It's not about the house.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Say You're Spinach

Not that I haven't ballsed up the rhythm scheme in half the lines already anyway, but for the duration of this poem, I have decided to pronounce years as "two thousand" with no "and." So, for example, 2009 = two-thousand-nine. Got it? All righty!

2009 – Oh man, what can I say?
I can’t wait for your stank ass to just go away.
You came and you told me I’d end the year happy;
But instead, bitch, I’m ending it totally crappy!
My father has cancer, my mother is gone,
My husband has polypses in his colon.
(Okay, so that last part’s not totally true
But I can’t rhyme “diverticulitis” – can you?),
My one Lady’s still crazy, the other’s off to a home
(And she also has cancer; pardon me while I moan...)

You could stop there, but no: you took Johnny’s One Brother,
And no one will tell us what’s ailing the Other,
Two friends back home hung themselves due to recession,
And One Friend’s developed a chronic condition —
Even poor little One Dog is in Doggie Heaven —
Good lord, I can’t wait for 2011!

(I know this year coming is 2010
But I’m thinking of hibernating until then.)

If it weren’t for my mom, then this last would be least,
But I do wish that she could have seen me released:
The Project you said would be finished by June.
Is just barely done now —
                         But we’re sending it soon...

Looking back on these twelve months, I guess it’s just fine
That we didn’t send it in 2009.
I will cryptically post here the day that it goes,
I’ll say something like “Hey! Cross your fingers and toes!”
So everyone out there can wish me good luck
'Cause if this year's like last year, I’m royally fucked.

Not yet! Not yet! Don’t wish it yet! You’ll jinx me! Just say...


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Tramp's Story, Part XV: The Final Insult

Oh, Christ, I don’t even know if I remember anymore...


Now, where was I? Oh, yeah: Continued from here. And even if you think you mostly remember where we were, may I suggest you go back and re-read the last few paragraphs? Because I had to, so I think it’s only fair…

My cell phone rang while I was on my way home from work that Monday afternoon. Ms. Notary, telling me she wasn’t going to be there until 5:00 after all.

“Oh," she offhandedly added, "and your husband has to be there, too.”

What!? But he’s actually at work for the first time in a year! You couldn’t have told me this yesterday?

But what I said was:

“His name’s not even on the mortgage!”

“Yes,” she said. “But it is on the deed, and so he has to be there.”

I repeat: you couldn’t have mentioned this yesterday?

But what I said was:

“Um, okay. I’ll call him. He’s at work, though? Down in Brockton? And he doesn’t drive. So he’s kind of at the mercy of the fella with the car. He can’t exactly, you know, demand to leave right now. I’ll call him, but if he’s not there before you we’ll have to wait.”

I was goddamned if I was going to reschedule the End of this Ordeal for something that wouldn’t have been a problem if she’d told me, so I didn’t even throw the idea out there. And sure enough, when I called Johnny he was already at home. I called the notary back to tell her, just to set her mind at ease, but she didn’t answer. While I was leaving a voice mail, my call waiting beeped. I’ve never been able to figure out call-waiting on the cell phone, so I hung up on her voice mail and waited for my phone to ring.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hello,” said the notary. “Somebody just called me from this number?”

Yes! I did! It’s me, you idiot! The person you just spoke to! The last number you dialed! Unless you called somebody else while I was calling Johnny, and you’ve never been able to figure out your call waiting either!

But what I said was: “Johnny’s going to be there, after all.” She didn’t care. She didn’t seem to understand why I thought it politic to call. And she sure as shit didn't tell me we’d need copies of his IDs as well. Didn’t mention that little nugget till she walked into the house.

“Oh!" I said. "I didn’t know that! Let me run up to Staples! It’s just two miles up the road! It will only take ten minutes! Swear to god!”

She hesitated, looked around, decided she didn’t feel like waiting.

“How about if he goes,” she said, pointing at Johnny and talking about him like he was a chair, “and we’ll start without him.”

Okay: A. I told you "he" doesn’t drive. If "he" goes it will take three hours. B. Even if he did, you would save no time starting without him, because you’d only have to go back through all the papers twice. C. Don’t you give me that look, Lady, just because I don’t have documentation ready that you didn’t tell me I would need!

But what I said was:

“He doesn’t drive.”

“He doesn’t have a driver’s license!?”

For Christ’s sake, lady, you’re a notary! Do you not realize there are other forms of ID in this world?

But what I said was:

“Yes, he has one, but he doesn’t drive.”

This blew her mind, and she muttered for a while about how she couldn’t imagine. I let her do this for a while, till she finally trailed off. She still didn’t want to wait for me to go, though (never mind that if I’d gone when this first started I would have been halfway back by now). She decided we would pass papers and then, when we were done, she’d follow me to Staples for copies of "his" license and green card.

“If I’d known there was a Staples so close,” she said, “I would’ve gone to that one instead of the one I got hung up at in Rhode Island, and then I wouldn’t have been late!”

Yes, well, except you weren't late. You were on time. But you wanted to be early. And if you had been early, Johnny would not have been here when you got here. See?

But what I said was:

Nothing. I can be wise when it suits me.

As we passed the papers there was a little to-do about the way Johnny makes his nines. She said they looked like sevens and it wouldn't do. She actually drew one for him and made him practice copying it a few times like a kindergartener. This was not at all humiliating for someone who’s been living with dyslexia for fifty years, but fortunately his accent’s thick enough and his dialect colorful enough that he can say insulting things to people’s faces with a smile and sound charming.

“Make a yob of me again, Colleen, and you’d be wise to watch yer loaf, ye dozy cunt!”

Wink. Smile.

Nervous laughter. She’s not sure if she caught that last word correctly. “What?”

“Ah, nothin’, love. Yer grand.”

Wink. Smile.

And she blushes like a schoolgirl.

So it took forever, but finally we were done. At which point the dozy cunt decided she didn’t want to follow me to Staples after all.

“It’s dark,” she said, “and I don’t know where I’m going. What if I lose you?”

It’s two miles up the road! You’ll know you got there when you see the big red building that says STAPLES on it! Argh!

But what I said was:

Well, nothing. This time I was pretty well struck dumb. It must be catching.

She told me I could make the copies by myself and fax them. Not to her, but to the bank. She wouldn’t be mailing the package until morning, anyway, so they wouldn’t have the papers for two days. As long as I got it to them first, we’d be all set.

You understand what I’m telling you, right? That even though we’d passed papers, we still weren’t done?

I called the bank before I walked into Staples the next day, just to make sure they were expecting my fax – that it wasn’t going to flutter off some forgotten machine somewhere and get doodled on. They said oh, yes, they were expecting me, but I should send it to this other fax number instead. Straight down to New Millennium Title Group, in Texas. They’d only have to fax it down there anyway, and this way it would save a generation.

“Okay. But could I have a phone number for them as well, and a name, so I can call first and make sure they're expecting me?”

While they were looking for it (and don’t ask me why that took so long) my phone battery died.

I faxed it anyway.

And when I got home, I looked up New Millennium Title Group on the internet, found a contact name in my stack of papers, and I called. Yes, they had received the fax. Yes, they were expecting it. Yes, I was all set.

“All set?”

“All set.”

“So, like, we’re done?”

“Well, you do have a three-day grace period to change your mind, so it won’t be official-official until that time’s up on Friday.”

Hold the phone. I can still change my mind? Just call 'em up and say "Psyche!" and forget the whole fifteen-part series ever happened? Hm...


I held my breath for seventy-two hours, waiting for a hurricane to hit Texas or a FedEx plane to get hijacked or for Bank of America to fail like all the rest, but nothing happened. Friday quietly came and went, and it was done.


Fixed for thirty years.

No penalty for early payment when my book sells for a million dollars and Judd Apatow turns it into a blockbuster movie starring January Jones.




A few weeks later they sent me a check I still don’t understand for around $250. A few weeks after that, I got the principal back on the extra payment that I’d made: $638. A few weeks after that, something about the escrow: $5.75. Somewhere in there I got my new bill and paid it. It is done.

Oh, and last week the new title came.

Addressed to Mr. John Conroy.



Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Destructo Saves the Universe

Schmortage, blortgage. Maybe, if you’re VERY good, it will be your Christmas present. Or maybe St. Stephens’ day. But first -- is there anyone out there who remembers this post? Okay.


1. Washing Machine.

I can’t say for sure I broke it. I mean, it’s not like I’m in the habit of washing pennies or overloading it or anything. Certainly not every time. But it’s only three years old, I own it, and it broke. Sounds like the work of a certain alter-ego to me. I think it must be some sort of fugue state I go into...

I am definitely responsible, however, for the holes ripped in the wall:

I ripped the shelf out before he got here, because he was charging $70 an hour and I thought he'd have to turn the machine around to get at the back. He didn't. And if you want to know why the stack of stockpots lives in the laundry room, you'll have to ask my husband (who also washes sponges).

The good news is that, whether I’m responsible for my actions as her or not, Destructo is apparently not a nefarious Super-Villian, after all! Know how I know? Because nowhere in all the comic books or tv shows, graphic novels or costume-shop parades that pass for film – in none of that is any mention made of the Superhero charging the Villian $200 to put things back to right.

2. Fat Pants

I don’t want to talk about it. It’s been a rough few months, all right? January's coming, and with it, resolutions. I’ll be thin again by Easter, swear to god. Also, Johnny says he's quitting smoking!

Wanna buy it?

3. New Car

Oh, that’s right, you don’t even know about the New Car. Well, I’ll introduce her and name her and write about her sometime after the new year. In the meantime, know that she is the best car we’ve ever owned (in terms of reliability, that is; if we’re talking about sheer love, I will never get over Grampy Jim’s 1980 Chevy Impala), the Inspection Sticker guy raved and said we’d get another 100,000 miles out of her, easily. I can see the physical relief in Dad’s face when he talks about her. And it took me two weeks to cram an entire napkin in the mechanism of my seatbelt.

(Anyone who points out the correlation between fast-food napkins in the New Car and my Destructed Fat Pants has just ordered themselves a knuckle sandwich. It’s been a rough few months! I told you!)

I hate to think how much that’s going to cost me. In the meantime, I’m driving without a seatbelt. Hey, man, Dad needs something to take his mind off all those daily radiation treatments. Destructo and I, we're just trying to help.


1. Cutting Board

(I don't want to hear a peep about the state of my kitchen floor. 
It's been a rough few months, all right?)

Destructo didn’t! Johnny broke it! He lost his grip, he says. It just hit the floor and snapped in two. Then, two days later...

2. Snowman Mug

He says he was reaching for a spoon out of the thing and crash.


Rampant Destructo-Virus Epidemic Saves Economy!

P.S. Actually, the truth is: the reason I don’t have a picture of the seatbelt-napkin debacle is that I fixed it already. I’m not driving without a seatbelt, Dad, don’t worry. I just thought it worked better for the whole “saving the economy” joke if I pretended it was going to cost me money. But no. I did it by myself. Picked it out with a bamboo skewer. Didn’t charge myself two hundred bucks to do it, either.

P.P.S. And the reason there's no picture of my fat pants is SHUT UP!

P.P.P.S. Villian? I don't know.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Knowledge Comes

Yes, yes, yes. I will finish the schmortgage story. Someday. Soon. I swear to god. Really! I would hardly take you right up to the precipice, pivot, and jeté away now, would I? Well, yeah, I might. Lord knows I’ve done it plenty of times before. But not this time. I mean, look, I’ve already taken the lord’s name in vain twice in fifty words -- I wouldn’t risk that kind of hellfire on an empty promise! I’ll finish the damn schmortgage story. Soon! But first a conglomeration of knowledge I've acquired since the last time I was here…

If you’re forty years old, and your wisdom teeth have been fully “erupted,” as they say, not bothering you one whit for twenty years, but your dentist insists you get all four of them yanked in one hour without sedation anyway – and if they tell you all the gruesome details of the procedure at your consultation but then make you wait two full months in agonizing anticipation of the actual event – it really helps if you can arrange for your mother to die four days before. Takes your mind right off those bloody forceps.

Also? Crying for the technician when the dentist leaves the room will guarantee you extra Novocaine at the slightest whimper. And if the first two extra shots don’t do it, hollering “It HURTS!” gets you a third (it comes out sounding like “Ih HUH!,” but it’ll do). None of that, however, gets you prescription pain meds. Sheesh. What does a screaming baby have to do?

Here’s another interesting tip: If you’re forty years old, and your wisdom teeth have been fully “erupted,” as they say, not bothering you one whit for twenty years, but your dentist insists you get all four of them yanked in one hour without sedation anyway – you don’t get stitches! What you get instead is very specific instructions on what to do so as not to (caution: this is disgusting) suck the clots out! Don’t spit, don’t smoke, don’t use a straw, etc. When he tells you not to spit, you just might laugh. You don’t spit, you might think. What sort of yokel does he take you for? Well, do me a favor. Tonight, when you're going to bed, try getting the toothpaste out of your mouth without spitting. You are allowed to rinse, but then of course you can’t spit that. I’m telling you, that last little rope of drool is a stubborn bugger, and you will eventually give up and grab at it with your hand. (You, however, might not decide to wipe it on your pjs...)

Ooh, speaking of which: If you can arrange for the funeral to be put off until three days after you get your teeth out, even better. Then do yourself a favor and spend a little time reading about dry socket on the internet. You will be so consumed with the fear of developing this painful complication and missing your own mother’s funeral, that you will become Model Post-Operative Procedure Girl. Which really isn’t like you whatsoever. Normally, if they tell you to “keep it clean,” you say “yeah yeah yeah” and go home and clean the basement (or not "clean the basement" necessarily, because that’s not something you would ever do, but the point is you’re just generally none too particular about post-op instructions). This time, though, you are salt-rinsing and not-spitting and cold-compressing and hot-padding it up to beat the band. And gobbling down the last of your husband’s leftover prescription pain meds. On an empty stomach.

The not-eating thing isn’t exactly what they told you. They told you “clear, cool liquids for the first day after surgery, and then reintroduce solid food as tolerated.” But you’re not sure what “the first day after surgery” might mean. You got home at 5:00 p.m. – does it just mean till bedtime? Does it mean 24 hours? Or does it mean until bedtime the next night? You figure better safe than sorry, so you eat nothing for two days. Then you wake up in the middle of the night and swallow leftover mashed potatoes straight out of the refrigerated cottage-cheese container, dropping them from your fingers straight down the back of your throat so you can gack them down without contaminating anything but your tongue.

The next day your husband makes you scrambled eggs and you eat six. He really does make the best scrambled eggs ever. The secret, as always, is loads of butter. But after two days of no food and pain meds and salt-water rinses, all that butter makes you feel a little sick. You’re afraid to puke, because you don’t want to puke the clots out, and you’re afraid to Alka-Seltzer because you don’t know if they might float away in the fizz. So you decide to just roll around and moan.

You also discover a new joy of post-operative procedure, which is that there are actually these gaping holes in all your jaws now, and when you do eat (semi-) solid food, they all fill up. It is dis-gus-ting. You open your mouth and look in the mirror and see these tiny little bowls of scrambled eggs. The sight of it gives you the courage to rinse a bit more vigorously than you have been, but in all that internet-reading you learned another vile tidbit, which is that sometimes blood-clots lose their color after a few days in the mouth. So you develop a nasty habit of examining everything you spit out in the sink. Could that be a blood clot? No, I’m pretty sure that there is scrambled-eggs...

But you do a decent job of taking care of yourself, and by the time the funeral rolls around, you know you’re safe. At which point you are suddenly, overwhelmingly exhausted from all the worrying and the relief. You are really, really glad your mom had no desire to be waked, because for three days you've only brushed your front teeth, and your back-teeth swamp-gas breath could kill a horse.

You take Communion for the first time in twenty-five years at the funeral service, realizing as you blow your horse-killing “Amen” in the Monsignor’s face that it’s the first bite of solid food you’ve had. It sticks to the roof of your mouth just like it always used to, and so, on a quick whim, you take the wine. Never got to do that bit before. You were too young for it when you left the Church. Some other time I’ll write about why it’s okay that you took the sacrament you don’t believe in just this once. For now, though, I have one final warning:

You can say there won’t be a receiving-line all you want, but people need it. And if you don’t give it to them at a wake or at the church, then they will improvise one at the luncheon after. A hundred and forty people. And as you say hello to all those strangers and hug all those old friends and kiss all those cousins that you haven’t seen in years, you will wish you hadn’t done quite such a good job, after all. Because if your face was just a little swollen, they would all at least have had fair warning.

“Poor girl,” they’ll all think (after they've picked themselves up off the floor). “So overwhelmed with grief, she's totally abandoned dental hygiene.”

Friday, December 4, 2009

Shit, Piss and Corruption

It's over.

The last thing I heard my mother say was "Fuck it."

That was last Friday. Today she just went quietly. She sure was a swell broad, wasn't she?

I'll be back here in a week or so. In the meantime, if anybody should feel so inclined -- and I'm not saying you should, but if you do -- we're asking folks to make donations to Reading is Fundamental in lieu of flowers.

Su was her name. Susan Ferguson-Ellia. And I loved her a lot. Still do.

Always will.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Tramp's Story, Part XIV: The End

I mean it! Let’s get this over with, shall we? I should say it is continued from three posts ago, as if you didn't know. And about a dozen before that...

Maria explained the “preliminary HUD document” that she had in hand was a short summary of the terms of the agreement. In other words: my schmeschminance application was approved!

“So... we’re done, then?”


“Well, not exactly.”


“I’d like to go over the numbers here, make sure everything is what you were expecting.”

This sounded positive. Very Helpful and Informative. Not at all like the three-card monty game that SchmounschmtrySchmide put me through the last time. Until she actually started reading numbers off to me, and I realized there was nothing much I “was expecting.” Her numbers sounded like one of my grandmother’s recipes: a dollop of this, a smidgen of that, a soupçon of something else – except with Grammy’s recipes, I actually knew what all those these, thats and something elses were.

I played along gamely for a while, but finally – having run out of variations on “Um... okay?” and “Er... I guess?” – decided to hang up the charade and interrupt.

“Does it say 4.375%?”


“Fixed for thirty years?”


“And my total monthly payment will be $1249?”

“Well, $1250, actually, because—”


I think I genuinely startled her a little. By which I mean to say I heard her gasp. I gave her a minute to collect herself, and then launched my next Well-Informed Inquiry.

“So... we’re done, then?”


“Well, not exactly.”


You see? You see how disciplined I’m being? Because isn’t this story just aching to let off right here and be picked up at this point tomorrow? Or the next day? If you were me, wouldn’t you think one full page of single-spaced 12-point type is more than enough to have got done in one day -- especially in one day when your mom's in the ICU on a ventilator -- even if it is just a lot of one-word paragraphs? And wouldn’t you decide to eat a slice of apple pie for breakfast and go back to sleep? But no. Because I love you, readers, and because you have officially now been tortured with this story for longer than it took me to live through, I will let that pie-slice fortify my wit, and soldier on...

“The next step is to sign the papers. Can I tell the notary when and where would be convenient?”

“You mean – what do you mean ‘when and where’? ”

Poor Maria. By now must have thought I was retarded. How could she not?

“I mean what day and time would you like to meet the notary, and in what location?”

Well, yes. Der. I know what “when” and “where” mean. But what are my choices? Where’s the office? Is there more than one? What are their hours?

“No. They’ll come to you. Anywhere. Anytime.”


“Well, within reason. Evenings are okay but not, you know, midnight.”

“And they’ll come to my house?”


“Well, all right then. Today’s Friday, so let’s say at my house, after I get home from work on Monday.”

I was assuming that they didn't work the weekend. Turns out I was wrong about that, but it's neither where nor when.

“Fine," Maria said. "Can you give me the address?”

I don’t know if this was a test or what, but what I said was:

“The – um – haven’t we just – shouldn’t you already – I mean – well...”

So totally retarded. But Maria understood where I was driving.

“Is this the property in question? 3 Morrell?”

Yes. Exactly. Der.

“And what time do you get home from work on Monday?”

“Well, I’m usually home by 4:00, but let’s say 5:00 just to be absolutely sure.”

“All right then. At your house, at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, October 25th. I’ll call you the next day to see how it went, and we’ll get this thing closed by the end of the month!”


Or would we?

Again. You see? If you were me, wouldn’t you so much rather drop it here and pick it up again tomorrow? Scurry off to somehow miraculously save my mother's life and leave everybody wondering how I could possibly screw the schmeschminance up at this point? But I won’t. I can do it all. Crazy Ladies, sick Moms, this blog and The Project (which is really, really finished, by the way). So I will tell you.


I sat bolt upright in the middle of the night.

Hadn’t Henry told me – weeks ago – that I could have Johnny’s name put on the deed? Wasn't Maria supposed to ask me about that? Or was I supposed to have brought it up to her? Or was it just miraculously done already? And speaking of things that Henry told me all those years and years ago...

“Hello, Maria?” I was leaving her a voice mail in the middle of the night. “I’m wondering if it’s too late to have my husband’s name put on the deed. And also, Henry told me that when we were done the process I would get to skip a payment, but he also told me to keep making my payments as usual till then, so I already paid November – weeks ago. If we close by the end of October, am I screwed?”

I probably shouldn’t have said “screwed.” But Johnny and I had already done the math and realized that one mortgage-free month was almost the equivalent of free heat for the winter – if you count the old, newly-raised mortgage amount. And if we had a very, very mild winter. And we had gotten used to that idea.

But no. We were screwed.

Maria called back to say it was not too late to put his name on the deed, but as far as the skipped payment goes...

“It’s all right,” I said. “It’s not a deal-breaker. Just would have been very nice for us, is all.”

It only occurs to me now that all I had to do was ask her to put off the closing for a week. We’d close in November instead, and I would skip December. But oh well. Plus, in my plentiful life experience, more lag time only means more possible screw-things-up time. So if I don’t get free heat after all, well, it’s not like I was counting on it before this whole thing began.

The notary called me on Sunday night.

“Is it possible,” she said, “for you to meet me at 4:00 instead of 5:00? I’ve got another closing I’ve got to do that night in Brockton.”

I said I would, but that the only reason I’d said 5:00 in the first place was so I wouldn’t have to worry if there was a backup on the train. I told her I’d probably be here at 4:00, but if by any chance I wasn’t then she would have to just sit tight and I would be here soon.

“Great,” she said. “And also: make sure you have a photocopy of two forms of ID. Your driver’s license and one other.”

“A passport, I assume, will be okay?” I asked her.

“Oh,” she said. “You don’t have a driver’s license?”

Well, yes. I do. But you said “your license and one other,” see, so I was clarifying? Because I’m not too terribly keen on giving away copies of my credit cards?

“Oh. Sure. I guess a passport will probably be okay.”

You guess? Probably? You sure you don’t want to look that up or something before we get any further in? Because, I mean, this little blue booklet with the haggy-looking picture (seriously: yeesh) is valid for identification purposes at any government-sanctioned occasion in any country in the world, but I would understand if a Notary Public must insist on a copy of my Mastercard. I just need to know ahead of time. In fact, should I just go ahead and copy my AmEx and Visa, too?


This was just the first of several ways the Notary would prove to be a slightly flighty pain in my patoot.

Okay. I’m sorry. I am done. For today, I mean. I tried. I really did. But I’m at the bottom of page four (in Word) now, and I just can’t bring myself to go on anymore. So it’s going to have to be continued one last time, after all. Looks like it is going to be a fifteen-part series... And I lied.

Su me.

[That was not a typo, and I'm leaving it. Please send any spare mojo for her, would you all?]