It's not about the house.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Drafting a Kraftsman House

(Some of you won’t have any idea what I’m talking about, but for those who will…)

When funds are limited, you have no choice but to work with what you have. Especially if the options out there aren’t what you might have hoped, all you can do is hard research and take the best that you can find.

Maybe she’s got a big old tree branch poking through the master-bedroom ceiling. Maybe he stomped somebody one time in a fit of pique. Maybe he’s little, maybe she stinks, but he’s fast and she’s sturdy and they’re what you have to choose from. So you do your homework, you look down deep into their souls – and your own – and you try to be as realistic as possible about your expectations of them.

Then you bank the rest out on the future.

You insist he lose the handguns, make her give up the detritus of owners past. You devise a regimen for building them both up and install supports in places where they’re needed most. You let them know you’re happy to have found them, but that you won’t put up with any shit.

And if the shit comes anyway, you prepare yourself to walk away.

Welcome, Meriweather. May maturity come before decrepitude, and may your acquisition prove to be a wiser thing than ours ever was.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The "Plumber" Came

Well, let’s start by saying it’s a good thing we bought three cords of wood last fall, because it was 57 degrees in the house when we woke up this morning…

The “plumber” is in quotes because he wasn’t a plumber at all but a sales representative from a company affiliated with Keyspan. He had a briefcase and brochures and everything. I told him straight off that our furnace had expired so we definitely had to do this – or do something, anyway – but that we’d need some time to put the cash together. He said they offered financing but he couldn’t remember the percentages exactly. I said that was good to know, but we’d like a written estimate and time to think about it anyway. He said he didn’t have any paper with him on which to print a written estimate. I said had paper. He said no, this was special paper – with their letterhead on it and everything. Oh, well, letterhead. Yes, obviously I can see how my plain white sheets would be ass use to you.

He said he could just give me a price and mail the details later. Fine, I said, whatever. I don’t like you already but you’re here so let’s just do this.

I showed him the furnace. He gasped and said “What happened?” I started to explain about how the old lady never had it serviced, and how the company we’ve been paying had never really bothered either, but his eyes glazed over and started wandering around the basement, so I just let myself trail off.

Next he pointed to the pipes around the furnace and said “this” would have to go before he could let his guys do anything. Shit! I hadn’t even thought about asbestos! He more or less implied without actually saying that I could just go ahead and pull a few feet of it off myself, because he must have sensed somehow that I want to die just like my Grampy did of asbestosis.

He asked if we had gas in the house yet and I said yes, we cook with it – which I’d already told him on the phone. He found the gas line and followed it and said the meter must be outside here, by the kitchen.

No, I said, the meter’s right next to the chimney stack.

No, he said, here is where the pipe goes to the wall so the meter has to be right here.

I said no, I know for a fact the meter is right next to the chimney – that right there is where it goes up to the kitchen.

Well, he said.

Then he just let it go, in the manner of a person who knows he’s right but thinks the fight is not worth having. I went back upstairs to let him finish dorking around the basement on his own.

He did. Then he came up, measured all the radiators, and went out to his car to do the math, saying he’d be back in ten or fifteen minutes with a number. Just as he got back out of his car, though, Johnny came strolling in the yard.

This is odd. I drive Johnny to work in the morning and pick him up at night. It’s a half an hour from our house by car. How in hell was Johnny walking home?

Turns out he’d decided to be here to meet the plumber and had asked his boss to let him out early and to drop him home. But when they were nearly here, the bridge went up (I’d barely made it over myself – that freaking drawbridge is a whole other story on its own), so Johnny got out of the car to let his boss turn back, waited on the sidewalk and then walked the final mile. He effectively lost a half-day’s wages just to be here, and if he’d been two minutes later he’d’ve missed the guy.

He didn’t, though. Miss the guy. He met him coming out of his car – a car Johnny describes as “a brand-new shiny truck” – to present me with the price. First thing Johnny said to him was: “You’re dressed very clean for a contractor!”

The sales rep looked at him and said “You look like you’ve been working. I saw some tools in the basement – are you a plumber?”

“No,” Johnny explained, “we just have friends who are.”

Remember how I was saying the other day about how boys say things to each other that the rest of us can’t hear? Well, I suspect this whole exchange was Johnny’s way of saying he knew what was what and not to fuck him over. And it was the sales rep’s feeble attempt to convey a too-late measure of respect to a husband he had not expected to encounter.

After that, the rep spoke just to me.

Since we were outside anyway I pointed out the meter, exactly where I’d said it was, and the guy said yes indeed I surely did know that of which I spoke. So anyway, the number.

$4900. Not including actual equipment. So about six thousand bucks in all.

Two questions, I said: #1. How long from the time we call until you show up to do the work? And #2: How long will it take? A week, he said, and two days.

“Jaysus!” Johnny said. “Five grand for two days’ work? I’m in the wrong bleeding business!”

Much huffing then ensued, about permits and electricians and inspectors and materials, and Johnny saying he was only kidding, he was a working man himself and he understood these things.

The guy said – to me – that he would call on Monday and we could finance it and he’d order the parts and they’d get the ball good ahead and rolling.

You know what? I never thought I’d be annoyed when a contractor would choose to talk to me instead of to my husband.

So the guy left, and Johnny and I talked. The truth is that $6000 was not so terribly far off from what we had imagined, but maybe about half again what Johnny had (unbeknownst to me) already figured we could get it done for if we hired plumbers and electricians on our own. That’s a hassle I really hate to get into again, but I suppose we need to keep our $2000 more than I need to keep my peace of mined (that was a typo, but I’ve left it in because I like the implication).

But then, I was working out this morning (and let me tell you, there isn’t much greater motivation than a temperature of 59 and no hope of turning heat on) when suddenly I had a thought:

Why, exactly, are we doing this? Is gas heat really that much cheaper? We don’t plan on living here that long – certainly not past the time the fixed-rate runs out on our mortgage – can we actually expect to save that many thousand dollars in those few gambled years? Wouldn’t a new oil burner be more efficient than the old gunked-up one, anyway? What if we just didn’t bother with the whole changeover thing at all?

I don't know. But in the meantime, it is awfully cold in here, even with the fire going. Didn’t I once hear something about how drinking warms the blood…?

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Actual Progress?

I actually spoke to the actual plumber from actual Keyspan and he's actually coming tomorrow. Or so he says. Unfortunately he actually remembered me as the actual person who never actually returned his call back in February or whenever it actually was. So we'll see if he actually shows up...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Look, Baby Goats!

They're not mine. I could have one if I want. I'd have to sell the house and move, but – well...

Yesterday I cancelled my account with the oil company. Told them the boiler blew and we were switching over to gas and please send me a bill for balance due. The lady called to say she'd checked my account, I hadn't been getting my new-customer discount, and she was going to give me – well, not a refund exactly, but she would knock the difference off the $200 we owe.

So there's that.

Then at 6:30 this morning the delivery guy showed up and filled our tank.

So there's also that.

And then there's this: today on the radio they say that last month was the biggest drop in existing-home sales since the last major housing crash, eighteen years ago, in 1989...

Look, baby goats!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

A Timeline...

7:30 p.m. (last night) Johnny comes back with the pizzas. They’re not take-out really. The bar up the street serves them and for three dollars they’ll sell you one frozen to take home and cook yourself. Except last night they upped the price to $3.25. Johnny decides it’s a sign that the universe hates us.

7:40 They’re individual-size pizzas. We slice up some onions to throw on there and some, well, what we thought was pepperoni in the freezer turned out to be turkey kielbasa – further proof the universe despises Johnny. I decline but Irish Johnny stubbornly insists on meat, any meat, even if it is Polish and actually made from a bird. The pizzas don’t come with instructions, so we guess at 425 and set the timer to check on them in 15 minutes…

7:52 The smoke alarm goes off. Guess we guessed wrong.

7:55 Only Johnny’s pizza burned. They are side-by-side on the same rack in the oven, mine is perfectly done and his is burnt black and solid and smoking up the house. He laughs so hard at how much the universe hates him that he bumps into me and almost makes me drop mine on the floor, but I catch it in time. I offer him half but he declines. He’s going to eat his burned kielbasa pizza dammit, and for dessert – worms!

8:20 I finally convince him to eat what’s left of mine because I’m tired of the grunting noises he keeps making as he chews.

8:55 We both fall asleep on the couch waiting for Men to start.

7:30 a.m (this morning) Andy shows up – yay Andy! – to install the water heater. No. To make a list of stuff he needs to buy before he can install the water heater. I thought he did that yesterday? No matter. At least he’s here. Not that I was worried. Well, okay, maybe a little bit. Sometimes Andy does flake out, but he knows we need hot water so he’s here. Good man.

9:00 Andy’s not back from the store. Do I need to worry? Should I call him? No, I don’t want to bug him, he’s doing us a favor. Sit tight.

9:15 Jack calls to say that if Andy doesn’t feel like it, he’ll do the plumbing. He’ll be here at 11:30. Um. I don’t think that’s the plan but nobody’s here but me and I don’t know what everyone agreed on…

9:16 I call Andy. He was taking a nap. Doh! I thought he was just going to the store and back. I tell him about Jack and he says tell Jack not to come, he’ll do the plumbing.

(There are things people don’t say out loud but you hear them anyway. What I hear is that Jack thinks Andy’s incapable of doing the plumbing, and Andy thinks Jack’s going to rip us off. Neither will say either thing about the other, though, so now I’m afraid of both.)

9:17 I call Jack back to tell him not to come. He says he has to anyway to make a stock list and talk to the guy from Keyspan. Okay. Wait, stock list?

9:18 I call Johnny at work to ask him why Jack is making a stock list when he hasn’t even given us a price yet and we’re not having the new furnace installed right now. Johnny says Jack needs to make the stock list before he can give us a price, but I’m to make sure he knows we’re only looking for an estimate and not to buy anything yet.

I’m glad I’m fluent in English, at least, otherwise I wouldn’t know what the hell was going on.

10:00 Andy’s back! With a guy named Sparky. Which makes me feel a little better about the impending electrical work they’re gonna do…

10:23 I finally finish the chapter I’ve been trying to get done since Thursday. At least I think it’s finished. I’ll read it one more time and hand it over, then we’ll see what Sucka M-C has to say.

10:30 Since I need to let that chapter sit a while before I read it over, I decide to whip up a couple of banana breads to give to the boys to thank them.

11:00 The bananas are frozen so I put them on the porch in the sun to thaw and go back to the kitchen to mix up shortening and sugar in one bowl, flour and baking powder and salt in another, everything ready to slam together when the bananas are mashable. But the bananas won’t get mashable and I’m starting to worry about the cats. So I peel them (bananas, not cats) and stick them on a plate in the microwave. Bananas, turns out, exude all these banana juices as they thaw. A sticky, sticky, sticky mess ensues inside my microwave, which I can’t clean up because I have no water – and no matter how many times I absent-mindedly head for the bathroom, the water isn’t on in there any more than it is in the kitchen. Every time I get my fingers sticky I have to go rinse them in the bucket of water that Johnny ran last night while I made fun of him, but now I see he really is a genius. By the time I get the five bananas thawed and mashed I see I needed six, but I’ve had just about enough of this.

11:30 The banana breads go in. No sign of Jack.

11:45 Andy says he needs to cut the electricity. Including, you know, the stove.

12:00 p.m. It’s okay. He only had to cut it for like five minutes and the oven held the heat enough to cook them.

12:45 Banana breads are out.

12:50 Hot water heater is installed.

12:55 The boys don’t want banana bread

1:00 Who cares? Fuck ‘em. I’m off to run an errand and when I come back there will be hot water and I will wash.

1:00-2:00 In the car while running my errand I hear Led Zeppelin bookended by the Who – “Behind Blue Eyes,” “All Of My Love” and “I’m Free” – and topped off by “Sweet Child O’ Mine” by Guns ‘n’ Roses. I listen to them all at maximum volume with the windows down and my hair blowing in my ears and eyes. Awww, it really is spring!

2:28 I’m home. I’m getting in the shower.

3:13 I’m clean. I washed everywhere and shaved everything and I am clean. I even re-discovered the joys of listening to music really loudly and singing in the shower, which I haven’t done I don’t think since we moved into this house. What did I listen to? Like A Prayer. It was in the player in the bathroom that I haven't used in years. I think it's some kind of sign…

3:16 Just took a first glance at that chapter. Afraid it isn’t finished after all. Sorry, Sucka.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bad News, Good News

I just got home and there is more bad news. I'm obviously not getting any work done this afternoon (sorry, Ms. M-C!), so I figure I might as well back up a bit and see if I can't find the funny. It's gotta be here somewhere, I just had it Saturday...

Last night Johnny and I stayed up way too late drinking way too many beers and watching Jesus Christ Superstar on some obscure cable network. We didn't watch much of the actual movie because we kept getting off on random and intense theological debates. We love to do this: he believes in the whole Apostolic kit and kaboodle, and me, well, I'm just morbidly fascinated with the entire business. He loves to try to stump me but I always pull it out, and he's constantly shocked at how much I know about it when it all means nothing to me. But that's what he doesn't understand: it doesn't mean nothing to me; I love it. I just don't Believe.

Anyway, so it was after twelve beers, eight nature-of-faith dilemmas, four hours of sleep and two packs of cigarettes worth of smoke in my hair that I had to go off to work without a shower. In what turned out to be 86 summery degrees. I sweated hops and nicotine all afternoon and came home to Andy (remember Andy?) passed out in the living room and Johnny with that manic grin he gets when he's trying hard to laugh away the pain.

"Do you want the good news or the bad news first?" he asked me. Bad. Always bad. Get it over with, like ripping off a band-aid.

"Boiler's dead. Kaput. Thhppp."

"No shower?"

"No shower."

Ew. And the good news?

"Andy," who collects junk even worse than Johnny does, "happened to have an electric water heater lying around." He hasn't given it to us, but he's lent it, and it's already in the basement. "He'll be by first thing in the morning to hook it up."

It means we don't have to buy the new furnace right away. We can take a couple months and save the money first, because we'll have hot water in the meantime. (If it gets to be, like, August and I haven't mentioned the new furnace yet, please remind me to get on the stick, okay?)

Johnny wanted me to go down and have a look at the new/used/not-really-ours water heater. I didn't think this was particularly necessary, considering I'm well aware of what a water heater looks like, but Johnny was in something of a fragile state so I went along.

The good news is the basement is still dry. It's a mess, but not a wet one.

The boiler, however, is messy and wet and just generally foul. It had been left at the time-of-death stage: top open, guts spewing out, all nasty and infected-looking in there. It's a Burnham. Pronounced "burn-'em." I'm just saying.

That Budweiser can is Johnny's. At least, I'm assuming that Budweiser can is Johnny's. Jack was here at eight o'clock in the morning for crying out loud. Then again, I smelled like a beer at eight o'clock this morning, so who am I to talk? Still do, in fact, and will again tomorrow. Anybody wanna hug?
(Jack still charged Johnny $80 to service the boiler, by the way, and Johnny paid him because he's the brother of a friend. But I'm having second thoughts about contracting him to do the changeover. If he charges $80 to not-fix it then I shudder to think what two days of actual work will end up costing. I mean, the hateful oil company only charged us $69 to not-service it -- but then again not-fixing is a bigger job. Plus, without him how will I ever get Keyspan to return my calls? )
So anyway while we're down there examining the soul of our old machine and the rust spots on our new one, Johnny suddenly looks up and sees a two-inch, black plastic crucifix, dangling on a bit of twisted coathanger from the pipe that feeds the boiler.

Jeez, what are you doing here?
We have to assume it's been there all along - we have to - and that we just never noticed it. But what we can't decide is whether he's supposed to be a comfort (telling us to hang in there, so to speak), or a warning (shape up or next time it's the -- what? Grass fires? Locusts? Frogs?).
Johnny just went out to pick up a pizza and tonight we're going to hash out this latest test-of-faith over the few beers in the fridge that escaped our clutches last night. Being a non-believer, I'm leaning more towards the Old Testament, wrathful, my-way-or-the-highway interpretation, whereas Johnny -- well, Johnny's still a little delicate, so for now he thinks it's laughing at us, but I'll go easy on him and he'll get his Good News thinking back tomorrow.
In the meantime, I'm not allowed to take the trinket down.

Good News/Bad News

The good news:

Nothing blew up. Nobody died.

The bad news:

Well, except the boiler.

The good news:

Rick is here and fixing it so that we'll have hot water in the meantime.

The bad news:

Not in time for me to have a shower before work -- though that's only bad for those of you close enough to smell me.

The good news:

It's going to be 82 degrees outside today. The furnace lasted exactly, to the day, until we didn't need heat anymore. And there will be hot water when I get home so I can shower then.

The bad news:

The fix will only last a month or so.

The good news:

Rick has an in with the gas company and he says he'll get someone here to set us up. Finally!

The bad news:

He says they're going to make us put a liner in the chimney to vent the gas furnace through (again with the chimney! Why won't these people just leave us alone?).

The good news:

At least when it's done we won't have to worry about it any more (ha ha, I am a regular laugh riot - can you tell I'm stretching for good news trying to avoid the final bad news that I guess I might as well suck up and say...?)

The bad news:

Ugh. There's going to be bills for all of this that I don't even want to think about.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Caution, Swear Words Coming...

I’m sorry that this isn’t going to be the funniest thing you ever read, but fuck!

I bought the digital camera, and I waited a few days to show you pictures of the actual house because the first picture I wanted to show was going to be of the basement. Which, even after the nor’easter that we had, I didn’t want to jinx anything so I was waiting until the storm was over before I said the place was dry. But it was, it is, for a reason which is a story in itself, and I couldn’t wait to tell it to you because it’s sweet and it has to do with Johnny surprising me with a project I didn’t know he’d organized.

Plus also I had a whole new plan for this blog that I was going to tell you about, which was inspired by a fabulous book I’ve been reading which I don’t know how I managed to miss for the twelve years since it came out (Radio On – look it up).

But today – the first spring day we’ve had here – we were in the yard, and thank god we were because otherwise we might not have noticed all the black smoke spewing from the chimney.

The furnace is shitting the bed.

And you might think: well, at least it’s warm now, and at least you have six months or so until you need your furnace again. But let me just say this: we have a tankless water heater.

This sucks.

Homeownership sucks.

Johnny’s off now to see if the friend who helped us out last fall can give us a quick fix, but in the meantime…

{Here is where I was going to insert a picture of the black smoke spewing from the chimney – but I’ve decided to not risk turning the furnace on again just to get an image of it. That’s got to count for something, right?}


Friday, April 20, 2007

Bear With Me

Here's the digital camera I bought yesterday that didn't work...

Oh lovely. I'm very good at this. And seriously, now that I've agreed to play this game, the dial-up has got to go.

Can you hear me being dragged kicking and screaming into the modern age?

You would have been proud of me when I bought that camera. I knelt in the store (because for some reason all the digital cameras were at knee-level — and what is that about? Are toddlers their target market? Am I at the technological level of a two-year-old? Well fine then, goo.). I read the labels. I compared the products and thought about what I might need as far as functions go in digital cameras. Take pictures, check. Put them on the computer, check. What's this? Oh, yeah, the screen to view them in, that might come in handy, check. But how do I— what kind of batteries do I need? What's an SD card?

Got it all. Got it all figured out and got it all gathered (camera, SD card and rechargeable batteries, with charger, came to $80 all together), and was headed for the checkout when I overheard a woman offering to buy her kid a Dora the Explorer camera. And I thought: what do I care what my camera looks like? Maybe Dora's cheaper...

So I went back to the left end of the knee-rack where I'd seen the baby stuff, and that's when I spied the black little $20 beauty above. Didn't need an SD card, didn't need a battery (well, did, but came with one). Probably a piece of shit, I realized, but probably good for twenty dollars worth until I figured out what it was I really needed — because I know me and I know the eighty bucks I was about to spend was going down the drain soon anyway.

Do you know me, though? Can you guess what I'm about to say?

Got it home, installed the software, turned it on, aimed it at my sleeping cat... and watched the little fucker beep one time and die. The camera, that is, not the cat. The cat has never beeped — but then, the cat has never died yet, either. So.

That battery it came with (camera again, of course) was rechargeable but not recharged, and the piece of shit didn't come with a recharger. And, because I'd spent so long (for that one time in my whole entire life) examining every single item on the shelves, I knew the store I'd been to didn't carry the recharger for this particular machine. For a twenty-dollar piece of shit, I was really going to shop around to find one? So of course I threw the camera in frustration, and of course when it hit the wall a little piece went flying, so now of course I can't return the damn thing either.

Johnny kissed me once and said he loved me before he ran off to the pub. Brave man for hazarding that much.

So anyway I went back again today prepared to spend that $80 after all. The three things I'd picked out (camera, SD, batteries) were right on the floor where I'd abandoned them in favor of my bad decision (which at this point I really ought to just say "decision" and let the "bad" part be implied), so I picked them up — but wait. The recharger/batteries combo I'd selected didn't come with an adapter to plug it in. Huh. And, now that I look, there are two AA batteries in this pack and two AAA. What kind of batteries does this camera require, anyway? Three, it turns out, AAA.

Well, good thing I didn't waste my time!

I decided to spend just five dollars on non-rechargeable, regular-old AAAs, because at least when they turned out to be wrong I could at least use them in the TV remote or something. But in the end this bastard wasn't such a failure, as evidenced above.

So. Here's the digital camera I bought today that does work....
Hm, well, guess I can't exactly show that to you, can I?

Tune in tomorrow (if I don't have a stroke first) for some pictures of my (honest to god) house...

Monday, April 16, 2007

Now Both Toilets Are Running...

You should see them, chasing each other around the house like a pair of playful kittens.

I'd write more, but I've got Prince Albert in a can and I think I better let him out.

Plus there seems to be a DC-10 in my backyard...

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Oh Christ, I Don't Know...

Johnny just ducked his head into my office to say "You've got a problem with your toilet!"


"It's running like a bastard!"

Hm, guess I didn't so much fix it after all.

Veni, Bibi, Vici

I fixed the toilet. It was actually never really broken in the first place but, in determining that, I broke it, so then I had to fix it after all.

Turns out there’s this little floaty foam-rubber bit on the flush chain and it was floating so hard that the rubber flappy bit was never sinking completely closed. I tried sliding the foam-rubber floaty bit up on the chain so it wouldn’t float so hard, but it gave me a hard time so I got mad and got the scissors and cut the damn thing off.

That’s how I discovered that the foam-rubber floaty bit is there to keep the rubber flappy part up long enough for the toilet to completely flush. Without it, the rubber flappy part just flops back closed and you have to hold the lever down to make the toilet work.

That explains why the other toilet doesn’t work, the one I replaced the guts on last year. I’ve fixed a bunch of toilets in my life, but this is the first I’ve ever heard of these floaty bits. Are they new?

Anyway, so I went to Lowe’s (which I hate, by the way, and which we call Blowe’s behind its back, but which is only a mile down the road so I always hatefully end up there) and got two flappy-chain-floaty kits to fix them both in one fell swoop. Took me a couple tries to get the right combination of chain length and floaty height to make it flush properly and still stop running when it’s supposed to, but I got it done. Took about a half an hour for the both of them. So glad I put it off so long.

I was going to do all this yesterday – I did, in fact, do the exploratory breaking yesterday – but I accidentally stopped at the beer store on my way to Lowe’s. I was just so proud of myself for having done the taxes. The plan was to get grass seed, too, while I was at Lowe’s, but I forgot.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Render Unto Caesar

I did it! I filed my taxes! And I have to say: this homeownership thing, combined with the whole matrimony thing (which is also fairly new to us)? Not such a terrible idea after all. Especially when you toss in a ridiculously low income to boot.

See, although Johnny and I bought the house – and pay the bills on it and everything – together, the mortgage and the deed and all are only in my name. And, as it turns out, I actually earn less than we pay in interest every year (yeah, I sorta lied a little on the mortgage application – so? Maybe you’ve heard lately: I’m not the only one.). Anyway, so for the past few years I’ve been claiming zero net income, leaving extra mortgage interest just dangling around there un-deducted, and hoping the IRS won’t get around to wondering how I’ve been managing to feed myself. La la…

But then last year we up and married, which means we get to file jointly, which means we get to claim the full amount of interest that we pay, plus property taxes! Woohoo, property taxes!

The thing that has me really giddy, though, is that while I was totting up the numbers to see whether we ought to file jointly after all, and whether we should itemize or take standard deductions – while I was looking at what all these options meant to the what-we-owed-the-government bottom line – I did it wrong.

I’d already made my decisions on all of the above, already done the math and resigned myself, already said goodbye to our not-halfway-there-yet furnace fund, even got the dollars from their secret place and filled out a deposit slip to put them in the bank to cover the checks I’d have to write, when I got to line 42: “Multiply $3,300,” it said, “by the total number of exemptions claimed on line 6D” – which is two, because I have a husband.

And then, the kicker: “subtract this number from your total income.”

I forgot about exemptions! You know, those couple thousand dollars you get to shave off the top just because you’re you? (At least, I think that’s what it’s for. Makes as much sense as rest of it, I figure.) Ooh, I could hug myself just thinking about it. It was like getting an instant rebate on the spot – and I haven’t had anything resembling one of those in donkey’s years. I felt so virtuous for having finally done the taxes in the first place, and now I was rich on top of it – and fortunate to boot!

I was at such sixes and sevens trying to get it all finalized and in the envelope that I didn’t even answer the door when some crazy person came a-pounding. And a-pounding, and a-pounding. I knew who it was going to be, anyway: the oil guy. I’d just heard him making a delivery and I know the company has messed up my account. They claim I haven’t paid them in a month but I know they’ve cashed my checks. It’s a whole big pain in the hoo – which is yet another reason why I WANT TO SWITCH TO KEYSPAN if they would just RETURN MY CALLS – but this morning I was feeling too virtuous and rich and fortunate to spoil my happy mood on them. So I just let them knock until their arms fell off, and they picked them up and tucked them under their – well, chins, I guess – and got back in their truck and drove away.

Except for, when I’d dotted my last dot and crossed my last cross and went out the door to mail my envelopes, I discovered it hadn't been the oil man at all. It was Jehovah’s Witnesses – a whole posse of them, judging from the noise they made. They’d left a pamphlet for me, so I could read about THE GREATEST MAN WHO EVER LIVED.

I know who they’re talking about, and I don’t want to bring the wrath of the Believers raining down upon my house (or, actually, let me think about that for a minute… no. No, I don’t), so let me just say I’ve got a nomination for greatest-man first-runner-up. And I’d like to ask him a question:

How did you come up with the idea of exemptions, anyway?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Gee, Thanks, Mean Joe!

Since our fuel bills for the season have now topped $2700 (that's right, we had another delivery since I last added up because it just refuses to be spring around here, ever, anymore), I figured Time magazine's “Global Warming Survival Guide” might be worth a look. I'd heard about it on the radio, it was supposed to be all about how to live more greenly. I’m not a particularly green-type person, generally, but I thought they might have some money- (oops, I mean planet-) saving tips for me.

I didn’t buy the magazine (see? I’m thinking greener and saving cash already) but I checked it out on line. And let me say, if you are ever putting a 51-point list up on the internet, by all means give each and every point a separate page. People like to click-and-wait, and who needs to see the whole thing in one shebang anyway? I guess they figured since they weren’t wasting paper they might's well go ahead and waste my time…

The items on the list break down into some basic categories. Time didn’t break them down – because then you might miss out on clicking through a dozen items that don’t interest you – but I will.

Of the 51 items on the list, six of them have to do with either building a completely new house or moving to an existing one that’s more efficient – even if that means moving to London. Right. London. Sure. Number six says, simply, “Ditch the Mansion.” Done. Got a not-so-mansion I wouldn’t mind unloading, either, if anybody out there’s interested.

Fifteen are so obvious I used to read about some of them in coloring books. Turn the lights off, ride the bus, don’t use the air conditioner (and, if you’re uncomfortable, remove your jacket. Oh, is that how that works?), recycle (duh!), carpool (double duh!). Number 48’s my favorite in this category: When you’re renting, rent a hybrid. Well, fine, except the article itself says that there are only seven cities in the world where you can do that. So I guess you’re supposed to rent your hybrid in New York and then drive it all the way to Sandusky, Ohio?

Five more are about getting governments to change the laws – from municipal to international levels. Number 27 has to do with international flight restrictions, and I can’t help but smart-ass this part: “Until we can travel by fireplace, Harry Potter-style, the only way to get from Los Angeles to London is by carbon-spewing jet airliner.” Well, no, actually. The only way to get there in one day is by carbon-spewing jet airliner. There are still such things as boats and trains, and cars and bikes and feet for that matter. And swimming, lots and lots of swimming...

Three are about carbon credit trading: international, intra-national and individual. Then there’s #42, “Pay for your carbon sins.” Basically you do whatever you want but give money to some institution so you don’t have to feel so bad about it. I think they used to do this all the time. I think they're called indulgences.

Four of them I just don’t understand, including this one: “19. Buy green power, at home or away.” It’s just too confusing to even think about. When I can’t get the local gas company to so much as return a phone call, am I really going to buy my electricity from some corporation out of state just because they swear there’s daisies in it?

Number twenty-five says support your local farmer, but then 46 says trees are actually bad (who knew?), except in the tropics. So do I buy my tomatoes down the street and my pears from Guatemala? How tall does a plant have to be to make it an official big bad tree? And if I’m really greening-up here, should I cut down all those silver maples in the yard?

Twenty-eight suggests you green your wedding. We eloped. Green enough for you? Today’s our anniversary, actually. Well, not really, but we’ve decided to celebrate on every Friday the 13th because we figure that when you accidentally choose such an inauspicious wedding day, you gotta cram in all the celebrations that you can before the luck runs out.

Some are impossible – don’t eat beef (tell it to my Irish husband), plant a bamboo fence (I live in Massachusetts), the whole corn/fuel thing (been there, done that) – and some are just plain stupid (#45. Only make right turns. Yeah I don’t think so. At the very least I’ve got to make that crucial left at Albuquerque…). And #31 just has to be a joke. Lipstick that grows flowers if you plant the empty tube? Gimme a break. How much does that cost? Some are so off-the-charts wack-a-doodle they could be Jerry Bruckheimer productions (mirrors in the atmosphere to reflect the sun’s rays off the earth? Fine, but who'll we send up to install them, Bruce Willis or Ben Affleck?). And the final idea, #51, just slam-dunks the stupid-cake: “Meditate. Consume less. Think more. Get to know your neighbors. Borrow when you need to and lend when asked.” Uh… okay? Or, um, rather…no? What I mean to say is … Huh?.

Only six, as far as I’m concerned, are actually helpful, possible, day-to-day regular suggestions – and most of these boil down to basic common sense. Wear used clothes (check), work closer to home (if you can. I’m workin’ on it. If all goes well, I’ll never have to leave the house), recycle fleece clothing (I didn't know you could. I don’t, in fact, own any fleece clothing because it is flat-out hideola, but if anyone else want me to recycle theirs, I’ll do it happily), use natural fertilizer instead of chemicals (we compost). And one thing I’ve never done but will is #16: Pay your bills online. Save all that paper, easy-peasy. Doesn’t save me any money, but I guess that’s not supposed to be the point here, is it?

Oh, and last but not least…

#30. Shut off your computer.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Betta Getta Bucket

Here’s what I learned today: If you do your cable yourself, and you do a shitty job, the cable guys will just show up and fix it for you!

Seriously, this happened, I swear to god:

I came home from work this afternoon and there was a Comcast van outside my house, which I ignored because I hadn’t called the cable guy and they don’t usually just show up to give you presents or anything like that. But, it turned out he was eying me when I got out of my car, and he asked me did I live here and I said I did and could I help him? And he said:

“There’s a cable leak coming from your house.”

And I thought: A cable leak? But I just finished mopping up the electricity that leaked all over last week! Well, at least that explains the dripping noise under the floorboards…

What are you talking about?

So I let him in, because that’s what you do when you’re a woman alone and somebody shows up with a story that makes absolutely no sense at all. Well, hey. I was flabbergasted, gobsmacked, bumruffled – though I think I might have made that last one up – plus he did step out of that official-looking van and everything. Anyway, I’d like to think even an escaped, psychopathic convicted father-raper would be able to come up with a better line than "You've got Anna Nicole dripping all over your hardwood floor."

He explained – I made him explain three times while I stood there slack-jawed and drooling – that the cable signal actually leaks out of any loose connections. It’s not dangerous or anything (Johnny and I joked about putting a bucket under it to save for power outages) but it interferes with radar signals. Badly enough, in fact, that the way they detect leaks in the first place is to send over a passing jet (or maybe he didn’t say jet, maybe he just said airplane, but whatever), and the jet picks up the signal, and the jet says “The leak’s coming from Townville!” And then they send a truck to Townville to drive around and sniff it out and the truck says “the leak’s coming from this street!” And then they send the guy in the van to come to the house and fix it.

Except? Nobody calls you first. The guy from the van he said he’d been here the other day but nobody was home and so he checked the outside connection – or replaced, I think he said, the outside connection – but that didn’t fix the leak (he had this sort of walkie-talkie-looking thing that made a screaming noise when it picked up the signal, sort of like those wandy-thingies at the airport) and so he’d come back today to try again to get inside.

Now, wouldn’t you think he might have, I don't know, called first and said “Is anybody gonna be home, can I come over?” I would have said “[Insert your own waiting-for-the-cable-guy joke here]” So ha ha on the cable company, how do you like them apples? Nobody’s home when you come and you have to come back twice, ha ha!

Anway, he checked the tv in the living room and he didn’t find anything there. He jiggled it where I’d attached the DVD player (and he actually disconnected the antenna from the cable box which we didn’t discover until he’d been gone for hours and we turned it on and thought all the cable had leaked out), but nothing was loose. And so then I offered to let him look at the other tv in my bedroom – which I didn’t mean to sound as suggestive as that comes across (but I can't help it, because I’m just so goddamn sexy) – and he said no, could he look in the basement?

Sure, escaped psychopathic convicted father-raper, let me show you to my dank, dark basement!

I took him down and showed him where the splitter was – which thankfully I didn’t brag about having done myself, because the first thing he did was pull the wire out that I’d put in and laugh and say “you couldn’t have been getting very good reception on that television!” I rolled my eyes and said “A couple channels didn’t come in that well but the rest were fine,” which was even true, thank you very much – except for I didn’t bother to mention that the couple channels I couldn’t get were NBC, ABC and CBS. But that doesn’t matter, cuz who watches those old dinosaur networks, anyway?

So. He went out to his truck, and he got his tools, and he got a, a little connector thing, whatever you call it, and he went down in the basement, and he fixed it! And now I get the networks on the second television! It only took a year, two televisions, a flyover, and a visit from my friendly neighborhood Comcast surveillance team!

Or else, I don’t know. Could be bullshit. Maybe some valuable I didn’t even know I owned is missing. Or maybe, Johnny says, he planted bugs so Scooter Libby can keep an eye on us while we’re watching TV.

Whatever, at least now I can watch Scrubs – and House, and 30 Rock, and How I Met Your Mother and (forgive me) Supernanny – in my bedroom.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Fix Is Out

It's getting to the point that I can hear that toilet running even through the closed-tight door. Crap!

I've gotta do my taxes today - today! - so I can fix that thing tomorrow. Tomorrow! Or, well, okay maybe Saturday. Which I suppose means I could put the taxes off until Friday or so...

When I get them both done, though, I'm going to buy myself a digital camera so I can finally start showing y'all the disgusting hole I live in.

Course, that'll probably break on me as well. So what's the one thing I should post a picture of before the camera breaks? The outside of the house or the grossest thing inside it? The nicest thing we've done so far or the worst thing left to do? Just don't say me: I'm not posting a picture of myself - or of Johnny, either.

This is still Townville, after all, and I haven't said the nicest things about it. Just in case anyone in this place actually reads, we don't need to risk being recognized when we walk down the street. Two sidewalk incidents are plenty, thank you.

Then again, I suppose there is a chance they'll recognize the house.

Well, if I stop posting after I put the pictures up, I guess you'll know what happened.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Frozen In Time

Next time I move, please remind me to throw out all the old food in the freezer?

Johnny cleaned out both our freezers yesterday to make room for the 16 pounds of corned beef we bought for the St. Patrick’s Day party that got called on account of euphemisms. Wanna know the first thing he found we didn’t know was in there? Corned beef from Patrick’s last year. At least, I think it was from last year…

Nope, just checked: “Use or freeze by: May 10 2005.” Two years ago.

But that’s just the tip of the – forgive me – icebox. There was this blob that used to be a pair of uncooked cinnamon buns. I remember that blob. I make those buns every Christmas, and one time I somehow wound up with two more than would fit in the pan. Johnny and I decided to pop them in the freezer for a week and cook them New Year’s Morning. That would have been, um, New Year’s 2003…

Oh, I’m so ashamed.

There was a bag labeled, in my handwriting, “cooked chicken guts” – and it’s a good thing it was labeled because it looked like ice-encrusted poo. Johnny asked me why I’d saved it in the first place and I said because you make stock and stuff. But he pointed out that if they were cooked then he’d already made the stock, so I must have picked them out of the strainer in the sink and frozen them – and labeled them. I can’t imagine what I was thinking was there. Maybe I was drunk.

Apparently I was on some sort of jag a while back, because he found something else labeled in my handwriting that I don’t remember. Two quart jars marked “Fish Stock: 01/04.” It looks like good stock, too, or at least like it used to be.

There was a lone lamb chop that had grown an inch-thick icy coat which Johnny, because he can never throw anything away, decided to boil up and give to the neighbor’s dog. Now that I re-read that last sentence I realize it sounds like an act of inhuman cruelty, so please believe me when I say he just thought it would be a tasty treat. Doesn’t matter. There was nothing tasty about the stench that rose from that boiling pot, so the neighbor dog is not getting that lamb chop. Though Johnny put the pot on the porch to cool (and to get rid of the stench), and he never brought in, so by now I’m sure that something out there ate it.

There was a gallon-sized Ziploc bag of cut-up pumpkin that used to be a jack-o-lantern from – oh, certainly not last year. We’d done our carving late whatever year it was and kept this one inside, so it was still perfectly good when Halloween was over. I spent hours cutting it up and carving the skin off every little piece, figuring fresh pumpkin pie would taste soooo much better than canned. It doesn’t.

Two pounds of baby shrimp never thawed for a Memorial Day cookout. A dozen hamburg buns leftover from last Fourth of July. Extra cranberries from stringing for the Christmas tree – which I froze because I hate cranberry sauce and didn’t know what else to do with them, and experience has taught me that even birds and squirrels won’t eat cranberries if you toss them in the yard. But did I actually imagine they’d be any good for stringing next year?

Jeez, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Halloween, Christmas … we’d been storing an entire calendar’s worth of celebrations in our Way Back machine.

And – even after getting rid of all the useless and disgusting stuff – we are still left with six months worth of: chicken breasts, pork roasts, country ribs, ground beef, rib eyes, kielbasas, haddock filets and tuna steaks. Plus of course white and black puddings, rashers and bangers – the makings of a traditional Irish breakfast that I don’t eat but Johnny has to always keep on hand. Plus a haggis someone gave us. And catnip, because if I keep it anywhere else the killer beasties will get at it.

I don’t think the corned beef is going to fit in there, after all.

I know: I’ll put the fish stock and the shrimp in the refrigerator. If they thaw out okay I’ll make some chowder. I’m on a diet, so I should not be eating cream soups, but if Johnny doesn’t eat it I can always stick it in the…


Monday, April 9, 2007


Driving home to see the family for Easter the other day, we heard a story on the radio about a woman in Texas who’s getting hassled by the Homeowner’s Association because she tore out her grass lawn and replaced it with naturally-occurring stone and sunflowers. The city (San Antonio, I think it was) has a program set up to encourage things like this – it’s a water conservation thing – and they actually gave her $300 towards the cost of the landscaping. But her neighbors hate it, and they’re taking her to court.

Taking her to court, can you imagine!? For landscaping her yard in the manner she saw fit. The ecologically-sound and politically-correct manner, no less!

Unfortunately, she’s screwed. Because apparently when she bought the house she signed a paper – she wouldn’t have been allowed to buy the house without signing the paper – that said she promised to keep the grass green and cut it every Tuesday and only hang pink curtains in the windows and stand on her tippytoes when she answered the door and whatever else the Homeowners Association decided was befitting their particular cachet.

What would possess a person to go and sign a thing like that?

Oh my god, if there were a Homeowner’s Association in this neighborhood they would have us tarred and feathered. We made a conscious decision when we moved in that we were going to deal with the parts we had to look at first – in other words, the inside – and when (if ever) we get that under control, then we’ll think about the parts that other people see. I mow the lawn, but that’s really about it.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Johnny plants a garden every year but then he doesn’t weed it and it gets all overgrown. I don’t weed it either because it’s not my fucking garden. He also plants things along the whole length of the fence so I can’t mow along it, but then he doesn’t weed them either. And I’m not gonna do it because they’re not —well, you know.

Speaking of the fence… It is not only chain-link, but rusted and disgusting, and it leans over in a couple places where people came around the turn too fast and wound up in the yard. That happened before we were here; it’s been like that since we moved in. A neighbor once offered to pull it up for us for nothing, if we gave him $2600 to take down the only healthy tree in the entire yard, but I said no, thanks, and I haven’t seen him since. We can’t afford a new fence yet, anyway.

Oh, and speaking of trees: There are six of them in the yard. Four silver maples: that big healthy one out back and three along the fence whose roots have bubbled up and cracked the sidewalk, and which are so big and old they threaten to throw branches down on passing cars every time the wind blows. Then two in the middle of the yard that I don’t know what they are because they haven’t any leaves. They’re sick with some kind of festering rot that kills the branches from the bottom up. One of them’s lost all its branches – it’s just a naked trunk blowing precariously in the breeze – and the other oozes brown goo on the picnic table from the branches it has left. The goo hardens up like rubber cement, and the squirrels eat it.

Oh, and speaking of squirrels: Johnny feeds them. Throws whatever’s gone bad in the kitchen out into the yard. Mushy apples, sprouted potatoes, hamburger buns that have been in the freezer since last Fourth-of-July. The squirrels come and eat it all but other things do, too. Starlings, skunks, raccoons. Just this afternoon Johnny saw a big black cat eating the hamburg buns.

Oh, yeah, speaking of cats? I feed the strays. It started with this runty one who only had half a tail and one perpetually swollen ear. I felt bad for her so I started putting a bowl under the porch. Well, of course, you never feed just one stray cat, now do you? The last time I checked there were six – plus a few who actually have owners but still like to come down for a little evening nosh.

Speaking of the porch, it kind of sags. (“Kind of” my ass, the thing’s a goddamn U). We actually were going to take care of that when we first moved in because a friend offered to lend us a set of jacks and all it takes is a week and a couple of cement blocks, but then he decided his mum’s house was uneven, and jacking up a whole house takes much longer than just jacking up a porch, and then his brother thought it looked like a good idea, and, well, blood is thicker than water after all. If our turn doesn’t come round soon we’re going to have to go ahead and rent one, because we have to get it done before we paint, and – oh, yeah, speaking of paint…

We’re not just talking a little mildew or an unfortunate color choice – actually, the color’s not that bad. No, we’re talking peeling you can see from the street at 40 miles an hour. Some windows have different color trim than all the rest. The whole back part that was rotten when we bought it got all new cedar shakes and they never got so much as primed.

Let’s see, did I forget anything? Well, there’s the pile of dirt that Johnny had delivered for the garden that turned out to be more dirt than he needed and what are you supposed to do with extra dirt? There’s the trashcan with the hostas in it over by the fence, which Johnny dug up somewhere and I which I wouldn’t let him plant because I hate hostas, so they’ve sat in trashcan-stalemate in the yard for going on three years. There’s the composter that all the veggie scraps go into but never get turned or treated or used. The fenced-in section in the corner where the leaves go every fall so that they, too, can never actually get composted. Oh, and then there’s the back porch, where Johnny puts paint buckets that he doesn’t feel like washing out, and where they sit until they’re full of rusty rainwater that probably really oughtn’t to be washed into the watershed.

In other words, our house would give any Homeowner’s Association fits of St. Vitus’ Dance. It’s a blight. It’s an eyesore. It’s a stain. And I don’t care what the neighbors think about it. I’ll get out there when I’m good and ready. And when I am, if I decide I want to fill the yard with rocks and plant sunflowers then, dammit, that’s what I’ll do.

Actually, I did plant sunflowers last year, all along the chain-link fence. They didn’t come up, not a single one.

Thursday, April 5, 2007


Cats go crazy at night, that’s what they do. So I didn’t think much of it when Girl Cat tore across the bed and woke me up from a sound sleep at three a.m You get used to these things. Those of you without cats – or kids, I guess, or dogs or husbands – might not understand, but it happens. You learn to just roll over.

But Sister tore and tore and tore: up on the bed and under it, out to the kitchen and back again, round and round in circles in the corner of the room. “Hey,” I thought to her in my half-sleep, “that’s enough already…”

And then I heard the little squeak.

Well, cats chase mice, that’s what they do. I’m not one of these save-it-save-it-save-it! folks – not since I turned twelve, at least. I don’t hate mice. I really don’t even that much mind mice. I mean, I wouldn’t want my house overrun with them or anything; I wouldn’t want their poopies in my corn flakes every morning. But they don’t bother me as much as, oh, say, spiders.

When we first moved in this house it had been vacant for six months. The mice months, too: October through April. There were windows missing in the basement, a crawl space open to where the bulkhead used to be (a long story I’ll get into some other time), and food left in the cupboards. Weird food – nothing I’d eat – but calories nonetheless. And yet there were no mice. Spiders galore, but not a single mouse. Or not a single mouse poop, anyway, and for two and a half years no squeaking in the night.

We found this odd. Disturbing, actually. Frightening, in fact. What's wrong with this house, we thought, that it could stand wide-open, empty, and heated – with food in the freakin' cupboards – and still the mice won’t come? Well, that became one of those la-la moments, where you just decide not to think about it and move on. La la…

Meanwhile, in the dark last night: more tearing, tearing, tearing, and then another squeak. Only not really. This one, at the top of its tiny little lungs, went more like:


Whoops. So much for Mickey. Well, that’s what cats do. Cats kill mice. At least now I could go back to sleep.

These beasts of ours (we have two. They have names but they don’t use them except at the vet's: we just call them Boy and Girl, or Brother and Sister) – anyway, these beasts of ours are champion mousers. The apartments we’ve occupied have given them plenty of practice, and He was always best. He’d sit for hours staring at a hole (literally, for hours: his record – in the Southie hole – was overnight) just waiting for that half-second lunge when the poor wee thing would stick its sniffer out. But since we moved to mouseless here, He’s gotten lazy. And fat. And now She is the Mouse King – or Queen, if Tchaikovsky will forgive me.

The first mouse we found here was laid out under the Christmas tree this past December, right next to the Nativity, like a gift from some alternate magi-cat universe. We knew it was from Her, because She’s always been a keeper.

In the old place She had stashes. Under the bed, behind the door – places you don’t always look. Until you do, and then you’d see six or eight dead mice collected there and you'd know why She'd been in and out of the back room so many times. See, in addition to keeping her collections, She likes to visit them as well. So every time I’d clean out the latest disgusting stash, I couldn’t help but sit and wait for her to drop by for a look-see. She’d go in, find nothing, and come back out shooting me such a “drop dead” look that I that I just had to feel bad for having flushed her store of rotting, smelling, teeny little corpses.

So the first thing I did when I woke up this morning was to search the bedroom. Where’d you put ’im, Sister? Under the bed? Nope. Behind the door? Nope. In the bathroom? In the closet? Under the radiator? Nope, nope, nope.

Hm. Maybe she didn’t kill him after all. Maybe they just had their little chase and then he got away. I have to admit that after this thought I couldn’t stop myself from adding “Good for you, wee tiny Mouse!”

But then I saw the spot.

I was just starting my workout on the floor when I saw a small red circle, just about the size and color of – oh my god, a drop of blood. Dead mice you find under the bed don’t usually bleed! They usually, I think, have little mouse-sized heart attacks and just keel over, peaceful-like. You pick them up and flush them and ta-da. Blood, though. A bleeding mouse? That’s heart-wrenching.

And there was more. It was a gorefest down there now that I was looking. The first drop I’d seen was the only round one, the rest were teardrop-shaped – in other words: mouse-running-away-shaped. I could just picture the denouement that had occurred at the foot of my bed while I was thinking mean thoughts about the noise. I felt bad, until I saw the blood-drop on my bed, and then I stopped thinking anything at all.

La la la, pretty pretty kitty, Sister is so smart, la la la…

I got a sponge and wiped the crime scene clean – except the comforter, which will need professional attention. And when I was finished with the wiping, and had gotten over the discomfort, I decided to commence that workout after all. But when I unfolded my mat, I found a little long-grain poopie in it. Presumably his last.


Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Linens 'N' Crap

When we first moved into this house it was still full of the old owners crap. And I do mean crap. Well, not literally crap – I’d like to think I wouldn’t have bought it if that were the case, but with my judgment you never know. Anyway, what I mean was, you know, crappy stuff.

So we had to shove our crap (and yeah, I mean crappy stuff here, too) in with her crap and, to make a long story short, we’re still – three years later – finding things we’d forgotten that we owned.

My project over the past few months has been to make our closets work in the manner that they were intended, as in: put stuff in them; take stuff out; repeat. Not as in: cram them full and slam the door and never open it again for fear of all the crap.

The front closet went first. I emptied it out and scrubbed it down and only put things in it that belonged in there. Ahhh... This was the first winter since we moved here that I had a place to put my wet boots when I took them off. A hook to hang my scarf on. Hangers for my coats. It was exciting. I still had to go around the house everyday picking coats and mittens up and putting them away, but at least I had a place where I could put them. And the linen closet has proved even more satisfying...

See, as long as we couldn’t use the front closet, all the coats and hats and sweaters were shoved into the linen closet – which really wasn’t big enough for all of them, so we basically took out the two or three we used and left them strewn about the house for the best part of three years. The rest stayed in the linen closet, forgotten, until now.

The linens, meanwhile – which we actually used – lived for a year or so in the spare fridge in the dining room, until we got around to setting that up. Then they got shoved into this odd little cubby-space we have under the stairs. There were these sort-of shelves in there already that someone not-us had put in, and it was right across the little hallway from the bathroom. I dipped the shelves alternately in bleach and Teflon for about a week and a half, spread an old towel down on each of them, and put my linens and things in that odd little cubby-space under the stairs.

The funny thing about odd little cubby-spaces under the stairs, though, aside from the boy magicians playing with their wands, is that they’re shaped like the under of the stairs. Ours doesn’t have an inverted staircase on the ceiling or anything, but it is deeper than it is wide, each shelf according to its altitude. On the deepest shelves, which of course are on the bottom, you can’t reach all the way to the back. And the top, most depth-convenient, shelves you can’t reach without a step ladder. I tossed extra curtains up there I knew I’d never use.

Meantime one shelf – one of the middle ones – was designated the medicine cabinet because oh, yeah, we don’t have one of those yet, either. Well, actually we do, but it’s so hands-down disgusting that all we keep in there is Lysol, and even that we wash before we use. Anyway the odd part about the medicine-chest shelf is that it has one corner cut away, which you tend to forget about when looking for the Solpadeine, and then the medicine-chest contents wind up on the floor of the odd cubby space under the stairs. And you don’t want to know about the floors of odd cubby spaces under stairs in houses that weren’t cleaned out before you bought them. Suffice it to say we asked every Irish visitor to bring us more Solpadeine so we could maintain our schedule of sacrifices to the stair-cubby-space spirits.

But anyway once I’d gotten all the sweaters, hats and shoes out to the front hall where they belonged, Johnny washed the linen closet down and painted it, cut shelves to fit it (because of course there weren’t shelves) and painted them, pulled up the linoleum and washed the painted hardwood underneath, and voila! It sat empty for three weeks until I got around to transferring the linens…

Well, come on. Cleaning out that cubby meant cleaning out that sacrificial floor.

Eventually I did it, and it turns out we have less stuff than I thought. Sheets, tablecloths and pillowcases on the top shelf (I threw out the unused curtains); towels, face cloths and spare bathmats on the next; medicine-chest doo-dads on the third (three boxes of Solpadeine: two of them full); and the entire bottom shelf for toilet paper, which we buy in the Y2K-sized economy pack and have occasionally been known to store in the trunk of the car. On the floor? Get this: a first aid kit. A first aid kit! Me! Who woulda thunk it?

I’ll need it, too, if I ever broach the closet in my office…

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


I fixed the toilet. Wanna know how...?

Shut the door. Can't hear it. Ta Da!

Hey, with Johnny gone I don't really need two bathrooms anyway. Course, he does come home tomorow...

I'll do it this weekend, I promise. Or, okay, maybe next weekend. Just as soon as I file my freakin' taxes.

In the meantime, if a tree falls in the forest...