brought it as far as the outside wall, and by then we had no money left to bring it in the house.

Now, here’s where it becomes all Johnny’s fault. To this point, we were more or less on the same page – we had no way of knowing they were going to take so long to do it, and therefore we had suffered together in waiting for the line. But once it was run, and it became clear we still would have no kitchen, I suggested that, for $200, I could pick up another 24” electric stove. Yes, it would be a waste of money, because yes, we’d be replacing it as soon as we could, but in the meantime it would mean so much to our quality of life.

He said no.

He said we didn’t have any $200 to be throwing around. He was right about that, but still.

He said if we were going to be spending $200 that we didn’t have, we should spend it on a plumber to bring the gas line in the house. Which would have been nice, but it was going to cost much more than that and besides, on top of that, we still would have had to buy a stove. And if we were buying a real stove and not just a throwaway one, well, we’d want it to be bigger, which would open up a whole new can of imported worms.

Couldn’t we just, for now, buy an itty-bitty, $200, electric stove, so that I could make chocolate-chip cookies if I wanted? For you, dear? Because I love you? You know how much you like chocolate-chip cookies…

He said no.

Now, it’s not like he’s The Dictator Of The House or anything. If either of us are, it’s probably me. I could have just gone and bought the damn stove and had it delivered and he would have forgotten he’d ever vetoed the freaking thing. But we were both just so exhausted with the nightmare renovations we’d been through already over those first six months that it wasn’t worth the fights that would ensue. Plus there was the fact that I knew us pretty well, and I was almost certain that if we had a stove that worked, we might never get around to the kitchen job. And then there was the idea that, if I went over his head, I couldn’t have said what I said next, which was:

“Fine, then. We’ll wait for your dumb gas stove. But that means you’re the cook.”

And you know how, like, with the government, there never seems to be enough money to solve domestic problems but there always seems to be enough to fight the war? Well, I think it must have been in that manner that the Countertop Army saw fit to expand. We still had no stove, no gas, no plumber, we still had a sink that threatened to fall through the floor, but now we also had the super-extra-dupe spaghetti cooker-thing and a few more of its friends.

Still, the arrangement worked out well enough. For a while. Then Andy got involved, and –

Tomorrow, I swear to god, I’ll tell you how we almost burned the house down.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A Poem For The Other Bear (and her kitchen) (and mine)

This isn’t the first time we’ve tackled the kitchen
Two years since the last go, I’ve finally stopped twitching
(You thought I was going to say something else?
Well, shame on you, buddy, get over yourself!)

Sick and tired of joint compound up in our gobs,
We’ve decided, at long last, to finish the job
(It wasn’t for lack of desire we quit:
We ran out of money to throw in the pit)

Last round netted new stove, and faucet, and fuses
Even a dishwasher Johnny never uses
(I do not know why he needs do them by hand
Some parts of that man I’ll never understand.)

We got some new cabinets, but that’s where we left it.
We had to – our bank account verged on berefted.
(Making up words is just one of my vices;
Maybe you’ve heard about poetic lices?)

Our account isn’t flush now, by any long shot
But we’ve got to make do with the do that we’ve got.
(And, as with that Stone Soup we’ve all heard about,
The things that we can’t have, we must do without.)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my Dublin jackeen,
It’s you don’t have to starve to live like a beguine.
(A word that no one in this hemisphere knew.
That’s right, Other Bear, I’ve finally got to you!)

We can make soups on hot plates, turkey in rotiss’
We could try to Pavlova – tell us what it is!
(What leaves you not-dead, they say, leaves you stronger.
Down Under, I hear, this takes even longer)

Kitchen-wide renovation’s too much for one year
You’ve got to prolong it, squeeze out every last tear
(O.B will end first, though: she’s one day before us—
Maybe that’s how she beat y’all to the thesaurus!)

Now, We’re Cooking With Gas

We had a stove when we moved in here. Technically. Technically, we did indeed have a stove. The inspector we hired to tell us that the house was falling down before we bought it, he did warn us that the appliance wasn’t any good. He even wrote it on the big pink slip and everything. But we’d been renting our entire adult lives. Neither of us had ever experienced a brand-new stove. We thought we knew from useless. We did not.

All we really understood was that this thing was 24” wide and electric – and, according to Johnny, neither of those things would ever do. If we were going to replace it, we needed another half a foot, and gas. But our top priority back then was to get the slime mold cleared from the back room.

Perhaps the first hint should have been the fuse. The first hint that this so-called “stove” was not only, in fact, generally ineffectual at anything resembling its intended purpose, but that it also should never, under any circumstances, be put to such marginal use as it was capable of mustering.

Now, when I say “fuse,” what I mean is breaker box. I wouldn’t say the house had been rewired – there is still knob-and-tube in places here and there – but there was (and is) a modern-type box down in the basement. The kind with the black switches that you just go down and throw. And, with nineteen breaker switches available, the entire house was hooked up to one of them, the stove all by its lonesome on another. Not only that, but the stove one was labeled: “This switch stays off to insure that Rita doesn’t hurt herself.”

It said “insure.” For days that bothered me more than the stove itself did. Then we moved in, and I moved on.

I’d assumed Rita was going to hurt herself by touching a glowing coil, or by leaving a pot on until it boiled empty and started shooting off hot metal sparks. But no. It seemed the only way Rita could have hurt herself on this stove would have been to lick it, which does not require electricity at all.

Corroded, rusted, caked with years of burnt-on food, this little GE gem could not have brought good things to life without Herr Frankenstein, a certain carpenter from Galilee, and the Piemaker, all working their mojo on its behalf. We didn’t realize this, of course, until after we’d scrubbed it up as best we could with the breaker off. Then we marched downstairs and ceremoniously threw the switch.

The first burner we tried did not come on. We did the whole marching-and-throwing thing again. Still no. After a few more parades up and down with all of the requisite stomping and swearing (most of that from me) one of us (probably Johnny) finally hit upon the idea of moving the oven’s single knob around to test out all the dials. A brilliant thought! Eureka! We had heat!

From a single burner.

One of the little ones.

And that was it.

Our so-called “stove” was nothing more than a glorified, tetanus-y, hotplate. The inside “oven” part, after all the scrubbing and scraping and lockjaw-risking I had done, never did get any juice at all.

Well, not until it almost burned the house down.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Begin the Beguine

Before I launch into the teeth-gnashing woe of our latest attempt to drag the AssVac kicking and screaming into the modern age (and because all I did yesterday was measure for cabinets, so there isn’t much to say), I think it behooves me to back up and tell you about the kitchen that we actually bought and what it’s done to us so far. I mean what we have done to it. Eh. What we’ve done to each other.

The kitchen that we bought — wait a second, excuse me, I'm sorry, but I thought I had some quotation marks around here somewhere. Ah, there they are…

The “kitchen” that we bought was only a “kitchen” in the same manner that Ken is Barbie’s “boyfriend”: it said so on the box, and at first glance it looked the way it ought to, but further inspection showed a flat expanse of nothing where the functioning pieces were supposed to be.

It did have hot and cold running water, but that’s about it. And I am well aware of what a marvel modern plumbing is – I know that Laura Ingalls and Betsy Ross and Abigail Adams would have traded their muslin pantaloons for a kitchen like the one the AssVac had. Old Abby’s birthplace, as a matter of fact, is just a pleasant walk from here, and her ghost hovers around whispering smugly that if she had indoor plumbing, she would have been on the front lines with her husband instead of writing him namby-pamby letters from back home imploring him to “remember the ladies” in his fight.

Whatever. If Laura Ingalls had it, there’d be no Little House series. So there.

Anyway, no matter what a marvel running hot-and-cold can be, the mere presence of it does not a modern kitchen make. Especially if that same sink – that same, only-truly-functional-appliance (if-you-can-even-call-it-an-appliance) sink – has been leaking for so long that the cabinet underneath is more or less bottomless, and the whole contraption threatens to plunge right through the spongy, rotten floor.

Oh it was yummy, this “kitchen” of ours, I tell you what.



This took longer than usual this morning, so I've got to leave it there. I’ll continue it tomorrow, with all kinds of details about our hateful stove, but in the meantime...

Let’s have an explain-the-title POEM CONTEST!

We haven’t done this in a while, so for those of you who're new, here’s how it works:

1. There’s a reason why that title is especially appropriate for me, for this post, or for today.
2. Google if you have to. Not like I could stop you anyway.
3. First person to comment with the right answer wins.
4. Winner gets a poem written in their honor and posted on this blog.
5. Poem is usually mostly about me, but you’ll be in it too, I swear to god.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Gulp

I'm resting up my brain because...

this afternoon...

I am actually going to...

start...

or, rather, get back into...

(oh my god...

I can't believe that I'm about to say this...

but it's been six months since I've done anything around here...

except the heating changeover...

which really was a big project...

and I do think I deserve at least half the credit...

even if I didn't technically lift a finger for it...

except to write the checks...

but still...

even that's been finished for four months, now...

it's two more months since I actually laid hands on anything...

and two whole years that we've cooked in a half a kitchen...

so it's time to...

oh my god...

to get back into...)

working on the house!


Okay, there. I said it. And I didn't die. Nobody's bleeding, yet, and nothing's broken. We're already off to a better start than usual around the AssVac. I think this is going well so far, don't you?

Now, does anybody know where the damn tape measure is?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

1, 2, 3 ... (4)

1. I'm blogging over here today. It's very shrewy. Please enjoy.

2. I did not deliberately leave Charlie's second comment out of the Not the Winner series. It's just that she asked for a picture of a box of tissue, and what was I going to do -- take my camera to the grocery store? Tissue? Tissue? We don't need no stinking tissue! (She did say it would be okay to take a picture of the tissue with a roll of toilet paper, but she didn't say TP instead would be okay. So she got summarily ignored.) Sorry, Charlie!

3. I did this again this weekend:


This is exhausting. I don't know how you people do it every day.

And, last but not least:

(4. Go Chargers? Beat Indy? I think?)


[P.S. Yes! Yay! Chargers beat Indy!

"Now then," says Tedy B. ...


"Sit yo' ass down!"]

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Not The Winner, Part 10 (and final)

cake said...

Your favourite object in the house...whatever you would first rescue if there was a fire.

Okay, I'm going to assume we're not counting living creatures, here. Because, while I'm fairly certain John Patrick C. is capable of getting his own ass out the door, there is this other creature that I live with who I'm absolutely positive is not.

(There are no tricks in the camera-shot, I swear, that's just his stupid face. "Nuh?" he says. "Did somebody say pfeffernüsse?").

This one, on the other hand, could probably save herself ...

...but wouldn't, just to spite me.

My next assumption is that this is theoretical. Because really, if the house was burning down, I would probably grab my beer -- or coffee, or Diet Coke, depending on the time of day -- and run like hell. After, you know, alerting Johnny and evacuating cats.

So then, theoretically speaking, after all the living creatures were safe in the front yard, I would probably grab this:


It's a poem, hand-written by Truman Capote when he was in elementary school, lovingly preserved through the years by his cousin Sook -- whom you may remember as the simple, elderly Friend from "A Christmas Memory." And okay, the notion that she was the one to preserve it may be mere speculation on my part, but who else back then cared enough to save his schoolwork? Nobody, that's who.

(Actually, never mind. I just looked it up at the NYPL, and apparently this poem is dated 1935-36, by which point he was already living in New York with his drunken mother. So he must have preserved the thing himself. Which, I suppose, is a good alternate answer to the question: who else back then cared enough to save his schoolwork? Little Truman did already, that's who.)

At any rate, it reads like this (everything is sic -- he was just ten years old, remember. Or maybe eleven.):

Pussy: A Pussy Cat's Adventures

Pussy willow, pussy cat, pussy is just that
A plain fuzzy little cat whose name is simply scat.
She was public enemy to a fat and juicy little rat.

She went around on her nightly prowls;
And woke the neighbors with her howls;
The neighbors all complained
And I was naturally was blamed.

Pussy was not bad
For once she saved the life of
a lad, She chanced to meet
On one of those nights
When everyone else was quite asleep.

Pussy will never forget the feed
She had at the mayor's house.
The day she was awarded
For her brave deed.

It was bought for me -- with all its accompanying authentication from Lion Heart Autographs -- by my Lady as a Christmas present in 2006. I am Very Lucky.

This year, she gave me this:

Can you tell I have a bit of an obsession going, here? But I didn't choose to grab the photograph, because it has a negative somewhere and can be reproduced. The Pussy poem, on the other hand, is irreplaceable.

Just like the pussies themselves.


And no, I did not mean any double-entendre by the use of that word. I'm sure little Truman didn't either. But you try googling "pussy poem" and see if you aren't shocked. Especially by the number of people out there who want to punch Eve Ensler in the -- well, let's just say in the throat.

Thank heavens for Edward Lear.