It's not about the house.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Gas Gas Gas!

I finally took the first step towards changing over to gas heat. Well, actually the first step -- mailing in a card telling them I wanted to talk to somebody about it -- I took a couple weeks ago, but yesterday I actually returned their call.

Johnny and I agreed that we would have the actual gas company actually come over and give us an actual price, before he called in any of his boys. We've dealt with his boys before. He tends to meet them at the pub. They're cheap, I'll give them that, and the job eventually gets done, but nine times out of ten they are retired, disabled, or just plain drunk. These are explosive gases we're talking about here. 'Nuff said?

So a gas company plumber is coming in the morning -- the lady I spoke to said between eight a.m. and noon. I said I had to leave for work at 11:00 and I would much rather they came when we were both here if at all possible, but if not then Johnny would at least be here. She was very helpful writing down my request, but she got it backwards. She said "husband leaving at 11:00" and I didn't bother to correct her. Wanna place bets on what time they show up?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Don't Piss In The Fire

Caution, this one's kind of gross.

I was away for the weekend and when I got home Johnny was on the couch with a damp facecloth over his eyes. When he sat up and removed the cloth, I gasped. It was all I could do not to run screaming from the room.

His eyes were so swollen and bloodshot (and - thanks for the detail, dear - apparently crusty if he wasn't diligent about it) that it looked like he'd been stung by a couple of angry wasps playing darts with his pupils as the bulls eye.

I hadn't seen conjunctivitis since I used to work at summer camp. That was donkey's years ago, and all I remember from then is that it's highly contagious. Not wanting to catch it, and not knowing whether it was viral (in which case it would pass) or bacterial (in which case he needed antibiotics), I went to the internet -- where I found out the answer is yes. Viral, bacterial, or also just allergical.

I think what they were trying to say was that you could tell the cause by the presence or absence -- and, if present, then the color -- of the crusty gunk. So I asked him.

"I don't know, I couldn't see it!" he said. "Probably gray or something. Or green."

Well, thanks dear. Speculation doesn't really help in this case, but thanks for trying.

It being Sunday and all, I was rooting for not-bacterial (and therefore not-having-to-go-to-the-emergency-room-for-a-prescription) so I read up on the other two to convince myself. That's where I found out that not just allergies but other "environmental toxins" can cause the same reaction. And Johnny had spent the weekend scrubbing the bathroom walls in preparation for a paint job.

Two years ago, a visiting friend of Johnny's stripped the paper off the walls for us, and we hadn't touched them since. It's been lovely: tattered old green paint peeling, wallpaper paste crusting and uncrusting with the humidity. So lovely, in fact, that last summer when I accidentally grabbed shaving gel instead of air freshener and sprayed it over my head around the room, I couldn't really clean it up because I couldn't really tell where it had landed. Yum.

So we decided the best thing for Johnny was to take some Benadryl and take a day off working in the bathroom. Yesterday he was back at it, still not wearing gloves but promising to rub his face with just the backs of his hands. The eyes seem to be cleared up and holding even though he is still touching them, which made me wonder...

Back when we used to work at camp there was a rumor that has held up over the years as a family joke. Don't piss in the fire, the boys used to say, or you'll get pink eye.

I was away all weekend, we do have a fireplace and the bathroom is a soggy mess. You don't suppose that Johnny might have...

Nah. Now that I think about it, I know from experience he doesn't have that kind of aim.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Curtains For The Governor

I don’t begrudge him the Cadillac.

When newly-inaugurated, first-black-governor-of-Massachusetts Deval Patrick was taken to task last weekend for having leased himself a brand-new Caddy on the government’s dime, my only thoughts were: “So?” and, “Nice ride, guv.”

I drove a Cadillac myself until six months ago (and if you’ll bear with me I’d like to take a moment here for my dear departed friend Francine …). They’re nice cars. Comfortable, American-made, classy – if not quite the legendary status symbols that they used to be – and a lot less expensive, less vulgar, slightly less fossil-fuely (if you’re into those sorts of things) than your other, modern-day rolling bank accounts. The lease on the Governor’s Caddy was said to cost just under $1200 a month, which is almost as much as I pay on my mortgage – but, then again, I pay my mortgage, whereas DePat here is gettin’ it on the d-l. So more power to him, I say. What do we expect him to drive, a freakin’ hybrid?

But I couldn’t cotton to the curtains.

Just when Caddygate was showing signs of blowing over, it was reported that DePat had spent twelve thousand dollars on curtains for his State House office. Now, I understand the impetus to redecorate when you move into a new house. Erase all traces of cats and kids, old people and Republicans that were there before. And, though I’ve never been inside the State House, I have walked by it a thousand times, and I imagine that the golden dome is daunting. Hell, the name “State House” itself would be enough to make most decorators want to go lie down. So you’d want to make your mark, declare your presence. Piss in the corners, if you will.

But $12K for some lousy curtains? Didn’t he have any old playclothes lying around he could have stitched them from?

I used to work for a woman who called herself a decorator. Basically what she did was walk around warehouses with rich people and order the expensive fabric they picked out, then commission the seamstresses and upholsterers to put it all to use. One client in particular I remember (whose husband is also in politics, or wants to be) covered everything in her monstrous living room – a sofa, two love seats, four easy chairs, a couple ottomans, drapes, valences, roman shades, pillows, the works – in the same periwinkle toile at $269/yard. We must have ordered a couple hundred yards of the hideola crap. Do that math, plus my boss’s “decorator” markup of 15%, plus of course the cost of putting it together – plus markup on that – and the aesthetic effect, I’m pleased to say, was equally as nauseating.

Now, I don’t imagine for a minute that the Governor was actually in the warehouse picking out the fabric, or in the meeting room interviewing seamstresses. If he even approved the design I’d be surprised, but he must have approved the budget – and if there’s one thing (and it kills me to have to say this) that his shellac-headed, when-in-Romney predecessor had going for him, it was that he could trim a budget. He could trim a budget within an inch of its natural life.

DePat, on the other hand, ran on a very Evita platform: “I am one of you, one of you!” He made political hay of the fact that his mother managed to put him through Milton Academy (a very tony boarding school, for those of you from out of state) on a special inner-city, tuition-forgiving program. He wanted us all to know, when he was running, that but for the grace of his dear mother’s prodding and his own hardscrabble bootstraps, he would still be one of us, out here, paying three dollars a yard and getting our curtains made for us as Christmas presents from our sisters.

So where did he develop a taste for the $12,000 version? (Oh yeah, that’s right, Milton Academy. He wasn’t on the hockey team so he had to find some other way to occupy his time.)

We bought this house, as I’ve said before, on a lottery ticket and a rotten foundation. It is, now that I’m thinking about it, furnished entirely with hand-me-downs and gifts. A futon from Kris, a chair salvaged off of one of Johnny’s jobs and reupholstered as a Christmas gift from Mom and Dad, a beautiful cherry bed from one of my ladies who decided it was too big for her when her husband passed away. It’s all not just passable but lovely, and none of it cost anywhere near $12,000 – even for the original owners, when it was new.

And so I’m flummoxed as to how DePat signs off on $12K for window treatments. Is it the nouveau concept? "Now that I’m here I get to do this even though I’ve preached against it all along?" That’s so white trash…

But still, the Cadillac I can forgive. There are worse things. This morning, for example, driving down Quincy Shore Drive, I passed a red Ford F350 with a big pink rubber scrotum dangling down between its two back tires.

I don’t care if they gave them out for free, that’s just not a thing I’d want my governor sporting, no matter how white trash he is.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Lost Insulation

I saw a greeting card yesterday with the most beautiful, serene illustration of an old-fashioned Japanese countryside in winter. All the dainty, pointy houses and the tree-lined mountains that they perched upon were dusted with the merest sprinkle of new-fallen snow. Smart-lined ladies strolled the wooden walkways, jet-black hair done up with chopsticks, protecting their vibrant-dyed kimonos with equally technicolor parasols. It made me realize I'd never considered winter in Japan before, though of course I knew it had one. And as I meditated on the details of this sublime and quiet scene, the thought that floated up into my conscious mind was...

How in heaven did they heat those pretty paper houses?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Oily Bastards

Stupid. I'm gonna hafta go with stupid. Not jinxed or anything else, just some kinda dumb.

See, we've been having a bit of trouble with our oil company. Our tank is smaller than anyone believes, for reasons that I promise to explain some other time, such that we need to get deliveries every ten or eleven days. The new company we signed up with for automatic fill (so it would be more convenient) has made a habit of not showing up until we call them -- or forget to call them and run out -- and then showing up again three days later.

This morning I got all kerfuffed because they came, and they'd just been here yesterday, and they were trying to tell me they delivered 35 gallons -- as if we could possibly have burned 35 gallons in the night. I ruined my morning writing hours fretting over it (hm, there seems to be a pattern here) and finally decided to write the bastards an email.

I spent an hour composing it (unnecessary writing still counts as procrastination). Said I wasn't going to pay it. Said I was finding a new company. Said they were overcharging me by... hang on a second, let me do the math... wait a second, what's this date here... well that's not right, the last delivery was yesterday, not ... I know because I got the bill with the rest of the... oh... the holiday... so I haven't gotten mail since ... so that bill's been sitting there for... which explains why we still had a half a tank on... Hm.

We did wonder how we'd suddenly become so awfully efficient. Thank god I didn't send that email.

Still, they were just here three days ago. So, even if I'm not entirely intelligent, they're still not entirely in the right.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Remember that radio we got for Christmas? The one that broke the other day while I was bitching about my gloves? Well, check this out....

I'd just given the cat a bath (and then I dressed her up in a little outfit. I also play D&D and collect hummel figurines. No. The cat has dry skin and she suffers, so I can either sweep up a Pig Pen trail of dandruff behind her everywhere she goes, or I can give her the Head & Shoulders treatment every month or so. I choose the baths. Anyway,) the miserable wet cat decided the best place to recover from her humiliation was on my desk chair, and I decided letting her hold on to some semblance of dignity was more important than getting the writing done that I was supposed to do this afternoon (plus, you know, any excuse is a good excuse for procrastination. The longer I ramble on here, for example, the less likely I'll get to that before Johnny's student shows up for her guitar lesson, so hang on...).

So I'm futzing around the house, trying to decide if I ought to make a salad for dinner with my new free time, or just plop down on the couch and watch television, when I happen by the radio that's broken.

Now, this morning I went out for a minute and came back to a greeting from Johhny of "you blew the speakers on that little radio the other night."

Well, no I didn't. I did drag the little boom box out into the living room the other night while Johnny was at the pub, and I did listen to Under the Cherry Moon and Small Change and Chicago (the musical, not the band) really, really, really loudly -- he walked in on me dancing around, that's how he knew -- but I did not blow the speakers. First of all, the little boom box cost about $20 something like five years ago, it doesn't go up loud enough to blow its own speakers; second, it actually broke last year and I bought a new one to replace it but Johnny so can't stand to through anything away that he picked it out of the trash; and third, I don't even know what he's talking about, the speakers are working just fine. Nu-uh, I said, I didn't break it.

So I'm banished from my office by a wet angry cat and I'm all in a tiff about the cheapy-ass radio, and I decide now is a good time to deal with the other radio -- the not cheapy-ass one that really is broken.

I pick up the booklet, which has been sitting on top of the radio since the day we set it up, and discover that for a mere $19.95 (plus the cost of shipping the broken one back) we can return the broken radio and get one that actually works -- but only if it's been less than 90 days since it was purchased, and only if we call first for an authorization, and only the person who actually bought it can call, and we have to have the receipt.

Well, it was a present. Ordered (I assume on line) from the other side of the country and shipped straight to us. We got it -- I just checked the box (which we kept because, like I've said before, these things always happen to us) -- on December 12. So there are a few weeks left until our 90 days are up, except who knows when it was ordered or how long they took to ship it so oh my gosh, I better step on it! I don't think they'd have much sympathy for the fact that it's broke almost two weeks ago and I only just now got around to doing anything about it.

Except there's still that little matter of the receipt, and the fact that only the person who bought it can call. Oh gosh I hate to bother her, she's going on vacation in two days and it's the first time off -- not just her first vacation but actually the first day she hasn't gone to work including weekends and holidays -- in something like 67 days. But then, she is going on vacation, and by the time she gets back we might have run out of our 90 days...

Is it better to bother the person who bought you the present or is it better to just keep the broken thing?

I decided to call the company, see if I couldn't beg them into letting me handle this myself, without a receipt, before bothering my poor, bony-fingered friend. When I asked the operator for the returns department she gave me technical assistance, which was a little bit annoying, but the guy had a charming southern accent (southern America, I mean, not southern India or Pakistan), so that took me down a couple notches on my hissy meter.

I couldn't find a model number on my radio or the booklet that came with it, but he asked me a bunch of questions and figured out which one I had. I was tempted to give him the wrong answers so I could hear him drip that Tupelo-honey accent a while longer, but if there's one thing I've learned these past few years it's to never tempt the fates. Tell the truth. Everything's going to hell anyway. Might's'well not deliberately set out to make it worse.

So we figured out what model radio I have and then I told him what was wrong. "I have some volume, but only a very little bit and it won't get any louder. I can turn it down to nothing, and back up to that very little bit, so it's not the controls or the connections, but I can't make it go any louder than, say 2 on a scale of 1-10."

"Okay," he said. "I know just what's wrong. Are you near it?"


"Turn it on," I did, "and hit the cd/radio button," I did--

And the radio BLARED, SO LOUD I HAD TO LUNGE FOR THE REMOTE AND SWITCH IT BACK TO cd so I could talk to him again.

"See?" he said, "You had it on cd."

Well, no I didn't. I had it on radio. First of all, I heard the radio; second, I switched it back and forth from cd to radio a bunch of times trying to make it work myself; and third, when I did have it on cd, I heard the cd. I did not have it on cd this whole time. Nuh-uh, I didn't.

I took a breath to say all this and then I thought, you know what? What difference does it make? It works now. I don't have to send it back, and I don't have to bother Charlie. Maybe it was never broken in the first place, maybe it still is. At any rate this southern gentleman's done his job and there's nothing to be gained from fighting with him about it, so I just let it go.

See? Maybe I'm learning yet.

Honestly, though, I'm just thrilled to find out something that I thought was broken, isn't. Maybe I'm not cursed, maybe I'm not a jinx on inanimate objects, maybe I don't carry a poltergeist around in my hip pocket. Maybe I'm just nuts. Or stupid. Stupid would explain it, too.

When I told Johnny about all this, his response was, "So if it happens again after our 90 days are up we're screwed?"

Well, yeah man. It is still our radio, after all.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Ways Your House Can Kill You (first in a series)

You aren’t looking where you step and you fall through the rotten floorboards. It’s only crawl space underneath, so it’s not the fall that’s gonna kill you, but you break your leg and wind up stuck, and while you lie there, spiders eat your face.

Step on a nail and get tetanus.

Step on another nail and since the first one didn’t give you tetanus, decide there’s no such thing as tetanus, and get tetanus.

Step on a third nail and decide to stop pressing your luck. So you go get a tetanus shot but forget that the reason you haven’t had one since you were little is you’re allergic to it, and you get anaphylaxis.

When they drop the two by four on your head.

During the gut out you breathe a lot of mold and other gunk but you also smoke a lot, so you don’t so much notice when the bacterial infection takes root in your lungs.

Your new neighbors kick the shit out of you.



The stove explodes but you’re cooking a turkey at the time so you mistake it for one of those mysterious turkey-pops, and then the house burns down.

You blow a fuse with the heat gun stripping paint, and you forget to shut it off when you go down to throw the breaker, and it comes back on while you’re in the basement and lights the scrapings on fire, and then the house burns down.

Your chimney isn’t lined and the stuff that drips from it erodes the mortar, but you’re too stupid not to use the fireplace, so a spark goes through and lights the insulation, and then the house burns down.

The reason the light in the kitchen is off when the switch is up and on when it's down is that the wires are crossed, and one day a spark goes off and lights the insulation, and then the house burns down.

The folks you hire to clean your furnace don’t, and it backs up full of gunk. One day it just explodes, and then the house burns down.

The folks you hire to clean your furnace don’t, and you catch it in time so it doesn’t explode, but you get carbon monoxide poisoning.

You run out of oil in your sleep and wake up frozen to death.

You spend an evening drinking in the attic, visiting with all your stuff you haven’t seen since you moved in, and you pass out up there and spiders eat your face.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Think Small

There’s a thing in today’s New York Times – the Escapes section, which can be about anything from a spa around the corner to a four-star hotel in Macchu Picchu – about very, very small houses. Shacks, really. None bigger than 450 square feet, made in a factory and delivered to you whole, for plopping down on land you already own that just doesn’t have a roof yet.

Sounds like a good deal at first. You couldn’t raise a family there, but if it’s just you – or you and someone – and you didn’t need much, you could pay cash for one of these wee things (one of the companies that makes them actually calls itself weeHouse) and live as comfortably as you ever did in that studio apartment you used to pay $1000 for. (I know some of you maybe never lived in a studio apartment, and if you did maybe you didn’t pay $1000, but still, you see what I’m saying.)

Except here’s the thing: The headline touts them as alternatives to a McMansion – sorry, to another McMansion. Apparently you’re not supposed to put this on your half-acre in an affordable suburb; you’re supposed to put it on your 160 acres outside of Aspen, or your 1200 on the edge of wine country, that you bought to get away from the hustle and bustle of the 6500 square foot bungalow you had built in New Rochelle. So you don’t, you know, put any more of a “footprint” on the land than you already have with your Hummer and your private jet.

But still, maybe it trickles down. Maybe they create them for the well-to-do and the rest of us get the runoff.

Actually, maybe even that’s not entirely fair. Another company created theirs for hurricane survivors. They call it the “Katrina Cottage” which, though perhaps not the most sensitive appellation ever, still gets points for nobility of vision.

So how much do these wee things cost? Well, the weeHouses start at $65,000 and go all the way up to $140,000 – “depending on the region and the number of modules,” whatever the hell that means – which does not include “site preparation and utilities hookup.” And that’s a bargain. Other brands don’t even include delivery.

Katrinas, for example, start at $27,000 and don’t include construction. Most of us don’t have to worry about them because they’re only available in Katrina-affected states. (Soon you’ll be able to buy one from any Lowe’s – and I’m sure, if my experience with Blowe’s is any indication, they’ll set you up just right.) But by the time those poor folks are done paying for construction and foundation and heating and everything else, it’s got to come to twice that, and if you’re spending $60K to put a 308 square-foot thing on land you already own, it seems to me that in rural Mississippi you could probably get some bigger existing thing for very little more.

But okay, you own the land in Mississippi and you don’t want to sell it. You really just need a roof over your head until you can rebuild the house you used to have. What are your options?

The cheapest listing in the Times is “$8500 for a 10-foot-square cabana [that’s 100 square feet, for those of you unwilling to do the math] without options [whatever those may be]. Installation, foundation and delivery not included.” There’s a photograph of the cabana. It looks like a barnboard port-a-potty with sliding doors. Except apparently you’d have to buy a port-a-potty, too, because even if you sprung for the foundation and utilities, where would you put a toilet in 100 square feet of living space?

I think I’m admitting now that these things aren’t for the rest of us. And I think what they’re trying to say is, your grandfather’s fishing cabin wasn’t good enough. If you’re lucky enough to have a second space to call your second home, you need to spend assloads of cash to get something less cozy but a little more designed… and for all that extra money you still get to do your business in the woods.

Talk about footprints. Try explaining that to the big old bear that comes a-knockin’ on your ten-square-foot port-a-potty.

At least until you get around to building that McMansion.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Oh, Yeah, The Poison...

I was going to explain about the furnace today -- enough about the damn chimney already, right? But then today I got this postcard in the mail offering $20 off a chimney cleaning, and it says this:

"Dear Past Customer or Current Resident: [You know, they really could have skipped this greeting all together and I think it would have seemed more personal.]

"YOUR FURNACE VENTS INTO THE CHIMNEY!! Cracks, holes or obstructions in a chimney flue can cause dangerous carbon monoxide fumes or soot to leak into your home. etc., etc."

Oh, so that's what the whole "better-put-a-liner-in-your-furnace-flue" thing was all about. Hm. What's funny is, now I realize that I knew it all along. The whole poison thing, I mean. In fact, I'm very familiar with many ways in which one's house is capable of killing one, even without that damn heartbeat coming from the floorboards...

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Hey Guess What?

We ran out of oil again this morning!

No, actually, technically, we didn't run out of oil. Technically, it occurred to me all of a sudden that we hadn't seen the oil man in a while so I padded down there in my stocking feet in time to realize that we were going to run out of oil. In about an hour. So I shut the heat off and called for a delivery, and it took them about four hours to get here and by that time I was so cold that I'm still cold, and that was five hours and a long hot shower ago. Maybe today was not the day to wash my hair.

Lordy, lordy. The gas company called this afternoon to see if I was ready to talk about switching over. Boy, am I! But I missed the call. I was sitting in the car, in the driveway, with the engine running, just trying to suck up a little heat.

The thing is, since this started happening (oh yes, this is the third time this winter alone), everyone keeps telling us we can use diesel fuel in a pinch -- like the stuff a truck runs on. Which calls to mind two images immediately: first of all, if an oil truck runs out of gas, can he just put his big oil hose into his gas tank and drive around on that? And second, if I were to use diesel in a pinch, what would I do? Drive back and forth to the gas station fifty times with my little one-gallon red plastic gas can? It's not like I have a car that runs on diesel I could use to siphon off the gas tank -- oh, but wait. The across-the-street neighbor guy does. The across-the-street neighbor guy parks his big rig in the middle of the road for weeks at a time between his runs, and we hate the across-the-street neighbor guy.

Okay, I know what I'll do next time. Never mind.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Fiddling Around

Well, we lit the fire.

Well… I lit the fire.

Johnny’d gone out to the pub before I talked to Dad – he needed to do a little commencing of his own and was fortunate enough to have gotten a phone call from a friend at just the right moment. So I was alone when Dad called bullshit and, although I don't recall his exact logic anymore, I do know that it all seemed reasonable to me. It helped, of course, that he said exactly what I hoped to hear.

Not to mention it was freaking cold. We’d shut the heat down (for reasons that are too long to get into), it had dropped to 50 degrees in here, and the heating system that we have takes two hours even to begin to warm the house. So after hanging up with Dad I sat on my icy hands staring at the empty fireplace for almost a full minute before lunging for the newspapers and sticks. I crumpled and piled and stacked and lit, and it was fine.

Johnny walked in the door about a minute and a half later and laughed when he saw it. Turns out a friend of his who knows about these things called bullshit too.

So in a matter of days we've come full circle – better, actually, because at least now our chimney’s clean. We went from blissful ignorance to confused panic, to informed panic, to resigned acceptance, to denial and finally back to ignorance – this time willful rather than blissful, but ignorance all the same. Never quite made it to acceptance. I do seem to have a problem with that one, don't I?

We decided we're going to put a woodstove in the fireplace, which will solve the sparks-in-the-chimney problem, and we're going to ignore the whole sparks-in-the-furnace-flue conundrum for the time being. Because – oh, some other time I'll tell you about how the furnace is dying too, so we're switching to gas. Someday. When we get around to it. Or when the furnace blows.

In the meantime, the heat's on and we're having fires. If the house burns down, the house burns down. I'll leave the cat carriers on the front porch just in case, and Johnny's instruments. So if a fire does happen, we'll have a fiddle handy.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Father Knows Best

My dad called bullshit on the whole chimney thing.

I didn’t actually mean to tell him what was going on. So many things like this go wrong around here, I feel like a big saddo telling everyone about it all the time. I try not to bring them up anymore unless I can find a way to make it funny, so it’s actually a story and not just a complaint (except, of course, for my blog post yesterday, which wasn't funny, and I'm sorry about that). But I’d been commencing again, and although I called Dad before I commenced and for a completely other reason, he wasn’t home when I called and by the time he called me back I’d been commencing for a couple hours.

So by the time Dad called me back I’d had the light-beer equivalent of a drink and a half and for some reason that made me chatty. Probably I just was shy to admit the real reason for my phone call, which was to try to find out what my folks bought me for Christmas that hadn’t yet arrived...

Friday, February 9, 2007

Git Yer Thumbs Out

My new gloves have a hole in them, which is just so appropriate…

See, I wore the same pair of gloves with a hole in the right thumb for going on four years. Not because I couldn’t afford a new pair, but because I just don’t get around to things. The other nine fingers were fine, so I’d tuck my thumb in my fist or put my hand in my pocket and off I’d go. I’d tell myself it was handy – for counting money or turning pages in a book – but the truth is the ripped glove made me look like a little match girl, so I’d remove it when conducting any thumb-requiring transaction, anyway. Once a year or so I’d get a wild hair and stitch the damn thing closed (because that’s so much easier than purchasing a new pair) but it would just rip open again the first time I wore it and then me and my holey gloves would be off together for another year.

Last week, though, I happened to notice a rack of handwear in the grocery store. Three racks, actually, like Goldilocks: men’s, women’s, children’s. I passed up the flimsy ones with the faux-leopard cuffs designed to match my pair of chromosomes in favor of a sturdy, handsome, warm-looking pair on the men’s rack. I even slipped one on just to be sure (which – trying things on before I buy them – is something that I never do) and oh, my goodness was it toasty. Ten bucks, what a bargain. So I brought them home.

But the right one has a hole in it. I tried the left one on in the store, and the right one has a hole in it. In the lining. I thought at first it was a pouch for keeping money in – because we’ve all heard of that, right? a little pouch in the palm? – but in the days I’ve had them the hole has gotten bigger every time I put them on, until this morning I put my hand inside the hole instead of in the glove itself. It made a noise like a wee raspberry as it tore.

This is exactly the reason I don’t get around to things – because when I do, this is what happens. I buy the gloves with the hole in them. I buy a box of sixteen firestarters and when I get it home there are only twelve firestarters in the box. I buy the $1200 gas stove and the ignition won’t ignite. I’m the idiot that buys the extended warranty on everything – because every single thing that comes into my possession is guaranteed to shit the bed eventually – and when I call the 800 number it’s been disconnected. Such is my life, and I’ve come to accept it.

But no, I haven’t. I’ve come to acknowledge it, I’ve come to recognize it, I’ve come to expect it, even, but I have not come to accept it. The truth is I can’t help but rage against it. And oh boy, do I still rage.

“Oh, come on!,” I scream, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” as I hurl whatever’s failed me now across the room (if it’s small enough to throw, that is, otherwise I tend to hurt myself flailing about it in frustration). Johnny doesn’t understand this. Johnny says things like “Such is life,” and “This, too, shall pass.” Johnny says things like “Why don’t you just return the gloves?” that make me want to punch him in the gut and run away.

Meanwhile, tires go flat on my car for no reason. I blow out a brand-new pair of sneakers by stepping on a rock (stepping on a rock! how does that happen?). The tv I bring home shuts itself spontaneously off...

The best zen-ish expression I’ve ever been able to muster is “Well, that happened...” and then I throw a fit. Do you remember that scene in Dirty Dancing (and you know you do, so don't deny it) where Baby’s on the bridge and she can’t master the step, so she has a spastic little temper tantrum? That’s me, three or four times every week. With shouting, and swearing. And sometimes violence. And Johnny melting quietly into the woodwork till it’s over…

We really should not have bought a house, with a track record like mine. I don’t know what ever possessed us.

It might have been the fact that it’s what you’re supposed to do – but then, who says so? I mean, sure, you have to live somewhere, and folks who know about these things say you might’s well put your money into something that you own – but if everything you’ve ever owned has turned up ass, does that not count for anything? Couldn’t someone, somewhere, take that into account and say hey baby, you – you – might want to back up ten yards and just punt this one?

Of course, some of this is my own fault. Nobody told me to spill beer on my computer. But even this new computer Charlie sent me – I love it, it works great, I don’t know how I ever made do with the old one for so long – but, now that I finally have a new one, my printer doesn’t work. My old printer, the one thing in my life that never gave me any trouble (which isn’t entirely true either, but you know how you get nostalgic about things when they die), isn’t compatible with the new computer. So now I have to get a new printer, and how long could it possibly be until that breaks on me, too?

And yet —

Wait. I interrupt this broadcast to say that I just turned on the radio, a radio that was a Christmas gift not seven weeks ago, and the volume button’s ceased to work. I can press play, but I can’t hear any sound. Is it just me? I mean, seriously – is it me?

Okay, so enough with the self-pity. The point is: some folks just ain’t cut out fer it. Have you ever heard the expression “fall into a bucket of shit and come up with diamonds in your teeth”? It means you’re lucky, that you come out of sticky situations smelling like a rose. Well, Johnny has a companion saying: “fall into a bucket of tits and come up sucking your thumb.” It means, basically, you couldn’t get laid in a whorehouse.

That’s us.

To be fair to the universe, we’ve fallen into more than our share of tit-buckets. We won some money in the lottery; we used it to buy this house; we bought this house for what we’ve since been told was a tear-down price. But maybe we bought this shit-bucket hoping to come up with diamonds in our teeth, and maybe that’s where we went wrong. This is still me we’re talking about, after all. Me, with the blown-out sneakers and the secret palm-pouch in my brand-new gloves.

Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised when we put in a second bathroom and the toilet made a dripping sound even the plumber can’t explain. When the garbage disposal that was supposed to be able to demolish bones couldn’t even grind banana peels. When the doorbell we put in goes off when someone rings the neighbor’s. I don't know, maybe we should just accept that no matter what we try to do, we'll just keep coming up sucking our thumbs…

At least that way they'll be warm, though. Which is more than I can expect from my gloves.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Take My House, Please

Article in the paper today says foreclosure filings are up 70% in Massachusetts over last year. Mortgages, I mean. People are losing their houses. Know why? They signed for loans they couldn't really afford and didn't really understand. Now who would go and do a stupid thing like that? Certainly not someone with a college education and even a couple months of post-grad "study." Certainly not someone with a sterling credit rating despite the fact that she hasn't had a real job in ten years. Certainly not someone who doesn't even read the instruction manual before plugging in a new electronic gadget, and who figures as long as she writes down every check she doesn't have to actually bother balancing her checkbook. Certainly not -- hey, that sounds like me! Hoo, boy... Ha ha... Get it? Ooh, I'm a hoot.

Wait a minute. That's not funny...

Monday, February 5, 2007

A Fistful Of Dollars

Here’s what the chimney sweep had to say: neither of the flues (one for the fireplace, one for the furnace) are lined. This we knew. Neither of them are safe to use unlined. This we didn’t know. This means we shouldn’t even have our heat on, or we’re risking… what? I’m not entirely clear on this point.

I see what he's saying and all about how a stray spark from the fireplace could go through a loose bit in the masonry and wind up lighting the attic on fire. That part I get. I wish I hadn't heard it, but I get it. But there shouldn't be sparks going up the furnace flue, right? I mean — right? I mean, if there are sparks going up the furnace flue, haven't we got bigger problems than the lack of a chimney liner? (And, having said that, I knock wood and bite my tongue, because lord knows if I speak of the devil he kicks his way straight through the goddamn door.)

So whatever. Okay. Apparently it isn’t “safe” to have our heat on. But guess what? It’s on. Just like it has been for the last hundred freaking years since the house was freaking built. And if it isn’t safe to have the heat on but yet it is on, then what’s stopping me from lighting a fire in the fireplace? It’s not any less safe than it was yesterday, when I didn’t know this, right? I mean — right?

What he said to us exactly was “You could have ten thousand fires in that fireplace and never have a problem — or you could have one and burn the house down.”

What I have not yet mentioned (because it chokes me to think about it), but which I hope explains my weighing the relative merits of risking burning down the house, is that he quoted us a price to make it right – meaning safe, meaning up to fucking code, meaning five thousand, one hundred and twenty-five dollars. That’s $5125, for those of you skimming ahead.


Oh, hell. I have a credit card with a $6000 limit and a zero balance – a zero balance which I have carefully cultivated over the past however-many years by first paying down the balance that was on it and then paying the bill in full every month after that; a zero balance that has itself earned me the $6000 limit that is on the card. But I do have that card, with its $6000 limit and its zero balance, and I also have the one-in-ten-thousand chance of burning down my house. And so I have to ask myself: am I feeling lucky?

Well, am I?

Yeah, not so much. Not really.


Friday, February 2, 2007

I Want My Two Dollars! (plus one for my mom)

Here's what I heard:

I was listening to the radio the other day and they had an interview with this kid ("kid": he's 28 years old, but - unlike the Irish Girls, for whom it's a term of affection - he deserves it. Call it a term of de-ffection. You'll see why.) anyway this kid has set up his page on myspace to solicit donations from strangers. Why? He wants to buy back the house he grew up in. On Cape Cod. For $1.1 million. And he can't swing it on his own.

Well, boo hoo, let's all give the kid a dollar. Hey, while we're at it, I could use a new car. Give me a dollar too!

But I'm not being entirely fair to this poor kid. It's not like he hasn't gotten himself off to a good start on his own. The interviewer asked him if he had raised any funds to date and he said (and I may not be quoting verbatim here, but the spirit is correct): "Oh, yes! Between the donations my friends and family have pledged I've got - oh, somewhere between fifty and hundred dollars so far."

Fifty or a hundred dollars! If he'd said fifty or a hundred THOUSAND dollars he's still be a long way off, but at least he'd be somewhere. Fifty or a hundred dollars just means it's Friday and he hasn't gone out drinking yet. And that's not to mention the question of why he can't tell the difference between fifty and a hundred dollars. Is it in yen or something? Is he having trouble with the conversion? Or what about the fact that these folks - his friends and family - have only "pledged" the money, he doesn't actually have it yet. But then, it is Friday and he hasn't gone out drinking yet; maybe they just knew better than to put it in his pocket.

The interviewer goes on to ask him why this particular house is so important to him and he says well, you know, he used to ride his bike down the street and stuff. Uh, yeah, so what you're saying is: what's so special about the house you grew up in, is that it's the house that you grew up in? Listen friend, give us a body in the basement or something and then we'll talk. Because most of us feel that way about the houses we grew up in, but most of us don't go around asking the world to buy them back for us.

What most of us do is, we spend years scraping together tens of thousands of dollars for a down payment and then buy whatever hole we can afford. (Not me - I won my down payment on a scratch ticket - but, you know, "most of us".) Or else we sign some stupid mortgage that lets us in without any money down and then, when it turns out we couldn't afford it in the first place, we declare bankruptcy and let the bank foreclose. That's the honest, respectable, hard-working, American thing to do.

But, that's right, you're 28 years old and have only managed to scrape together fifty or a hundred - oh, let's give him the benefit of the doubt from here on in and just call it an even hundred - you've only managed to scrape together a hundred dollars, and that with the help of friends and family. So I'm going to go ahead and assume that you wouldn't qualify for even one of those special foreclosure-mortgages. Well, I can understand that. I was in your shoes a couple years ago myself. But I didn't go asking everybody else to buy my house for me. Why don't you take your fifty - or, sorry, your hundred dollars down to the corner store and buy yourself a bunch of scratch tickets? Oh, that's right, you don't actually have the hundred dollars yet...

Now she's asking him whether, if his plan works out, he could afford to pay the property tax. Oh yes, he says, he really thinks - with the help of, you know, his family and friends - he really thinks he could.

I'm sorry, are these the same friends and family that coughed up the trust fund we've been talking about? Don't you think you might have run that well near dry? I mean, you do realize you have to pay taxes every year, right? Do you think you could count on their fifty - sorry, I keep forgetting, their hundred dollars every year in perpetuity? I don't know where this house is exactly, but the Cape ain't cheap. The least amount of tax you'd have to pay would be - hang on, let me check...

Hm. $5000. That's not as bad as I thought. If you're managing to pay rent somewhere right now, then even you could probably swing that much. You are paying rent now, right? You're not, like, living with your girlfriend's folks or something? No, don't be ridiculous, if you were you'd have some money put away. All right, I'll give you this one: you could pay the tax. That is, of course, assuming you could find a job on the Cape in the wintertime...

Wait, wait, they're going for the heartstrings now. Turns out the house in question was his grandmother's house. Oh, well then... Listen, pal, I never MET one of my grandmothers, but my uncle on that side owns my grandfather's house now. I don't know what it's worth these days but I bet for a million one he'd hand it over. Give me a dollar!

Oh, wait again: kid says his folks were married in that house. Well, in that case... Hey, my parents were married in her mother's house and that house is a PARKING lot now. Give HER a dollar!

What's this? He and his girlfriend of seven years would very much like to also - oh, I think I'm gonna puke. We should buy you a house so you can be married in it? You know what some people do? Some people find a public space where they can entertain their friends and family for a few hours in exchange for an agreed-upon amount of - oh, that's right. Sorry. Well, some people (like me) just walk in to City Hall and get it over with. Course, even that might eat up half of your "down payment", but it would still leave you fifty bucks to have a nice dinner afterward. Assuming, of course, that you started with a hundred...

I don't have any full-circle, grand conclusion to draw here. Obviously, I've just been ranting, getting this off my chest where it's been sitting for a few days while I was running away from cartoon bombs trying to flip me off. Here is where, if I were a nice person, I'd give the kid's web address so you could give him a dollar if you wanted. But I'm not that nice. Plus I was so apoplectic by the time they gave it out that I couldn't hold a pen to write it down.

So if you are nice enough to want to donate to his cause, you'll just have to find him on the web yourself. You want to waste your dollar, you can go ahead and waste your time as well. Me, I'm gonna go set up the computer that my friend Charlie gave me.

Hey, it's not like I asked her for it...

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Chim Chim Char-eewww!

Okay, so I took the car in and they said it's not the brake fluid but the water pump that's leaking (and the transmission fluid and the oil pan but those, apparently, can wait). It'll cost $245 to fix it, and I have to fix it or my engine will blow. Well, that's better than a brake job, I guess.

We called the fireplace store before driving down there, to make sure there really was such a thing as magic flue powder - and it's a good thing we did. They said there was such a thing and they had it, but they wouldn't sell it to us to use ourselves. They will, however, sell us them coming over and using it for us, for only $345. No thanks.

We'll just keep sitting here waiting for the chimney sweep who was supposed to be here an hour and a half ago. He's only charging $278, maybe he'll show up - and maybe he'll even sweep the chimney when he does. In the meantime, Johnny has decided he's going to buy some brushes and do it himself from now on after this. Then nobody will be able to tell us that it's not up to code - and what we don't know can't hurt us, right? Chim-chim-charoo!

Johnny says the reason you shake a chimney sweep's hand for luck is that the soot is evidence of honest work - honest money, honestly earned - and if it rubs off on you, well then that's lucky too. I should shake this fella's hand as many times as he'll let me. If he ever shows up, that is.

All right, while I'm waiting I might as well give a nutshell version of my life these past few years. Johnny's Dublin Irish, I'm Massachusetts American. We are one of those stupid couples who got caught up in the Supermarket Sweep that was the housing boom a couple years ago, as well as one of those even stupider couples who thought it would be a good idea to buy an older house for less money and fix it up to earn what is so charmingly referred to as sweat equity.

So far we've had not just sweat but blood and plenty of tears as well (and they don't award extra equity for either one of those), plus bronchial infections, regular old infections, tetanus scares and broken bones. And those are just the bodily insults. Our psyches have suffered cheats and liars, rude neighbors and crazy contractors, coke-addled electricians, spiders and spiders and spiders and spiders, projects that never end and other projects that go awry before they even start. This chimney thing? The fourth in a series of chimney things that started before we moved in, with our paying one of Johnny's friends to do a simple repointing job that he was supposed to have been doing as repayment of a favor. That was Johnny's fault, and I'll stand on my head on the dining room table and say so. But this, though, this is just the house, fucking with us.

He just showed up. The chimney sweep. I shook his hand. It was limp and cold and clammy. I don't see how that could possibly be a good sign...