It's not about the house.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Wet Work

My fingers are all wrinkly, and I’m afraid it might be permanent.

See, Johnny’s away, and I only realized this morning, while talking to a friend, that I follow a very precise pattern when he goes away. The first night, I drink a lot of beers all by myself in the apartment – I mean, house; I still can’t get used to that – with the radio up really loud and playing something he would never tolerate if he were here. This time I was extra-lucky because, when the soundtrack to Evita ended and I sat down to watch television, Thelma & Louise was on. I own it, on video and on DVD, but it’s still a treat to find a thing like that on the night your husband goes away. It’s like the universe is telling you to go ahead and take your bra off. Which I – well, which I had done already, to be honest.

Anyway, so the next part of my pattern when Johnny goes away is to not pick up after myself at all for the first couple of days. That bra? Stayed on the table where I dropped it. Dishes go unwashed, laundry goes undone, empty beer bottles stay wherever I set them after taking the last sip. “I’m leaving it there,” I think to him, wherever he is. “Ha ha!”

After a few days I’m grossed out. “Look at this place, it’s a pigsty!” But there’s no one else to blame…

This time I was lucky. He went away on a Wednesday, so by the time I was disgusted it was Friday night. Well, you can’t do anything about it on a Friday night, so I had a few more beers and listened to the Partridge Family really, really loud. Woke up this morning all gung-ho to do something about it. To spend the day listening to NPR (“Car Talk,” “Wait, Wait,” “This Life”) and cleaning up the pigsty that I’d turned my house into. (By the way, Microsoft Word offers “unattractive place” as a synonym for “pigsty” – but that just doesn’t have the same effect, now, does it?)

So but before I set to work this morning I went online and for some reason looked at this website I read about in yesterday’s Economist article. It’s about – well, hell, I’ll just go ahead and tell you it’s – and I don’t know why, but I spent an hour reading the 426 comments on the post where he was (of course) asking folks to give him money.

Actually, I do know why: I started out thinking I might leave a pithy comment that would make all of those 426 people want to read my pithy blog. But instead the whole thing made me tense. I’m getting all worked up again now just remembering about it.

For some reason, reading about this idiot – who, by the way, dug himself into this hole by lying to get undocumented loans to purchase no fewer than seven properties in six months, and who started out on this quixotic quest after buying into one of those late-night get-rich-quick-by-buying-real-estate seminar dealies – for some reason, reading about this idiot made me all tense. Made me feel like it was happening to me. Made me get that “I’m in trouble” feeling in my gut.

And it turned out those 426 people were actually only him and seven or eight other dorks, staying up until four o’clock in the morning going back and forth on how much money it would take for him to post his resume or naked pictures of himself.


Anyway, the whole thing left me feeling dirty, and tense, and rather like I’d done something I ought to be ashamed of. So – after talking on the phone to C and getting all of this off of my chest – I threw myself into my cleaning. I tidied and dusted and vacuumed and scrubbed, laundered and dish-washed and made beds and mopped. The house is clean now, and my fingers are wrinkly, but I’m still a little tense.

Anyway, so the end part of my pattern is that until Johnny gets home I'll keep the house hospital-room clean. I'll wash every spoon as it comes out of my teacup, throw every sock straight from my foot into the laundry. I will congratulate myself on my housekeeping skills, and marvel at the sparkle on the stainless stove – which I will dare not use, for fear of dripping something on it. And then Johnny will come home and drop all his crap everywhere, and I will kill him. And then I'll have to clean the house all over again. – what do you think? Wanna give me money? I ain't posting any naked pictures, though. And my resume is even more embarrassing...

Friday, March 30, 2007

The House That Jack(een) Built

I picked up a copy of The Economist this afternoon. I don’t read The Economist. The only other time I ever bought The Economist was when I was in Istanbul for two weeks and it was the only English-language thing that I could find. Which itself is something to be wondered at, now that I think about it. No Spectator, no New Yorker, no Cosmopolitan – well, okay, the Cosmo I can understand. They’d have to drape the entire newsstand in a somber black hijab. But still, The Economist? Anyway, what I learned from that little Turkish delight is that I don’t read The Economist, even when it’s the only English reading material in the entire country. Snoo-ooze…

But I picked it up today because it had a cover story called “The Trouble With the Housing Market” and I thought: why didn’t anybody think to contact me? I’m the freakin’ trouble with the housing market! Well, me and people like me…

They start out saying that “June is National Homeownership Month in America” – which I didn’t know and which, oh boy, I can’t wait for June. Then they go on to make all these puns about dry rot in the mortgage industry and crumbling foundations. Hey, stupid puns about housing debacles are my job, people! Can’t you just stick to desiccated prose and leave the jokes to those of us with bats in our belfries?

Anyway, The Economist – like everybody else these days – is blaming “The Trouble With the Housing Market” on sub-prime mortgages. Which, check, that’s me. They say (and I’m mixing direct quotes in with paraphrasing here) that those of us with sub-prime loans are poorer (check), that we’re “less likely to be white” (I don’t know how likely I am to be white, but I am, so I guess I beat the odds on that one), that we joined the party at the point when everybody else was looking at their watches and jiggling their keys (yup), and we got bullied into loans we couldn’t afford by brokers we couldn’t trust (who are you people, and why are you spying on me?!).

Ooh, but here’s something I didn’t know: in the biz, apparently, the shorthand term for “undocumented loans” – which is what I have (and which means just what it says) – is “liars.” Ha! Not that I would, you know. That would be stupid. I would never. Ever, ever. Again.

It gets better. The Economist, being a British magazine, is looking at the repercussions on the global – well, specifically, European – scale. The two countries, they say, who have fared the best from all of this, now stand to fare the worst. Those countries? Spain and Ireland. Oh, maybe I haven’t mentioned yet that we own a house in Dublin…

To make a long (long, long) story short, the house was Johnny’s mother’s. He was born in it and grew up to pay off the mortgage on his mum’s behalf. Mum, in remuneration, left the house to Johnny in her will. He has no intention of selling – a brother lives there now and always will, until he can’t or doesn’t want to – and the place is a pit anyway (apparently: I’ve never seen it). But it’s out there. And worth, the last we checked, about a half a million dollars. Like I say, we’re never going to sell, but it was nice to know that it was out there. Nice to think that we were, theoretically at least, worth a half a million dollars (plus a buck or two, if you count this shithole here).

But apparently no. The Economist is predicting a 60% drop in Irish housing prices, if – oh, wait, actually, no again. Now that I re-read it I see they’re not predicting a 60% drop but calling for one – “to return the ratio of housing-prices-to-rents to where it was around [the year] 2000.” Hey, you British bastards, back the fuck down!

Ooh, now the Limey twits are picking on my country! “Americans and others may be tempted to take heart…That would be a mistake." Plus: "Inevitably, Americans will ask what policymakers can do…It is too late.” And then the kicker: “[To] foster [homeownership] with tax breaks, as they do in America, is daft.”


Okay, so I cut those quotations up a little bit. I left some key parts out. But still, daft? I so want to get all cliché on them now – so want to point out things like the fact that we, in America, actually own the land under our houses, instead of leasing it in thousand-year increments from some doddering old peerage. But I won’t...

There are four more pages in this housing-market exposé, but I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say the news is grim – and that’s just the facts, ma’am, not the Anglo-angled interpretation. Ah, well. When the whole thing collapses and we lose our daft little too-late American house, we can always go and live in our low-rent Dublin pit.

By the way, I paid $5.99 for my copy of the magazine. Not very economical, what? But now that I’ve written about it, I can write it off – just like The Economist did me.

Daft that tax break, you British buggers!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gimme Swelter

I read a thing in the paper the other day where a person was complaining that his landlord wouldn’t do anything about his $300/month heating bill. I snuffed at that and chalked it up to innocence, but then I was reading a book this morning (a very funny book, by the way, which conforms to my rules, called Julie and Julia) and the writer found a $200/month heating bill shocking – in New York, of all places.

So I totted up my season’s-worth of oil payments. I guess I was feeling a little too secure, what with the fact that the furnace has held through the winter after all, and none of us have perished from the chimney fumes.

But as it turned out, actually, it was much less than I’d feared. When you have to get deliveries two times a week there are an awful lot of bills to total up, and the stack itself was enough to send me through conniption fits. The number I came up with, though, was frankly underwhelming.



Underwhelming? I don’t know. I thought so at first. But then I started walking backward in my mind…

I didn’t turn on the heat until November 1st, and it’s not yet April. So that’s 150 days we’re talking about. In other words, five hundred bucks a month.

Still, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it? I mean, I had a one-room studio back in the ’90s where I paid upwards of $300 for electric baseboard heat. And that was back then, before fuel went all '70s on us. Of course, I’ve long-since realized I was getting screwed on that one, too…

Besides, this was a record-setting mild winter. It was 50 degrees here (in Boston) until mid-January, and probably at least a quarter of the time since then. I've kept the heat set at a moderate 66 when it was very cold outside, and turned it down to 64 at other times. I had to chase Johnny around most evenings trying to pull a sweater over his head, but the automatic thermostat came in handy then – when he’d duck me and crank it up it would unobtrusively crank itself back down.

So. Twenty-five hundred dollars? Yuck.

See, this is why I’ve been trying to get Keyspan on the phone…

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spring Has Sprung

Two weeks ago we ushered in daylight-saving time a little earlier than usual...

Last week the vernal equinox came right on time...

Seven days from now is April Fools...

And a Holy Week after that the Easter Bunny comes...

You know what all of this means, don't you?

It's time to take your Christmas wreaths down, people!

Friday, March 23, 2007

Rest In Pee

Okay, so this toilet that won’t stop running…

It’s in the new bathroom. Sort of a three-quarter bath, I guess, that we built (in a corner of what was once the rotten room) waaaaaaay back in 2004. And 5. And a little bit of 6.

We had a pair of plumbers, John and Bobby. John tall and white-headed. Bobby shorter, with dark hair and a hernia that made him look like he was smuggling footballs under his shirt. Johnny’s known them both for years, from a bar he used to drink at in South Boston. I first met them in, I think, 1998, when they installed the gas dryer in our apartment. They were already retired then, just doing little jobs like that for little money.

John’s the one with the license – come to think of it, I’m not entirely sure whether Bobby was ever actually a plumber or if he was just John’s best friend, keeping him company and handing him wrenches in their golden years. Not to disparage anyone or anything, I just don’t know. Maybe he was.

Anyway, John was the one with the license. He got the permit and met with the inspector and everything. But Bobby was the one that talked to me. And I liked the way Bobby talked to me. He’d joke and mutter, translate all John’s sentences from plumb-speak into English. And he didn’t treat me like a girl. He didn’t tell me dirty jokes or anything, but he treated me like I belonged there, like there was a chance I’d understand what he was saying.

It wasn’t fun, this plumbing project. They were, like I say, retired, so they would show up when they felt like it – every day, but at whatever time – take a break for lunch at noon no matter what had gotten done, and leave when they were tired but never later than, say, three o’clock. I’m no judge of what’s a fair price and what isn’t, but the inspector estimated the cost of our permit based on two times what they charged us, so who was I to comment on their routine?

My grandfather was a plumber, and though I never went to work with him or anything I’d seen him do some work in my folks’ house. Watching white-haired John on his hands and knees with a monkey wrench in his hand reminded me of Grampy, and so I kind of liked having him around. And, like I said, Bobby talked to me.

When the toilet was finally installed but not yet functional, I discovered that the tank wobbled if I tipped it with my finger. The boys said yeah, that was odd, but that’s the way it’s made: the bolt holes didn’t square so there was nothing they could do. I called the manufacturer and the manufacturer said um, yeah, no, it was not supposed to wobble. I called the inspector and he said um, yeah, no, a toilet with a wobbly tank would never pass inspection. So I called the boys and told them um, yeah, no, but they were going to have to figure something out.

They nailed a block of wood behind it on the wall. So it wouldn’t, you know, wobble anymore.

Ingenious, no?

Eventually they did get the bolts to go, and eventually it all did pass inspection. But it’s been making this weird dripping sound since almost the first time that I used it – not constantly, just when you sit on it and then for a while after. It sounds like its coming from under the floor, except for under the floor is a crawl space with dirt, so how could I hear water landing there?

And now it won’t stop running. That, I think, is just cheap plastic innards. I know how to fix it – I did it in the other bathroom about six months ago – but I haven’t gotten around to this one yet because I’m so annoyed I think that it should just go fix itself.

The other day John called to tell us Bobby died. Apparently his father passed away, then four hours later Bobby was taken to the ER short of breath. I asked about his mom but it turns out she’s been gone for years – so that’s a blessing, I suppose, on a day like that.

I still don’t know if Bobby ever was a plumber, but I know that he was my plumber – along with white-haired John. And, though it may not be the most sacred of memorials, I know that I will think of him every time I use the toilet they installed.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I know Mrs. Piggle Wiggle isn't true.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Book 'Em, Sick-o

I stopped at the Goodwill on my way home this afternoon to look at books. I couldn't help it, it just happened. One minute I was driving down the road, the next minute I was in the parking lot - and I figured while I was there I might as well go in and have a look around...

My name is Erin, and I am a bookaholic.

When we moved into this house three years ago, I had more boxes of books than we had boxes of everything else all put together. When it finally (about six months ago) came time to unpack, I managed to weed them down by a total of five boxes - an accomplishment of which I was very proud. I don't really need two Madonna biographies, I figured; my seventh-grade history text isn't necessary anymore; and Portnoy's Complaint can burn for all I care.

I packed 'em all up and brought 'em to the Goodwill. I felt bad about unloading some of them. The spanish-language novels from an abandoned college minor that I'd only clung to this long out of a pretentious desire to see them on the shelf - was the Goodwill really going to be able to do anything with those? But I couldn't throw them out, and I had to thin the ranks, so to Goodwill they went.

And then I wandered around to the front of the store and brought another boxful home.

Well, how can you not? A hardcover book costs a dollar, for crying out loud! And they're all mixed up, so you get Art Buchwald next to the Frugal Gourmet next to Alistair Cooke's America. Regular-old bookstores - even regular-old used bookstores - where everything's all organized and alphabetical, are nowhere near such fun.

I made a rule about six months ago that I was only allowed to read things that would help me with this project that I'm working on. That meant no classics, no serious fiction, no serious biography - nothing serious at all, as a matter of fact. Just silly stuff, preferably true silly stuff making light of bad things that happen to good people. You'd be surprised how much of it is out there. So I'm allowed to go to Goodwill, because I have a rule.

Otherwise I'm prone to everything. The hardest thing for me to put back on the shelf this afternoon, as a matter of fact, was a guest book from somebody's funeral. I used to buy these sorts of things all the time when I saw them in these sorts of places, because it's just so wrong that they should be left lying around. I couldn't stand the thought that no one would ever buy them and that they'd be left on the shelf for years until they just got thrown away, so I would take them home. Guess where they all wound up in my big clean-out last summer?

I buy books that are the same edition of books I already own, because I panic and think maybe it is mine and how did it get here? I buy odd titles that make no sense (today I passed up a slim volume titled Sonnets from the Portuguese - just such a lovely idea, I thought). For some reason I have an obsession with King Lear - I must have thirteen copies, I just can't leave it on the shelf, I don't know why. Even now that I've finally read it, I don't know why.

But today the shelves seemed to be trying to tell some kind of story, a story that I couldn't quite suss out. There was a lot of Judy Blume, adult and young adult (think Forever and Wifey, not Margaret or Fudge). About twelve copies of The Bridges of Madison County (what is that about? are we at the point where the folks who actually liked that book are having their estate sales?). No less than three pristine hardcovers of the aforementioned Cooke's America, complete with dustjackets and everything (I have one, but the jacket's in rough shape; those were hard to say no to as well). Lots and lots of Reader's Digest Condensed. But nothing classic, nothing good. Oh, except for one bright pink copy of The G Spot - which I forgot had ever even been a book.

Who is this perverted old broad who's been cleaning out her bookshelves, anyway? I don't think I want to know...

Meanwhile, what did I come home with? Tim Allen, Erma Bombeck, Dave Barry, Andy Rooney and (thank god) The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle Treasury by (my favorite) Betty MacDonald.


Hey, an addict's gotta do what an addict's gotta do. At least I'm not out there peddling Piggle-Wiggle on the playground.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Somebody's Gotta Do It...

Well, we had to cancel the St. Patrick's Day party. I loaded in 16 pounds of corned beef, ten pounds of potatoes, six pounds of onions, five pounds of carrots, four pounds of parsnips, two turnips, one giant cabbage and four cases of beer. I spent the week cleaning up the house from the construction mess and the porch from storing wood there in the winter. I pulled the decorations down from the attic two days ahead of time and filled the house with fresh-cut daffodils and little pots of faux-shamrocks the day before. I was so efficient, so organized, so ready - and then I woke up St. Patrick's Day morning and I had the euphemism. I'm mostly better now, but you'll forgive me for taking down the green background this morning because it was making me a litle queasy.

I spent the weekend in bed watching television - normally something I would love an excuse to do - but for the first ten hours there was absolutely nothing on. I watched The Real Housewives of Orange County (and later heard David Rakoff describe it on This American Life as "like watching paint dry - shallow, fake-breasted, Republican paint"). I watched a mini-marathon of Three's Company on TV Land and felt sorry for all the blonde girls because they weren't Suzanne Somers - until they showed a Chrissy episode and I felt bad for her because she was. I actually watched the last half of a Surreal Life Games but mustered up the energy to lunge for the remote when I Love New York came on. I was sick enough already, thank you.

That's when I discovered my new favorite show. It's called Dirty Jobs, and it's on the Discovery Channel. They were showing what turned out to be an all-weekend - meaning all through even Saturday night and until I fell asleep on Sunday - marathon. It can't be a new show if there are that many episodes kicking around, but I'd never heard of it before.

There's a host named Mike something, and he's cute and smart and fit and funny in a sexy-math-teacher kind of way (i.e., smart enough to know when to turn on the cute/fit/funny act and when to tone it down). If I'm being honest here, I'd have to say that he's the reason I left the TV on that channel, because the premise of the show - people write in with the myriad truly disgusting ways there are out there to earn a living, and he goes to work with them for a day and films it - certainly wasn't conducive to my getting well anytime soon.

I watched him make flowerpots out of cow poo, clean the inside of a 104-year-old boiler, sweep up Giraffe droppings at the San Francisco zoo, dismantle rotten floats after the Rose Bowl Parade, try to tell the difference between this odd insect's eggs and poo, mine salt using ammonium nitrate explosives, and dig through dried-up owl poo for teeny animal bones (actually, I think the owl stuff came out the other way, but there was a recurring excretory theme).

It's fascinating. Especially because all the people who do all these awful jobs seem so cheerful about them. It's possible, of course, that having a TV crew on hand and a cute, smart, sexy math teacher to do your job for you can have a mood-elevating effect (the few women he encounters are, without exception, positively giddy). But for the most part - even including the airport incinerator operator, who was really disturbingly creepy in a Sling-Blade-starring-Larry-"Bud"-Melman kind of way - I believed that all these people really loved their dirty jobs.

Until he got to New Orleans.

The poor bastards working residential demolition in New Orleans had all had jobs they loved before the storm and this wasn't anything like any of them. They'd been bouncers, financial something-or-others, butchers, bakers, candlestick-makers - and now they were slinging sledgehammers in rotten houses because, as one of them put it, "we have a love for the city and want to see it survive - and also because we need the paycheck." Another guy, when Mike couldn't get the sledgehammer through the wall and asked what they normally do in this situation, said "hit it harder" and put the hammer through on his first try. A third fellow, asked by Mr. Cute/Smart what kind of cockroaches were swarming over all the food that had been abandoned in the cupboard, answered flatly "I don't know. I try not to think about them very much."

Now, I don't know anything about the misery that New Orleans has been these past few years, but I do know a little bit about dismantling a rotten house. We didn't have cockroaches, thank god, but we did have slime and mold and black-stink mildew and bronchial infections. Johnny did most of the actual work because he's chivalrous like that, but I lived in the house all through it and I helped load the dumpster. And let me tell you - I don't know what they're paying those butchers and bakers down in the Crescent City, but there isn't enough money in the world...

Thank god he went from there to expressing a poodle's anal glands. Otherwise I might have gotten sick.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Updates From The Homefront

I've got some folks coming over for corned beef and cabbage tomorrow (dig the green background) so I don't have time to write a whole big rant on this week's New Yorker or the latest Times snobbishness - or even my own stupidity. So here are some random updates on some random things I've mentioned before, starting with my own stupidity...

The radio broke again yesterday - the radio that broke before but wasn't really broken? The same exact thing happened: it wouldn't turn up. Turns out I had it on mute. Turns out when it's on mute you can still hear it a little bit. Is it just me? Is nothing I'm complaining about really broken? Am I just a big fat idiotic moron? No, the toilet in the new bathroom won't stop running, and I'm pretty sure I don't have it on mute - and yes, I did jiggle the handle...

The radio announced the other day that the reason people let banks foreclose on their houses is not so much that they can't afford to pay their mortgages, though that's part of it, but also that when property values drop down so far that if they sold they'd still end up owing money, they figure it makes just as much sense to walk away. Hmmm... Well, we'll see what the market's doing in seven years when my fixed rate runs out.

Still no word from Keyspan, though a very nice stranger did write in to suggest that I consider some electrical something or other. I don't know. That would probably entail more electrical work (i.e., rewiring the entire house) than I'm prepared to do right now. Plus there's the whole mysterious-socket-in-the-living-room thing, which I'll have to explain some other time...

I took the plastic off the windows this week when it was 70 degrees outside - a stupid decision, as it turned out, because it's snowing now - but behind the plastic in the picture window in the living room I discovered a dried-up little spider that had apparently been trapped last fall when I put it on. Ha ha, fucker!

Oh, and a new way your house can kill you: you spend an hour and a half making the new stove level and even with the counter top, and then the new stove breaks and you call the Maytag guy and he comes and pulls it out to fix it, but when he shoves it back he doesn't bother levelling it off, and you don't notice, and when you slide the big pot of spaghetti off the range it hits the counter and splashes all over you and you get burns over whatever percentage of your body it is that you can't possibly survive.

I think that's it for now. Happy commencing on St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


That ordinance I was all fired up about last week? The one that would give bigoted old men with too much time on their hands the right to spy on folks who don't speak perfect english? Failed, resoundingly. By a vote of 8-2. And one of those two guys says he only voted yes because - well, I don't quite understand his reasoning but he swears he doesn't actually support it. They told the gentleman who proposed it - apparently this is the second time he's done so - to go home and stop bothering them.

Yay, Townville!

Monday, March 12, 2007

Euphemistically Speaking

I think it's time to admit the bathroom's not going to be ready by the time company comes. I mean, it works - hot & cold running and all that - but it ain't pretty.

See, we're having the family over for St. Patrick's Day, as we have done every year since 2001 or so -- even last year, when the stove exploded and we had to cook the corned beef in a succession of crock pots. That was fun. Like playing musical chairs with a saucepan full of boiling water. Fun!

We got the kitchen fixed - well, mostly. Hot & cold running and stove and everything, but we never quite got around to putting plaster on the walls - or even tearing out the other half of the old cabinets. It works, but it ain't pretty either.

But then Johnny up and got a wild hair and decided to get the bathroom cleaned up once and for all. Washing the walls and sanding and priming and sanding and skimming and sanding and priming and sanding and painting and painting again (see? you live with a painter long enough you start to learn all the proper steps involved - you still don't do them, but you know them...)

Except for, first the conjunctivitis hit and then, this week, the euphemism. You know? The virus that's been going around? The one we won't discuss in pleasant company? Johnny got it from the lady whose house he was working in last week. She had it and insisted on following him around and telling him all about it. She euphemismed, as a matter of fact, all over the kitchen floor.

It just so happens Wednesday is Johnny's birthday. I'd bought him (by which I mean us) tickets to see Ardal O'Hanlon at the Burren on Friday night. He (by which I mean I) was really looking forward to the evening. We don't get out like that very much, and we were going to get there early and have dinner first and everything.

Needless to say, Johnny spent the evening euphemizing.

And Saturday. And Sunday. And the best part of last night. With me shoving crackers and ginger ale to him on the butt end of a ten-foot pole, because I have to go to work this week no matter what, and I don't want to end up getting all euphemistic on the subway...

So anyway, right, I started out saying about the bathroom. Poor Johnny got the job about half-done before he was stricken ill. He's feeling better now, he'll be back to work tomorrow, and he says he'll get it finished in the evenings after, but I doubt it. He's been on the couch for four days: he's not going to want to be home in the evenings, let alone back in the bathroom.

Of course, I could do it. I know the steps, and I don't work on Tuesdays. I could go up a ladder with the web tape and the joint compound, then later with a brush and a roller. I could do it. I did the porch all by myself and I stripped the woodwork in the living room and that was--

Uh oh. I think I feel a euphemism coming on...

Friday, March 9, 2007

Squirrels and Rats and Renegade Broads

I’m going to say this right now, and I hope you all will call me on it should I ever renege:

I will never rent a storage space.

There’s a thing in the Times today about how people are using these rent-by-the-square-foot stash-cubbies to convince themselves they don’t have as much stuff as they used to, or to give themselves more space to get more stuff. I will never do that.

Here’s how I know:

I live with a person (let’s call him “Johnny”) who has a hard time throwing anything away. Or letting anybody else throw anything away. That card table you put out for the trash last January when you realized it wasn’t good enough for company anymore and you were never going to be taking it with you on a camping trip again? It’s in my basement.

We have broken lawn mowers that somebody has sworn are going to work again someday. We have wine bottles enough to take over for poor, dead Mr. Gallo. We have a second freezer full of the heads and carcasses of fish that folks have caught, filleted and passed along. We have a scythe – a scythe! – the only possible use for which might be to give me tetanus.

We’re set. I don’t need any more space for this stuff.

Here’s a true story: Last year, I managed to convince this “Johnny” that we had too many old t-shirts between us, that we ought to thin the ranks and toss some out. Don’t ask me how I managed to convince him, but I did. He wanted to give them to Goodwill, but the only ones he was willing to let go were too far gone for Goodwill, in my opinion, so he said we ought to keep them to be rags.

Fine. So I put the old and ratty t-shirts in a trash bag in the basement. I even, over the intervening year, went into the bag once or twice to rag a shirt out when I was stripping woodwork. But I didn’t rag them up ahead of time, and I forgot to put a label on the bag.

Last month, when I wasn’t home, “Johnny” was looking in the basement for something else I don’t remember, and he found this unlabelled bag of shirts. Perfectly good shirts! What were they doing in the basement?

He brought them up, ran the whole bag’s worth through the laundry, folded them all up and put them all away. I came home to find a shirt I’d forgotten that I used to own – one that says “William Kennedy Smith… meet Thelma and Louise” – in a place of honor in my t-shirt drawer.

Now, let’s forget about the fact that this is the first time he’s washed and dried and folded and put away laundry in recent memory. I’d loved this shirt. I’d bought it at a gay pride rally in New York – oh, it must be fifteen years ago, at least. My dad said it made no sense because William Kennedy Smith was found not guilty, but I was young enough to know that guilt or innocence was not the point.

I still love the shirt. It reminds me of the friend I was visiting in New York at the rally where I bought it, who has been living strong with HIV a dozen years now. It reminds me of being 22 and beautiful. And idealistic. And just a little dumb. It reminds me of my Dad – who’s also still with us, by the way (hi, Dad!). And I still love Thelma, and Louise. But I’ve moved on.

It wasn’t easy, moving on. The shirt was threadbare and yellowed by the time I finally managed to give it up. I’d tried a bunch of times before and failed, but at long last I’d succeeded. And I realized, when I saw it, that I hadn’t even noticed it was missing – but now that it was back I wanted it again.

So I took the shears and chopped it into rags. Because I refuse to become the Collyer Brothers, no matter what this “Johnny” has to say!

Except for no I didn’t. The rest of the ratty t-shirts got the shears, but I tossed the girls under my bed for safekeeping. I’m sure I’ll never wear the shirt again – well, almost sure – but I couldn’t stand to throw it out a second time.

Hm. I never noticed how much room there is under that bed there. It’s like its own little secret storage space. I wonder what else I could squirrel away without having to admit anything to the pack rat that I live with…*

But I’m not renting it. I own it. See? There’s a difference. I swear.

* (two rodent metaphors in one sentence – not bad, eh? at least there aren’t any spiders in it this time – and there could have been, what with that bag of t-shirts in the basement…)

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Eight-Legged Freaks

Have you seen this week’s New Yorker? Or maybe it was last week’s? The one with the mummies on the cover? Oh my god… There’s an article in it about this spider lady, and—


I don’t like spiders. I’m better about them than I used to be: I don’t have to run screaming naked from the house anymore if I see one in the shower. The porch is far enough for me to go now. But then again, I’ve never had a porch before, so maybe I’m not so much better after all.

Anyway this lady – who is apparently like four feet tall and weighs about a pound and a half – divides her time between crawling around dank basements known to harbor poisonous spiders, and “milking” the ones she catches (and brings home in her pockets) for their venom.

Now, I don’t love spiders, but somehow I never thought before about them having “venom.” I mean, I know they bite (some people don’t believe it, but they do – you should see the welts on Johnny’s legs), and some I know can kill you with their bite, but what spiders have in their horrid little mouths is poison – special spider poison – not venom. Snakes have venom. I don’t mind snakes.

This lady goes on to say all kinds of things about spiders I didn’t know before, some that doesn’t even bother me. Did you know, for example, that there’s a kind in South America that lives in colonies by the thousands and cooperates in tasks like web-building and whatevering-it-is–they’re-doing-to-their-prey? That’s kind of cool. I mean, I wouldn’t want to accidentally step on one or anything, but still, it’s kind of cool.

Some of it, though, is – to say the least – disturbing.

This spider bites you and the area around the bite turns black and sloughs off gradually until you’re left with a gaping hole. This one hides in wait and then drops down on your head (okay, they’re trying to drop down on other spiders’ heads, but still). This other one kills its rival and adopts the rival’s children…

Yikes. Who knew spiders took care of spider children? I thought they just laid eggs in your ears or something and then carried on their merry way. Now I have to worry about murderous foster mothers trying to get back in your ears to bring the bastards food and shit?

But no, I don’t. Have to worry about that, I mean. Those kinds of spiders don’t live here.

See, there are more spiders – and more kinds of spiders – in this house I accidentally bought than I have ever seen in my entire life. And I'm not fond of spiders. I've seen thick, leggy yellow ones; tea-green, iridescent ones; brown ones that make funnel-shaped webs and swear at you when you look at them; black ones that look like muscley asterisks and jump on you when you try to squish them... Ever since we moved here I've lived in full-time spider red-alert — but at least I knew there weren’t any kill-you kinds that live in Massachusetts.

Except for spider-lady says there are. Spider Lady says that – what with shipments coming from the Orient and South America – there are venomous arachnids in every state plus Canada. Canada!


I knew I hated spiders.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Scrubbing On My Last Nerve

I don't have the patience for this.

I mean, I'm not exactly one for the patience to begin with - the reason I haven't been posting much lately is that the website has been running slow and I get frustrated and log off to go watch Scrubs reruns on Comedy Central. I haven't had a new movie from Netflix in weeks for the same reason. Good thing Scrubs holds up after repeated viewings. But what I don't have the patience for this time is this whole changeover-to-gas-heat thing, and I don't see how Scrubs can help me there...

When I called last week to tell them their plumber never showed up and I hadn't heard from any sales rep like they said I would, I dialled the number listed under Keyspan in the phone book for "oil-to-gas conversions," but the lady said I had the wrong department. She said I needed to talk to Keyspan. Oh, well, duh. Sorry. I thought when I called the number listed for Keyspan and they answered the phone saying "Hello, Keyspan," then that meant I was calling Keyspan. No, she explained, that was different. But she forgave me my stupidity.

Then she said she didn't have me "in her system" and interrupted me every time I tried to ask if that meant they didn't have my changeover request or if they had deleted my account all together. Whenever I uttered so much as a syllable ("Does-," "But-," "I-") she'd cut me off. "Ma'am," she'd say, "I'm trying to help you," as if I were already irate - and then do her level best to ensure I would be.

She eventually connected me straight through to what she said was the right number, but that guy - after keeping me on the phone for five minutes and taking down all my information - said it wasn't his department either. Finally I asked him to forget we'd ever spoken, pretend I was calling for the very first time and I was interested in changing over - tell me what number to call and don't connect me through. That worked.

This guy apologized but didn't seem too terribly surprised that the plumber hadn't bothered to come or even call. "People get busy," he said, did I want to give the guy another shot? Oh yes, please, when somebody makes me take a half-day off work and sit around the house afraid to get on the computer or the phone, or even take a shower, for fear of missing them, and then they don't come and don't have the courtesy to call - usually what I like to do in that situation is give the guy a second chance because, hey, I haven't managed to give him any money yet!

He gave me an appointment with a different plumber for Saturday morning (this was Thursday). He also said the sales rep wouldn't call until after the plumber came.

So of course the sales rep called later that afternoon. I missed the call. When I returned it I got a generic "please leave a message for the department" voice mail box. No one's called back yet, but I'm still hoping.

The new plumber did at least call to say he wasn't coming but, again, I missed the call. It wasn't that an emergency came up or anything, he called a day ahead of time to say he was going away for the weekend and asking to resschedule, which is considerate and appropriate, and certainly appreciated, but still, it makes me wonder: they gave me the appointment Thursday and he called Friday to say he couldn't make it Saturday... Were they just willy-nilly setting up appointments without checking whether or not the plumber was available?

This time it was I who did not return the call. One of the three times I was on hold with Keyspan last week, a recorded voice had taken care to tell me, over and over and over again, that they were very, very busy with all the requests coming in from customers like me, brilliant enough to be interested in changing over to gas heat. I tried anyway, but my patience is shot. I'll just curl back up into my ball now and wait for summer, try again when things slow down a little bit.

In the meantime I have this card here from my sales rep. He wants to know how my apointment went with the plumber and hopes I'll be a warm and happy gas heat customer for years to come. This is the second card, actually. He sent me one about the first guy and I sent it back saying that, so far at least, I wasn't too impressed. What should I say about the second guy?

Oh hey look, Scrubs is on!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore

Oh, god, we’ve really got to get out of here.

The news today is that there’s a proposal up for vote at the (“Now, Hat-Free!”) Town Council meeting tomorrow “that would require business owners and landlords to provide proof that they don’t hire or rent rooms to illegal immigrants” (I quote from the Boston Globe).

Now, let’s be clear about the fact that Johnny is not – and hasn’t been for at least a dozen years – illegal. Let’s also shelve the fact that there is already, and has been, a perfectly good and long-established federal law in place covering the hiring of illegal immigrants. Let’s just, for the moment, examine the details of this particular proposed municipal ordinance.

What is the purpose of this proposal? Well, according to the gentleman who put it on the table, it is “respect for the law.” And how will this be achieved? Oh, please, let me just quote again:

“A volunteer panel of citizens would be appointed to ‘invite’ landlords and business owners to register with a town anti-illegals program. Registrants would be given decals with American flags to display on their properties … The volunteer committee would be able to investigate anyone it believed had an illegal worker or tenant, using such documentation as digital photos or videos. There would be no fines for violators. Compliance would result from ‘peer pressure.’”

Um, racketeering, anyone?

Isn’t it enough that they beat the hell out of the Irishmen? Do they really need to start spying on the Indians as well?

Oh, but wait, apparently we have a logical inspiration behind this “volunteer registration” program. Turns out the guy proposing it had a tree taken down out of his yard and the company that did it was teeming with illegals. How did he know? “They couldn’t communicate in English," he says. "That was the conclusion I came to.”

On the flip side, though, the council isn't all that xenophobic. The Councilor-at-Large, no less, is dismissing most of the groundswell he’s had supporting the proposal, because he doesn’t think the folks emailing him are local.

Well, good for him. What tipped him off?

"He doesn’t recognize their names."

Saturday, March 3, 2007


Town Council has voted to disallow all hats in chambers. Hue and cry results. So far, a newspaper survey of high school boys shows the prevailing sentiment to be “I’ll wear a hat there if I wanna.” No speculations yet as to what business a bunch of high school boys would have in Council chambers. Still okay to kick the shit out of strangers on the sidewalk.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Children(ey) of the Corn

I don’t know what I was listening to yesterday – the radio, I think. Whatever it was, they were talking about alternative fuel sources, and I paid attention (sort of) because it so happens we’ve been having some fossil-fuel issues lately at our house.

They started out talking about ethanol and how it isn’t really working out the way certain Presidents had hoped, because it turns out “replenishable” and “infinite” are two completely different words. Not only can they not possibly grow enough corn to make enough fuel fast enough, but now also the corn they can produce is costing more because of the increased demand. So now anything made from corn itself (Post Toasties, Twinkies, succotash, Dick Cheney), anything made from corn oil (margarine, Twinkies, salad dressing, porn), from corn syrup (Twinkies, Budweiser, Jessica Simpson), or anything that consumes corn or is made from something that consumes corn (chickens (and therefore eggs), cows (and therefore milk), pigs (and therefore Twinkies)) – all that stuff ends up costing more as well.

These voices I was hearing went on to discuss other alternatives to the corn-based alternative, among them (and I quote): “woodchips, switchgrass, straw and corncobs.” Switchgrass? What the hell is switchgrass? Am I going to have to spend long winters in the lean-to, twisting fistfuls of hay into sticks of kindling like Laura Ingalls? Why doesn’t Dick Cheney just call Rumplestiltskin (oh, you know he knows him) and have him spin it all into black gold? Plus somebody might want to point out here that corncobs come from corn…

Next, they speculated as to garbage. There’s plenty of garbage lying around, they said, somebody ought to figure out a way to turn that garbage into fuel! I remember this conversation from the oil crisis of the 1970s; I remember the trash mountain at the dump we used to go to then as well. I immediately, in fact, got a sense-memory of the smell of that festering pile, and by the time the urge to purge subsided the voices had moved on.

They were saying something now about how growing all those plants (I assume they meant the switchgrass) would have the bonus effect of removing all the CO2 from the air that's released by burning fuel (well, I can’t swear they said it would remove “all” the CO2, but they said something about it). That’s all well and good, but if you remember your life sciences from high school, then you’ll remember that the end result of all that photosynthesis is oxygen and something called leutinizing hormone, which stimulates the pituitary gland to — oh wait, maybe that’s the menstrual cycle. I never could keep those two things straight. (Horror movie idea: Little Shop of Horrors II: The Alternative).

Anyway, this all sounds like great stuff, and I hope they figure it all out, but in the meantime Johnny and I have been trying unsuccessfully to convert our house over to “clean-burning, efficient, natural gas heat.” For all their touting of its benefits, Keyspan doesn’t seem too terribly interested in actually talking to us about this. They did want me to know, however – via recorded message when I was on hold trying to find out why their plumber failed to show – that (and I didn’t write this down, so I’m paraphrasing) “90% of the natural gas we use is from right here in America.”

Well, yes, but so is 90% of Dick Cheney. And I wouldn’t want him lurking around my basement.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


Plumber never showed up at all.

Didn't see that one coming...

How Long Till Springtime?

While I wait for the plumber to not show up until I've left for work, I'll fill in a little background on the whole furnace fiasco...

The furnace was new when we bought the house. Not brand-spanking, but enough that with any luck (oh, I am a riot, aren't I?) we wouldn't have to replace it before the fixed rate on our mortgage expired and we had to move along.

Shortly after we moved in, a stranger stopped by and said that she was the one who'd arranged to have the furnace installed for the old lady who'd lived (and died) here. This lady said she still had all the paperwork at home and she promised to bring it over. At least, I think she did. We may have made her up. We didn't catch her name and we never saw her again (maybe it was the lady who used to live here...), but we've come to find out it doesn't matter anyway, because once you buy the house you void the furnace warranty. Apparently there's some sort of vibe surrounding Closing Day that messes the furnace up so bad - kind of like sticking a tuna sandwich in the VCR - that there's no way the manufacturer can continue to vouch for its reliability.

Anyway, we had it serviced right away. May 28, 2004 - a date I remember because a year and one day later the basement filled up with dense black smoke and (after I called the guys) I went to my check register to see exactly how long it had been. When the guys came they said it was just due for servicing. I knew it had to be done every year but I thought it was odd that it would become such a black-smoke emergency on day 366. They didn't seem concerned, though, so why worry?

The next winter we came to suspect that these folks - well, we got a few deliveries that were supposedly bigger than our tank - let's give them the benefit of the doubt and say they didn't have the most accurate gauge on their oil truck. So I threw a dart at the phone book and picked a new company. Signing up with them included one free service on the boiler, and when they came (in June, I think) they found parts that needed replacing to the tune of $265. Ah well, better to have caught it, right?

Then, over this past Thanksgiving, we noticed black soot stains on the chimney pipe. The pipe was one of the parts replaced for that $265, so we were sure the stains were new. Since it was the holiday weekend and we didn't want to pay emergency prices for something we went ahead and assumed was not an emergency, Johnny asked a friend (who does this for a living, who is neither retired nor disabled, and who he did meet at the pub but who was not drunk at the time) to take a look at it.

Well, Friend opened up the furnace and discovered he was the first to ever do so. Certainly in the three years we've owned the house, and probably much longer than that, no one who had been paid to service the boiler had ever bothered to open the thing up and clean the soot out. It was packed with gunk and the cast iron was corroding away because of it. Freind's advice at the time was to replace it immediately because he couldn't promise it would last the winter. We didn't have however many thousands of dollars it would take to replace the furnace (and this was all before we found out about the chimney), so first we tried talking to both "service" companies who'd shafted us and then the furnace manufacturer. Then we decided the best plan was to curl up in little defeated balls, hope for the best and wait for spring to come.

We've spent the last few months looking into boilers, wood stoves, oil companies, Airstream trailers and one-way tickets to Tahiti. For some reason, we decided to go with gas. I don't remember why anymore, and anyway, I've got to go to work...