It's not about the house.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lincoln, Lincoln, I've Been Thinkin'...

...if you're going to drink light beer, you might as well drink the cheapiest, crappiest light beer you can find, because it all tastes the same anyway. Like seltzer water with a penny in it...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Today the chimney sweep came and said he couldn't sweep the chimney because it isn't up to code, that it would cost us two and a half grand to bring it up to code, and that whoever swept it last time really didn't, so we're about an inch away from a chimney fire. He advised us to get someone less conscientious than him to go ahead and sweep it, then we can sue them when the house burns down.

Um, are there any other alternatives?

It turns out there are. We can go buy this powder that you put up the flue with a little fire going and it whisks you away to an alternate universe where everything always goes according to plan and there are never any unplanned-for expenses. Oh no wait, that's something I read in a book somewhere or something. This real-world flue powder apparently just loosens up the gunk in the chimney, thereby reducing your chances of a chimney fire by, like, whole tens of percentage points.

The store that sells the magic powder is closed now, so we're going to go buy it first thing tomorrow. Johnny's not working (which is one thing I never thought I'd be thankful for), so when we get the powder he can light the fire and do it straight away. Because we also made an appointment for tomorrow afternoon with a different and, we hope, less ethical chimney sweep (another thing I never imagined would be good). In the meantime we've shut the heat down as low as humanely possible, and I'm about to commence to drinking...

I'm sorry, should I back up a bit? Okay, let's see: Yesterday I discovered that our mortgage payment has gone up by $100 a month. Last week I learned the car needs brakes. Last month we were informed we need a furnace. And, at the very tail end of last year: a new roof.

I just called the bank. They say our balance is the brake job and one month of extra mortgage payment. Maybe two, if I can get away with just the front brakes.

I'll back up farther and explain more some other time. Right now, I've already commenced to commencing and so I'd better go. The last time I commenced while I was on the computer, I spilled beer on the keyboard and haven't been able to type a capital "a" ever since. (I can get one, by letting the computer do it automatically, but it's a big pain in the a...)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Blow This Town

Here's what happened:

We had these Irish girls staying with us a few weeks ago (they’re 24 and 27, but Johnny’s known them since before they were born so to us they will always be The Girls) and while they were here we were speculating as to how this particular friend of ours - let's call him Andy - manages to get so drunk so quick. He'll work till eight and show up at our door at nine o'clock just buckled and we didn't know how that was physically possible.

So the girls and I were debating the possibility that Andy starts his drinking on the clock, when the older of them asked: "Does he smoke blow?"

What? No! My god!

The truth is I have no idea whether he does or not but what kind of a question is that? Do people even smoke cocaine? I suppose they do, but she said it so nonchalantly... do her friends smoke cocaine? Does she? She's 27 years old but still lives with her parents and they trusted us with her, is this now something I’m going to have to talk to them about? Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh -- oh...! Wait a second...

"Do you mean, like, pot?"

"Yeah," she says. "Grass."

"Oh christ," I sigh. "I don’t know. Probably." Phew! (Oh come on, even Nancy Reagan would have to admit that that was a relief.)

"Why?," she asks. "What did you think I meant?"

Still not so sure how far to go with this, I stammer "Um, well, here, in this country, 'blow' means coke."

"Ah," she says, not fazed at all. "That’s why that movie’s called that? The one with Johnny Depp in it?"

Uh... yeah. I mean, I assume so. I haven't seen it.


The movie Blow (which I promptly rented because I thought it behooved me as a parent-by-proxy to keep up with all the latest druggy films) opens with a voice-over. Johnny Depp, faking some sort of accent, says (and I'm paraphrasing here): "I grew up in New England. Massachusetts, actually. In a town called -----."

Wait, what? I live in -----!

I didn't grow up here or anything. We just moved in a couple years ago and I haven't yet been able to figure the place out. Andy - who gets shithoused in an hour - he did grow up here, but he can be hard to talk to when he's passed out on the couch. So I sit up and pay attention to the movie, try to see if I can gain a little insight as to why they chose this particular town as the birthplace of this particular character...

A little later on, Johnny Depp is dealing pot in California when a friend suggests he start selling back home. Talking about sales potential, the friend says "Think of all the colleges within a 60-mile radius of Boston!" and then names five that are much farther away than that: "UMass, Amherst," he says, "Smith and Hampshire. Holyoke." Then he repeats, with emphasis, "Holyoke...!" Like: Holy crap could we clean up at that school!

I went to Holyoke!

This is getting spooky. I'm starting to wonder if there's some cosmic message just for me implanted in the subtext of the movie, wondering if I'll be able to decipher it without the help of Irish blow, when Depp's character gets arrested and thrown in jail in Danbury, Connecticut...

I served time in Danbury!

No, I didn't. I've never been to Danbury. The Holyoke thing is true, though, and you have to admit that it is an odd coincidence. But what I really want to talk about is this town - let's call it Townville - that Andy and I and this movie drug dealer call home.


We moved here about three years ago, for no reason other than it's where we found a house we could afford. I know you're supposed to think about location when it comes to real estate but, really, when you've got $250K to spend in a half-million-dollar market, you take what you can get.

So, Townville.

Literally over a bridge from the city we lived in before we bought the house (and where we were quite content), Townville - we thought - would be just a technicality. Just a half-mile and that bridge between us and our same-old, happy lives.

Except that bridge turns out to be a drawbridge. And at first I thought that it was quaint, hearing the boats blow their whistles and watching the cars line up in wait - but now I think it's just a cruel and taunting metaphor...

Maybe I'm exaggerating. I have that tendency sometimes. Some of the quirks, I'm sure, are just general small-town oddness and xenophobic animosity. Folks wander in the yard, for example - or even right into the house - telling us what we "need" to do, offer to do it for a price, then sniff when we say we plan to do the work ourselves. That could happen anywhere, I guess. Dog-walkers hail us from the sidewalk to tell us what's wrong with our lawn, then let their pets unload all over it when we aren’t looking. Not town-specifically obnoxious, I suppose. Neighbors ring the bell wanting us to buy our meat from them out of the back of a refrigerated truck, and -

Wait, that last one’s weird, right? It’s not just me?

See, that's the thing, it's like Twin Peaks around here. Just when things start seeming normal, all of a sudden - meat!

Look, I know it's not 1957 anymore, and I didn't exactly expect welcome wagons packed with popcorn balls and paper signs. But I didn't expect Johnny to get beaten up and left for dead in a snowbank, either, just for being Irish. Irish! In Boston - and the rest of this state, for that matter - Irishmen don't even count as immigrants but here, in Townville, being an Irishman can get you killed. That's not normal, right? I mean, it's not 1957 but it sure as hell isn't 1857 either...

To be fair, we'd been here for six months when that happened, so maybe it was about a little more than his inherent other-ness. But then, Johnny's nephew stayed with us for a while, and after six months he got beat up too, and he's Irish as well. So maybe there's some sort of rule or something? At least Nephew could and did go promptly home, however. We - according to the census, anyway - were there already. And with the market taking a nose dive, it looks like we'll be stuck here for a while.

But it's not like we don't have options. The guy down the street hung himself in his garage, which prompted a friend to share the fact that Townville has the highest suicide rate in the state of Massachusetts. Three hundred fifty-one towns including Boston and the entire wintry Cape - and Townville beats them all.

That's not funny, and I shouldn't be making jokes about it. But the thing is, I bet all those folks did not set out to kill themselves. I bet they were just trying to get out of town when the bridge went up, and they - like Thelma and Louise - just kept on goin'...

There's a guy on The Daily Show who hails from Townville. He came home for Christmas last month and the Boston Globe tagged along with him to a local pizza joint. While they were there somebody offered to punch the photographer for taking pictures, and - as the Globe wrote - "[The actor] summed up the absurdity of the situation neatly: 'I love [Townville]. Looooove [Townville]. If you don’t get into a fight, you’re not doing it right.'"

All I'm saying is, seems like a good choice of place for a sociopath to hail from.


The movie's over. I didn't find anything else in it about me, so at least that's reassuring. But - wait a second. All of a sudden there's this actual photo on the screen of an actual guy, and actual text explaining... what's it say? "Mr. Drug Dealer is still serving time in wherever etc., and he hopes to be paroled in xxx."

Wait a second. This is a true story?

I'm sorry, Mister Sociopath. I didn't mean to say bad things about your town. Johnny probably deserved the beating that he got - the nephew, too. Damn Irish. And I, well, why wouldn't I want to buy my meat from a friendly neighborhood dealer - I mean pusher - I mean connection - I mean oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap...


I still don't understand how Andy gets so drunk so fast the way he does. But I think, perhaps, I'm beginning to understand the reasons why...

Friday, January 19, 2007

Little Yellow Pills

Here’s the thing:

I’m reading this article in The New Yorker about color ("Made in the Shade," Erik Konigsberg, January 22, 2007). Paint colors, mostly - exterior house paint and siding. There’s this woman in it who calls herself a "color consultant" - which means she gets paid to decide what a company’s palette will be, and what each color will be called, based on little more than her own gut instincts and those of other women in the focus groups she monitors. And it is always women, apparently, otherwise how else would they end up with a shade called Brokeback Bronze?

This woman claims to have invented, sometime in the 1980s, a faux-finishing technique that she calls "smooshing," whereby plastic wrap is used to marbleize wet paint. The magazine presents this as fact - as in: "her first major contribution ... was to have invented 'smooshing'- both the term and the technique."

Now, I do assume The New Yorker has fact-checkers up the wazoo. I'll even accept the notion that this woman had never seen this kind of marbleizing done before she thought of it herself. And she can keep her claim to the stupid name she gave it. But my husband is a master painter/decorator with a City of Guilds degree from Bolton Street College in Dublin, Ireland, and he claims to have learned the technique there back in the 1970s.

(I use the word "claims" here because I don’t feel like calling Bolton Street College to find out whether or not smooshing - actually, they called it "pulling" - was on the curriculum in 1976 and whether Johnny really took the class that taught it. I'm not The New Yorker, I'm his wife, and I'm inclined to believe him. But you've never met him, so for your sake I say "claims" (and by now the word is starting to sound odd to me, like a sexually transmitted disease - "ew, she's got the claims").)

Anyway, Johnny says "she can call it whatever the hell she wants, but she didn’t invent the bleeding thing." I say: seriously, I put ice in my coffee before I'd ever seen it done - also in the 1980s - because I was hot and I don't like iced tea. And you want to know what I named it? "Iced Coffee." But you don’t see me in The New Yorker claiming to have invented it. (Though if The New Yorker would like a quote or something, I can be reached at

Anyway, sorry, I got off track a bit. I'm supposed to be talking about this whole color thing. It just so happens we're painting our house this summer. We bought it almost three years ago and it needed a paint job then, but it needed a bunch of other things a hell of a lot worse and so we put it off. Now it's time (provided nothing else disastrous goes wrong to eat up all our cash and energy), and we don't need to look at paint chips to know what color we want. Barn Red. A basic color that has been around for I-don’t-feel-like-checking-how-many years.

But this whole article kicks off talking about something called Wasabi Green - which, if you eat sushi, you know what that is, but for those of you who prefer your dinner cooked, it's what Ms. Consultant describes as "a light, yellow-based green." My first thought, of course, was "oh, give me a break." Everybody’s eating sushi now, so we take the same old Avocado color that we've been making fun of for almost thirty years, give it a new name, and voila - hot new shade (hot... wasabi... get it? Oh, I’m so clever.). But at least the name makes sense, not like Brokeback Bronze.

My second thought, though, was about my bedroom. One of the above-referenced "worse things" the house needed when we moved in was a gut-out in what is now my bedroom. Not one of these, I-own-the-house-now-and-so-I-have-to-rip-it-apart-and-put-it-back-together-because-it's-what-you-do-when-you-buy-a-house kind of gut-outs, but more along the lines of oh-my-god-what-is-that-Amityville-Horror-looking-black-shit-dripping-down-the-walls kind of gut outs. We ripped it apart, we put it back together, and when it was finished I trusted my in-house guild-trained painter-decorator to pick a color for it. The color he picked, which we know was Benjamin Moore because it's the only paint he ever uses, we would both swear was something called Burnt Sage. Except we've never been able to find it again on any color chart. I always did think that was a rather straightforward, descriptive name to find on a paint chip, so maybe it's just something we came up with. It could have been called Brokeback Green, for all I know. Anyway the cans are long gone, so I guess the name is, too.

I loved the color from the moment he laid it on. It's warm and cool and soothing and I never would have thought of it myself but he was right. He always is. About paint. I can't even bring myself to hang a picture over it and mar that wide expanse of breathy calm. One tiny joy I have counted on in every day of this ongoing renovation hell, is when I lie in bed at night and stare at the walls and remember what they used to look like...

But last night, I saw Wasabi Green.

Last night I read the first half of this article in the living room, then took the magazine to bed, and suddenly the room was not an oasis of serenity anymore but a giant, Brady-Bunch refrigerator.

I'll get over it - I hope I will. I'm sure as hell not asking Johnny to repaint because of something I read in some stupid magazine (yeah that's right, I said it, what? stupid New Yorker...). I'll sleep on it a while, maybe actually burn some actual sage in there to chase the was-vocado demons out, maybe finally hang a print or two to tone down the Frigidaire-ity. I'll get over it. I will.

But in the meantime? I finished the article this morning and it turns out our Color Consultant also works in pharmaceuticals, picking pretty shades for little pills...

I'll take twelve in Mother's Helper Yellow, please. Fork 'em over, and you can call the color whatever the hell you want.

How about Brokeback Gold?