It's not about the house.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I Was On Hold With Aer Lingus for 45 Minutes Before Getting Disconnected, and Now I Don't Have Time to Proofread Because I Have to Go to Work

Johnny comes home this afternoon. I thought he was coming home tomorrow. I meant for him to be coming home tomorrow. But apparently I actually booked him to come home today. Whoops. Good thing one of his friends over there happened to notice, or he might never be coming home! 

Thanks to all who sent kind thoughts and wishes. Word from Ireland – exact word, in fact – is that the funeral was “a horror show.” I don’t know what that means yet, but when I find out (and if it’s all right with him), I’ll tell you.  

In the meantime, let’s wrap up this Johnny-Broke-Himself story, shall we? Not in the long, drawn-out way I originally intended, because you all have been patient enough already (or else you’ve forgotten about it entirely), but just in one fell swoop. 



He broke four ribs.

The end.

Kidding! Ha! I kid! That’s not really the end! Hoo, boy, I got you guys good. You should have seen your faces…

He really did break four ribs, though. Johnny did. I swear to god, that boy has ribs of glass. I don’t think he’s ever broken another bone in his whole body, except for the big toes he dropped sledgehammers on (and don’t ask me how you drop a sledgehammer on one big toe and then allow yourself to be careless enough to do it to the other; it was before I met him; but I’m betting he was drunk for at least one of them), but in the 13 years I’ve known him, he has managed to break or fracture I don’t even know how many ribs. Let’s see, hang on a minute and I’ll count…

The first time, we had barely even met. He got jumped at a Chinese restaurant in Southie and wound up hospitalized with a punctured lung. I went to visit him in the hospital because it seemed like the good and proper thing to do, but I brought my friend Marie with me because I didn’t want him to think I really liked him. Every time he talks about it to this day, though, he doesn’t talk about how he nearly died, doesn’t mention the three days he waited for them to get around to putting in the little tube that drains the blood out of the lung, doesn’t even marvel at the fact that he picked the worst possible time to be craving hot and sour soup. No. All he ever talks about is how I went to see him in the hospital. I don’t even think he remembers that Marie was there. If I remember correctly, there were three ribs broken that time.

Then there was the time I did it. And we’re not going to talk about how I did it. Just that it was an accident, it was shortly after we moved in together, and it was only one. One measly little broken rib. And I was really sorry.

There was the time – it was about six months after we bought the AssVac – he got jumped outside the pizza parlor/bar down the road. This time it wasn’t just bad timing, though. This time there was at least an explanation. See, this guy Johnny doesn’t like tried to buy him a beer, Johnny sent it back to him and left, so the guy and three of his friends kicked the shit out of Johnny and left him broken and bleeding in a snowbank. Hey, I said there was an explanation; I didn’t say it was a good one. I don’t remember how many ribs were broken that time. Maybe five?

Last summer was a fluke. Gerry Smyth was over and they stayed up too late and drank too much and Johnny was complaining of a backache or sore shoulder or something so Gerry had him lay down on the kitchen floor and walked on him. Snap. Snap.

Which brings us to March 13th, or possibly the wee hours of the 14th, which was the day of our St. Patrick’s party and also, coincidentally enough, Johnny’s birthday.

One Friend was there. She’d come up a day early to help with preparations for the party and arrived smack dab in the middle of a screaming-yelling fight. It wasn’t our fault we were fighting, though. It was the kitchen.

See, Johnny was supposed to have washed and varnished the floor on Thursday night, but he didn’t do it. Because the plan was for me to retire early and shut the two cats in the bedroom, while he washed and varnished and retired on the other side – that way the floor would have a full eight or so hours to dry and set before anybody did anything as barbaric as walk all over it. But instead, Johnny and I decided that a better plan would be for us to sit around admiring our kitchen, drinking beer and reminiscing about what it used to look like, until it was far too late -- and the floor was far too wobbly -- to do the job. In Johnny's defense, the beer-soaked trip down memory lane was my idea, and even after five hours of it he still wanted to get to work. But I stopped him. I mean, I can appreciate a Jackson Pollock painting as much as the next girl, but that doesn’t mean I want one enshrined on my kitchen floor.

So on Friday, Johnny made the executive decision to go ahead and second-coat the walls. They’d been left till last because that’s what you do, but in the absence of a finished floor, he decided he would rather have finished walls than finished nothing when the party guests arrived. And besides, he’s been doing this for thirty years – he was pretty sure that, whenever he did get around to doing the floor, he could be trusted not to accidentally smear the walls.

But I needed to get in the kitchen, to make breads and cookies and things for the party, and Johnny’s a perfectionist at what he does. So what started as a slapdash second coat turned into patching lots of little things and filling in edges of outlets – then of course waiting for all that to dry and doing it again. He was busy every second, I don’t mean to suggest he spent the day dicking around, but he was in there for freaking hours. Like five or six, to be precise. While I paced around and muttered, asking him periodically how much freaking longer he thought he might be.
Needless to say, by the time he did get finished, we weren’t exactly happy at each other.

But it was done! Or done enough! And we decided to put aside our bickering long enough to hang the soap dispenser that so innocently kicked off this whole thing. It was hardly a two-man job, but it had been the impetus behind the project and was the perfect finishing, so it seemed only meet that we should put it up together. He got the power drill/screwdriver and I got my girly hand one just in case, and we met back at the kitchen sink to commence yelling.

Because, you see, this soap dispenser is beautiful. It is sturdy, and handsome, and useful, and just all-around good. What it is not, is well-designed for hanging. Because the screw-holes on the bulb for mounting are right behind the bulb that holds the soap. And if you get a sudden revelation that you can, in fact, spin the bulb counter-clockwise to get at the screw holes, you’ll still have to use the manual screwdriver to make it work, and there will just happen to be a big knot in the wood where you’re trying to push through, so you’ll get blisters on your palms, and all but strip the screw getting it in, and you won’t realize until after that the bulb does not, in fact, re-tighten if you turn it clockwise. Plus you accidentally hung it upside-down, anyway. So you have to take it off again and find another screw that fits, and then stand there shouting at each other for a little while — and that’s when One Friend arrives and takes One Dog and goes quietly into One Bedroom and shuts the door.

Thankfully, One Friend’s presence defuses the situation. Johnny and I agree to put the dispenser away for now, and we also agree it would be a good idea for him to take his birthday money from My Lady to the pub for a little while. Let me and Dr. One Friend have the kitchen to ourselves at last, now that he had finished all that work. So he did. And we commenced to cooking.

We made three loaves of Irish soda bread, three loaves of the other kind of Irish bread (the sweet kind with raisins in it, but no caraway seeds, because Johnny’s allergic and I don’t want to kill him – not on his birthday, at least), a couple dozen shortbready-type cookies, and boiled and peeled eighteen eggs for deviling in the morning. It was like 9:00 before we finally got around to making dinner. And you might think we’d’ve just crammed a couple boiled eggs in our mouths at that point and gone to sleep, but no.

We’d decided what we were having for that meal on Monday night, and we didn’t care how tired we were, or how long it would take to make it, we were having our Medium Friday evening meal, god dammit! (Medium Friday = every Friday in Lent except the Good one. Der.) Fish cakes and salad and asparagus, yummy! Who cared if the only reason we planned it that way in the first place was to satisfy Johnny and his marginally-Catholic tastes, and who cared if he wasn’t even now here to enjoy it? One Friend and I been looking forward to those fish cakes and salad all freaking week.

So we made them, and Johnny came home while we were eating them, and I slapped two fish cakes and a bit of salad on a plate and put it down on the coffee table in front of him. He wolfed down the two fish cakes and fell asleep. When he woke up in the night and ate the salad, he spilled a little of it on the floor. And when he woke up a bit later to have a pee, he slipped on a piece of lettuce, fell backwards onto the wooden arm of the futon, and broke a couple ribs.

Four, to be exact. Although we wouldn’t know that for certain until the following Saturday, when his brother died and we called the doctor to ask if it would be okay for him to fly. It was.

But just now, I took a break from writing this to make sure his flight home had gotten off the ground okay, and I discovered that it hadn't. It's been canceled. And this was the one time his friend couldn't take him to the airport, so he had to take a bus. He's out of money, and he left his Irish cell phone at the house.

How many broken ribs do you think he’ll have by the time he makes it home?

If, in fact, he ever makes it home...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I'm So Sorry

I have to put this story on hold for a few days.

Johnny just got a call telling him his oldest brother died. He was a magic man, Alan was. Served in the merchant marine, supporting the family for years after their father passed away, and later had the most beautiful home and family of his own in Chester, England (they fed the slugs in the back garden so the hedgehogs would have a reason to stick around). He lived longer than could ever possibly have been expected to, with a particularly nasty degenerative disease, and right now he's probably up there somewhere beating the bollocks out of his Da for leaving Josie all alone to raise the children like he did.

Johnny's heading over there tomorrow (Sunday, the 22nd), and I'll pick up bitching about him here again whenever it feels right.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Test of Our Progress

(continued from yesterday…)

Johnny did not, in fact, take his birthday money to the pub on Thursday night.

The plan for Thursday night was to at long last do that kitchen floor. We did, after all, have eighteen people coming for corned beef on Saturday. It didn't make sense to get this close to finished-finished and not cross the line before the guests arrived. Johnny said the job would take a couple hours; his plan was to shut me in the bedroom with the cats at 9:00 p.m. or so and finish it up by eleven, so as to give it the entire night to dry. He didn’t want to go to the pub early, therefore, because he prides himself on his work (especially in his own home) and – although I know some of you will find this shocking – he doesn’t always come home from the pub in a condition conducive to meticulosity.

I was on board with the no-pub plan, but I didn’t think the bedtime thing was necessary. I have a bathroom and a tv in my bedroom; with a bag or two of Baked Ruffles and a few liters of Diet Coke, I could happily hole up in there for days. And if I should suddenly remember I’m supposed to be accomplishing something with my life instead of shortening it with chemicals and wasting it on the social and siliconic intricacies of Bret Michael’s Rock of Love, then I can get to my office without passing through the kitchen by going out through the AssVac's posterior and back in through the front. But Johnny insisted the bedtime thing was the best plan, and I do always (as I’ve said before) acquiesce to him in matters regarding the trade he’s been practicing for thirty years.

(Oh. I might have written in this space last week that he’d been practicing his trade for forty years – I may even have accidentally put those words in his own mouth – but it’s not true. If it was forty years then he would’ve had to been at it when he was nine, which is obviously absurd. When he was nine, der, he was in school. Between that and delivering milk before, coal after, and meat for the butcher shop on weekends -- when would he have ever found the time to paint?)*

So I deferred to his judgment on the waiting-for-bedtime thing, and we decided to wait for bedtime together. Sitting across the kitchen table from one another. Admiring our (for which read: mostly his) handiwork around the room. Trying to remember what it once looked like. And, um, well, quite honestly, drinking a lot of beer.

Needless to say, by bedtime Johnny was in no condition for meticulosity. Nor was I, for that matter, as documented by the inedible squash casserole it took me hours to produce. So we decided we were just fine with our eighteen guests on Saturday seeing the floor as it was. Hell, last year when they came the room was half-and-half, and the year before that we cooked in crockpots in the living room and washed dishes in the tub. That damn floor will just be the final step of kitchen progress for all to ooh-and-ah over next year! Yay! I'm really drunk! Let’s go to bed!

But first, let’s have some ramen noodles. Because I'm also really starving, and there ain't enough beer in the world to make that squash casserole taste good.

*This is me, hedging against future corrections: I may have those details slightly wrong. It may have been butcher after school and coal on weekends, or whatever. And the “nine years old” thing might just be a convenient writerly construct. He might have been eleven at the time, or eight. I don't remember, and I can’t run it past him right now because he’s all hopped up on Vicodin. Why? Well, I guess you’ll just have to wait and see...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mischief Springs From a Paper Currency

(con’t from yesterday…)

Johnny doesn’t ever open a present in advance.

Me, if you mail me my Christmas present in November, it is open (and probably broken) well before December 1st. If you hand-deliver a gift at my 4th of July party because it’s the last time you’ll see me before my birthday (triple Leo, in case anyone out there is keeping score), I will thank you kindly and put it politely aside – until you leave. If My Lady gives me a gift or card at work for me to open over the weekend, I open it while I’m walking to the train. But I do wait till I’m off her block. I’m not a philistine.

But Johnny doesn’t. In fact, not only does Johnny restrain himself from opening things early – he opens them late. Sometimes he needs to be reminded to open them at all.

This is minorly annoying. It’s Christmas, we’re all opening gifts, my four-year-old niece (a.k.a. Football Buddy) is playing Santa Claus, she hands him a package, he thanks her kindly, puts it on his lap, and looks around to see who gets the next one. Even later, when we’re home all alone and exchanging our own personal presents he’s always all: “No. Not me. Not yet. Here. You go again.”

No no not like that! Jeebers! You people are philistines! (But I bet you all were really jealous for a second, weren’t you?)

I don’t know why he does it. Sometimes I think being the center of attention embarrasses him – but then I remember who he is and think maybe he just likes the tension his refusal causes in the room. Sometimes I think it’s because when he grew up (in a crisp bag in the middle of a lake, remember) he never got any presents aside from socks and underwear and a single comic-book annual on St. Stephen’s Day (cue violins, please). Mostly, though, I think he just doesn’t like being told what to do.

But this time? This one time? I brought his card home from My Lady and handed it to him on a Thursday afternoon when his birthday wasn’t actually till Saturday, and he opened it.

He did ask first.

“Can I open it?” he said. “Did she say to wait till Saturday?”

Well, no, actually, she didn’t. She didn’t say anything, because she wasn’t there. She just left the card on the counter with a note asking me to deliver it and wish you a Happy Day on her behalf. But I chose not to voice any of this. So thrilled was I that he was actually entertaining the possibility of breaking his own rule, that all I said to him in reply was:


And (again, in his Miss-Manners defense) he caught but ignored Andrew Jackson as he fluttered out but of the penguin-adorned card, trying instead to read what My Lady had written. But he couldn’t suss it out. Johnny has glasses he can never find, plus he’s dyslexic, plus My Lady (much as I love her) has handwriting that leaves much to be desired. So, after a bit of puzzling, he came to me.

To very dear Johnny,” I read aloud. “Have a fabulous birthday and many more. The enclosed is for a pizza or a steak. Lots and lots of love, [My Lady].”

“Oh,” he said. “That’s nice.”

he took the card back from me and looked at it for a moment. Then:


“What?” I said, a little startled.

“Fifty bucks!” He did a little jig (I shit you not: he did a little jig). “I got fifty bucks to spend how I want!”

He reminded me of myself when I was little. When some relative would tuck a fiver in a birthday card and I'd be overwhelmed with visions of candy or — well, there really was no “or.” Pretty much all I imagined then was candy.

“What will you do with it?” I asked.

And he said...

“Scratch ticket and a pint!”

Aha. The (almost) 49-year-old Irishman’s version of candy. Mind you, actual candy is still a powerful lure for this (almost) 49-year-old Irishman. But for that he’d have to wait until the morrow.

And so will you.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

My Lady's Admirable Gifts

I rather pride myself on my gift-giving acumen.*

I don’t have a drawer full of candles and neckties for “emergencies.” I don’t buy little plastic cards (except on very rare occasions -- which is not to say I don't enjoy receiving them, thanks, Mom!). I don’t ask people what they want, and I positively bristle when some (like, oh, say, my husband) are bold enough to offer up unsolicited solicitations anyway.

What I do do (heh heh, I said doodoo) is ponder for weeks and weeks over what would be the perfect whatsit, pound pavement both real and cybernetic to find it once I know, then pay anywhere from nothing to $170 when I finally dig it up. (That 170 is not so much a rule as it is the decade-long standing score to beat). Needless to say – and I’ve taken some flak for this – I don’t buy wedding presents off of registries. If I don't know you well enough to choose my own gift, I figure, then you shouldn't have invited me to your wedding, anyway.

I believe that if I feel strongly enough about someone to want to give them a token of my affection (and here I am of course exempting little things like hostess gifts and Marine One Helicopter models), then that token ought to reflect said affection in some personal way -- be it the Christmas wreath that cost me next to nothing but took a month of Sunday afternoons to pin together, or the antique photograph of a favorite and recently-expired rockman (that rockman photo, incidentally, is the 170-record-holder – which I feel perfectly comfortable revealing because its recipient has never read this blog).

But for Johnny’s birthday this past weekend, I went blank.

And not just blank, either. Blankity-blank. Super, snake-eyes, hollow-shell, is-this-fish-or-chicken-that-I'm-eating kind of blank. Not only did I have no idea what to get for him, I had no suggestions ready when other people asked. (As a rule I deflect these sorts of questions regarding myself (see above), but when my friends or Ladies are feeling giftishly towards Johnny and look to me for help, well, I don't think Miss Manners would object that I oblige.) Usually I hint at something small: a record album or a fakebook that he’s mentioned; some weird candy I heard about I think he'd like; maybe the latest Tolkein or Rowling film on DVD. This year, though? All I came up with were crickets. And not brass or chocolate-coated crickets, either. Just imaginary live ones, chirping their little hearts and legs out in the space between my ears.

So My Lady gave him fifty bucks.

I thought he’d be embarrassed, or disappointed. I mean, it's not like we sit around all year thinking “I wonder what My Lady will give us next!” or anything, but she has, in the past, humbled us with her generosity. One year she gave Johnny her late husband’s antique fountain pen (which Late Husband never used; so nor has Johnny). More than once a dry-iced shipment has arrived from Omaha. And last year, because Johnny lingered for a moment admiring a pen-and-ink sketch while he hung it for her in her living room, she bought him a different original by the same man.

(That last link is a joke. I couldn't find the real guy on the internet anywhere, largely because the sketch is signed "LS," and we can't find the documentation that came with it that would tell us his full name. Or, rather, I can't find the documentation. Johnny can't even look for it, because -- well, you'll see...)

Mostly, mind you, Johnny is just touched for My Lady to remember his birthday every year, but it also means something to both of us that she knows him so well. That she takes notes and remembers things, even though they only see each other once or twice a year. This was the first time she’d asked for my assistance, though, and I had failed. I'd no ideas to give her, and so poor Johnny was stuck with the cold and impersonal gift of cash.

Turns out, though? This year? Cash was exactly what poor Johnny wanted. Turns out My Lady just might know my husband better than I do after all. Hm. Maybe there's something to this only seeing each other one or two times a year.

Just because she gave him the fifty bucks, however, doesn't make it her fault that the way he chose to spend it is what got him laid up on my Auntie Carolyn’s old La-Z-Boy recliner in the AssVac's living room, hopped up on hydrocodone for, oh, it's looking like it's gonna be at least another week...

*(Yes, this is the beginning of the story I alluded to in my post yesterday. I'm sorry it doesn't reveal much yet. It's going to go on for days, believe you me. Oh and also, no: if any of you who have received actual, physical gifts from me would like to beg to differ with my Thesis Statement, I don't want to hear it. I'm sensitive, goddamnit. You can start your own jive-ass blog and bitch about my poor taste in resin-elephant decor on there!)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Wretcheder One Is...

I’m calling off the Johnny-smoking contest, and here’s why:

Well, the short answer is that he did start smoking again, almost immediately, but I didn’t know it when he did and by the time I found out he didn’t remember anymore exactly when it was he'd taken that first drag.

The medium answer is that almost as soon as I announced the contest I felt bad. I’ve been neglecting this – my little corner of the international series of tubes – for months now, and I popped back in on Ash Wednesday to make some Snidely Whiplash bet over a pact between my husband and his God regarding an addiction that he (the husband, not the god) has had for thirty-some-odd years? Nice. Besides, he wasn’t smoking much: only one or two cigarettes a day, even at the pub – if you choose to believe that, which I do. Because I’ll tell you what: my husband and I may not be the brightest bulbs on any tree, we may occasionally (okay, regularly) do some seriously asshole shit together and apart, and we may each have our own share of (self- or otherwise) destructive vices – but both of us always fess up when faced with our failures, and we neither of us ever, ever lie. (Unless we absolutely have to. Like to save a life or something.) So the end of the medium story is I believe that he was trying – not to mention denying himself the other dozen or two daily cigarettes to which his scorched lungs have grown accustomed through the years. Plus (and this is no small thing) he wasn’t smoking in the house at all.

But you know me, right? You know that there’s a longer story coming? One that’s going to go around a few bends, up and down a few hills, and probably get lost at least a once or twice along the way? One that has embarrassing things in there, things about what a horrible person I am, what a drunken Irish dolt Johnny can be, and maybe – just maybe – something stupid regarding the house?

Yeah. Good. Okay. So long as we understand each other.

Unfortunately, I accidentally touched some Lidocaine and my fingers are rapidly going numb, so I can’t begin to tell the story now. You’ll have to tune in tomorrow – and the next day, and the next – though I will say, so you don't have to lose any sleep or anything: you’ll understand about the Lidocaine in the end.

Oh, and be sure to pee before you head on back, because it’s going to be a long and bumpy ride. So bumpy, in fact, that I guarantee there will be at least two broken bones before it’s over.

Maybe three.

(Plus one newly and at least temporarily smoke-free Leprechaun...)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

You Can't Do That in Boston!

I just woke up Johnny from a sound-sound sleep. It's his birthday on Saturday, and my sister wanted to know if he has a favorite kind of cake. After all these years, I didn't know, but I thought if I woke him from the dead to inquire, he wouldn't remember being asked.

And I was right.

"Johnny, do you have a favorite kind of cake?" I asked.

"Yes," he said, and rolled back over.

"No, no, honey. Sorry. What I meant to say was: What is your favorite kind of cake?"

"Strawberry shortcake," he mumbled. "Why?" But I ignored the question.

Five minutes later he was up, on his way to the bathroom in his jockey shorts and -- having forgotten already -- wanting to know why I woke him up.

"I just thought it was time," I said. "You have a lot to do today!" Which, conveniently, is true.

"Huh," he said, scratching his head with a sleep-floppy fist.

"I was having a shit in the middle of Boston Common!"

I'm going to go ahead and assume he meant in a dream.

Oh, and he's not getting his strawberry shortcake, either. Because my Football Buddy's making it for him with her mom, and she needs FROSTING. Maybe, if he's very good -- and if he turns out to remember being asked -- I'll make it next week...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

But Where Would You Get Your Coat?

I want to tell you a little story about my kitchen floor.

When we bought this alleged “house” in 2004 (4? 5? Oh christ I just realized I can’t remember anymore. Hang on, let me check my mortgage. I happen to have it handy because I pulled it out to see if it was secured by Fannie or Freddie, see if maybe a sister could catch a break from the brother for whom she so enthusiastically voted on November 4th. Turns out it ain’t, though, so I can’t. Or maybe it is and I can. Fact is, I can’t tell. Which just goes to show that after all these years I still have a zero-sum understanding of any of this shit. But it’s dated 2004. So at least I know that “all these years” equals five. And just looking at those documents has given me a dose of galloping first-time homebuyer anxiety all over again).

Anyway, when we bought this so-called “house” in 2004, the kitchen was a sight. In fact, the only thing preventing the kitchen from being the hands-down worst of all the insurance liabilities we laughingly called “rooms,” was the (actual, literal, physical, see-through-save-for-the-stick-that-poked-it) hole in the roof of the master bedroom that had been leaking for, oh, I’d say at least fifteen years. But if you shut that room off (which we did, believe me – you puked if you so much as smelled it), then the kitchen was the pessimal space by far.

[“Pessimal.” You like that? Means “maximally bad,” or “environment least conducive to survival.” Like the opposite of optimal. I may have used it slightly wrong, because I’ve never heard it before in my life, but I got it by plugging “worst” into the Visual Thesaurus. Never heard of the Visual Thesaurus? Oh my god – go play there now! Or wait till you’re done being enlightened by my wit, and then go there. Very, very, very cool.]

Aside from all the tetanus and termite damage the kitchen sported then, aside from a sink that had been leaking so long as to rust out the metal cabinet underneath it, and aside from the antique, amateur, and overwhelmingly threadbare electricals – aside from all of those minor and largely cosmetic concerns – there was the question of the floor: Three-inch linoleum-y tiles (I say linoleum-y because I don’t know what they were made of, exactly. In all honesty, they were probably asbestos. But since we pulled them up and threw them out with the trash, we’re going to go ahead and say “linoleum-y,” then stick our fingers in our ears and sing the la la song. La la…) three-inch linoleum-y tiles in various grease-stained shades of black, blue, green, yellow, red and gray. Really, truly, hideola – oh, heck, here:

See? And yet everyone who walked into my house said “ooh” and “ah” and “those are vintage ‘50s!” and “you’re not going to pull that floor up, are you?”

Well, yes, Everyone. Yes, we indeedy were. We had no idea what horrors lay beneath it, but one of very few things Johnny and I managed to agree on about the house at that point was the idea that the days of the kitchen’s harlequin-ass floor were numbered. As it happened, of course, the char-rot in the master bedroom took lung-infecting precedent over the rising of my slender but still purely aesthetically-induced gorge, so those floor-days turned out to be numbered somewhere upwards of a thousand. Or seven hundred. I don’t know. Who can remember these sorts of details anymore?

Still, though, it was supposed to have been even longer. Because when the stove exploded and forced us to begin the kitchen work ahead of schedule, we had no intention at that point of laying a finger on the floor. We planned to deal with the immediate and functional bits – the smoldering stove, the festering faucet, the egregious electrics – and leave the floor for another time when we could do it right. After all, we were pretty sure there’d be comprehensive pulling-up required and, if that did turn out to be the case, then we were pretty sure we’d want wide pine to match the brand-newly redone MBR – and we were stunningly certain we could not afford to do that then.

But I was out of town when the demolition stage commenced, and I came home to discover that our friend George – who’d come over to help – had gotten a wild hair, pulled up all the tiles, and scrubbed off all the tarpaper that held them down (or whatever it is tarpaper under floor tiles is meant to do). What lay beneath them, he discovered, was an original and originally-painted hardwood floor. Not just any hardwood, either. Fir. And ¾” thick. Painted a barn-ish red, which had worn off beautifully over the years.

Well, didn’t I fall instantly in love.

I knew it would need something – maybe a light sand, maybe a coat of varnish, certainly a Silkwood-style disinfectant scrub – but I wanted to keep it. Whatever we did with the rest of the kitchen, I wanted to do it around that painted floor. But people told me no. My dad wrinkled up his nose at the mere suggestion. My mom and friend Marie were disappointed that the crap tiles were gone. And although I honestly can’t remember what Johnny’s reaction was, I’m certain I’d remember if it was an enthusiastic yes. I do recall, however, that he relayed my desire to every single skilled-trade friend of his that traipsed through our house – carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, even auto mechanics – and to a man (and one woman) they all said “Your wife’s nuts.”

So I gave up. Who am I to argue with fifty million Frenchmen, after all?

A few more years went by, over which the wooden floor remained exposed out of necessity (for which read: poverty), and the plan for it coalesced into something like this: live with it as it is until we can afford to rip it out and put in wide pine like we said; but if necessity should intervene and we have to sell before that, then we’ll slap down some cheapy-ass linoleum to hide the mess. Ugh. I didn’t like it, but I’d gotten to the point I didn’t care. There actually is a very good chance we’ll have to sell this house – if we even can – before we finish it, so what sort of shit do I give about the details anymore?

That’s part of the reason, to be quite frank about it, that we finally got around to finishing the kitchen this year. Yes, we got tired of living with it all acey-deucy, and yes, we got a very nice soap dispenser for Christmas 2007 that clashed hideously with unpainted plasterboard, and even yes, we might have just up and decided to accomplish something around here for the first time in a while. But the real impetus came from the notion that if we have to up and sell, prospective buyers might overlook the faux-wood-panelled dining room, they might forgive the poop-colored lino in the bedrooms, and – if we knock $10,000 or so off the asking price – they just might be willing to take ownership of the leaky roof… But no one’s going to overlook a half-assed kitchen, not in this or any other realty world.

Well, except for us, of course. Once upon an economic meltdown ago. In (apparently) 2004.

So we (by which I mean mostly Johnny) kicked it into gear. We called in a few more favors, spent $200 in Home Depot gift cards and going on $500 of our own nonexistent cash (that’s just this latest round; I don’t remember anymore what we spent last year, or in 2006), and got it done. And magically – as work progressed and we drew nearer to the looming Linoleum D-day – Johnny gradually began to change his mind about the floor.

Maybe it was the endless days he spent in there by himself, or maybe it was the first coat of yellow on the walls, but he came to me one day with the idea that we might not cover up that fir or rip it out. What if, he said, he painted it green and give it a faux-finish? Marbleized, perhaps, or something granite. It would still look like wood, of course (‘cause of, you know, the boards) but said he’d done this sort of thing before and it worked out. Quite honestly, I didn’t love the idea – not of the faux-finishing or of the green – but I learned a long time ago not to question his judgment when it comes to his trade. Even if I might at first wrinkle up my nose at his suggestion, it always comes out lovely in the end. And besides, at least this way I’d get to keep my wooden floor.

Then last week, I was sick. Spent three whole days in bed with a flucold from hell. And on one of those days (I couldn’t tell you which), one of Johnny’s tradey friends stopped by. A carpenter. A temperamental carpenter who tends to pick fights like a girl, after which he stops speaking to Johnny for months or years on end, and then shows up on the doorstep one day like nothing happened. I love him. We are kindred, he and I. Plus he makes a really yummy seven-layer dip.

Anyway, on this day when I was sick-a-bed, Temperamental Carpenter showed up and Johnny told him of his plan to faux-finish the kitchen floor. T.C. and he had been on the outs the last time it was discussed, so although he’d seen the floor a bunch of times, this was the first occasion on which he’d been asked his opinion. He looked at it and said he liked the color that was there just fine, it was very traditional, and if it were his house he would just paint it that color again. I held my breath and listened to my heartbeat until I heard Johnny say “Yeah, you’re right. That’s what I’ll do.” And then I did a tiny little in-my-sickbed dance (which, to an outsider, might have looked like me just rolling over and blowing my nose, but it was celebratory, nonetheless).

We were getting closer! Not ripping it out, not covering it, and not faux-finishing or painting it green! Oh my god, I appear to be winning some sort of years-long home-d├ęcor debate, and I haven’t even said or done a single thing. (Note to self – nah, never mind. I’d never be able to pull this tactic off on purpose.)

So the plan for this past weekend was that I would stain and varnish woodwork, while Johnny’d give the floor a light sand and paint it red. It turned out Benjamin Moore has discontinued the only floor paint Johnny likes, but the hardware store had one more gallon left they were just about to return – and it happened to be in our very color! This was kismet. This was fate. This was fifty more non-refundable dollars happily spent. And then, when Johnny was on his hands and knees scraping the last bits of tarpaper off the last few corner-places on the kitchen floor, he looked up at me and said:

“Do you think we should just clean it up?”

I said “What do you mean?” and he said:

“Do you think we should just clean it up?”

Now, Johnny and I often come dangerously close to actual blows over this sort of thing. He seems to think “what do you mean?” is just a long way of saying “what?” and so rather than explain, he repeats himself. I eventually start positing possible explanations (“Do you mean should we get professional sanders in here to take the paint off and just varnish it like a regular hardwood floor?”) and he eventually gets mad that I don’t understand (“No! I mean just clean it!?”). Then I get mad (“Yeah, Johnny, let’s just mop it and leave it. That’s a fucking great idea”), he gets self-righteous (“Jesus Christ, Erin, I’ve been doing this for forty years. You’d think I might know what the fuck I’m talking about.”), and I get indignant (“I know you know what you’re talking about, but I don’t know what you’re talking about, because you won’t tell me what you’re talking about!”). These sorts of altercations can end any number of ways. The last time, I was washing dishes and I flung a bowl of water at him from across the room. Not the bowl, mind you, just the water that was in it. So he flung pickled beets at me off a plate. Made for a hell of a gory-looking mess to clean up afterwards, I’ll tell you what, but it effectively (and not a little ridiculously) ended the argument right there. This time, though, it ended with Johnny saying “Here, I’ll show you,” and getting back down on his knees.

He grabbed a green scouring pad – like the kind you use for washing pots – liberally soaked it in denatured alcohol, and took it to the floor. Scrubbed back and forth with the grain like Little Orphan Annie putting her whole heart into her hard-knock life, until all of a sudden all the hundred-year-old red paint was in play again. He did this to an area of about two by three feet, then dropped the scrubby and wiped the whole thing with a rag. When he was done, the parts that had paint on them to begin with still had paint, but it was clean enough that it looked almost new – and the parts that were bare before had picked up enough pigment as to look almost stained. Well, here, I’ll show you:



Technically, those aren’t the same area of floor. And maybe it would have been a good idea to give the “after” area a sweep before I shot it. But you see.

He did that 2x3’ bit, sat back on his haunches looking up at me, and said “Like that. What do you think? The whole floor like that and a coat of varnish and we’ll leave it? It would be a shame to touch this beat-up floor, after all. I’ve been in houses where people have paid me good money to fake this sort of thing.” So I cried and kissed him and – after three years of silent capitulation – seem to have won. (Shush, don’t go telling anybody, least of all my dearheart husband. I did allow myself one little “That’s exactly what I’ve wanted all along!” but when he said “Me too!” I kept my mouth shut. He did not. But he does now, and that’s what matters.)

Of course, immediately upon finishing that six-square-foot bit, he came down with my flucold and went to bed. Which means the family may well come for Patrick’s Day next weekend and see only that little sample instead of the completely-finished room we were hoping to show off. We also have a gallon of floor paint we paid $50 for and can’t return. But compared to the $300,000+ we’ve spent on the AssVac so far, what’s another wasted $50, after all? Besides, Johnny says we’ll find some use for it somewhere and I’m sure he’s right. If nothing else, we can always fling it at one another – instead of wasting food – the next time we’re feeling shouty.

In the meantime, I don’t care about the lino in my office anymore. I don’t care about the wood-panel or the leaky roof. For now, I’m just reveling in the smell of Minwax on the almost-finished kitchen trim, and celebrating the fact that I get to keep my antique and naturally-distressed kitchen floor.

At least, that is, till we skip town and mail the keys to Countrywide.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

EGE Is Speechless

[Let me preface by saying that, when we're talking about EGE, "speechless" is about as relative a term as there can be.]

I went away this weekend. I came home to this...

Oh my god I have the vapors please somebody catch me...