Permission Slips

The Beast--a substantial hound--overlooks permitting.

As I was gossiping with our project manager at their offices, the designer walked in. She was close to breathless. Her hair was mostly pulled back in a pony tail, except for wisps of hair framing her face. Looking again, it wasn’t just wisps. There were strands and full locks that escaped from her hair tie. Some were almost standing on end, as if she had been electrified.

Looking into her face, electrified seemed to make some sense. Her wide eyes were full of pupil, and she licked her dry lips. Recognizing there was a client in the house, she pulled herself up. But I saw. I could see that she was affected. She had just come back from the front line.

DCRA. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The city building permit office. The place where wait isn’t just another four letter wordThere are other four-letter words used there, too. All to no avail.

Building permits have a legendary status in almost every D.C. resident’s construction journey. I think this is true in other cities, but I can only speak for our own.

There are stories of waiting weeks, stretching into months, for a permit, lengthening construction schedules and forcing the visions of shiny new plumbing fixtures into an indefinite limbo. There isn’t a building professional who can actually watch the entire sloth scene in Zootopia. People who have been at the DMV may laugh and cringe, but for a contractor the super slo-mo stamping and the lethargic slog of unrelated sub-ventures is too real–and too painful.

There are mitigation strategies that are held closely by the successful contractors. Secrets that I have not been cleared to share, but that I have heard tell.  Suffice it to say that there are grovels involved, careful explaining and reexplaining and re-reexplaining of the same issue.

There are questions that are left hanging while someone decides that they need to complete an unrelated task in the middle of your transaction. The staffer disappears behind a wall. You might hear some disagreement, perhaps an upbraiding over who was bringing the cake for the Friday potluck and why wasn’t it being bought at Costco because everyone prefers that cake to the one at the grocery store and so what that the grocery store is more convenient, because this isn’t about you it’s about what everybody in the office likes.

Then there is the moment, the roll of the dice, the spinning of the wheel, the last card turnover to see if you have blackjack or bust. The moment when the person returns. Does she start again from the beginning? She might. Or does she simply stamp and send you on your way? Don’t look exasperated. Don’t seem impatient. Don’t show emotion. Don’t look hopeful, but don’t look bored. You have to show you care, a little.

We signed forms requesting our permits. We signed three different forms for two types of permits, and we authorized a private inspection service to save time that would be lost with the overburdened city inspectors. We don’t have to get the permits. Our designer does.

She had succeeded that day. She was a bit worse for the wear, a touch grimy for no good reason other than the experience causes impurities in one’s skin to surface. She grabbed a bottle of water and went into the design meeting. She was only fifteen minutes late.

The project manager was happy that he didn’t have to go to the design meeting. He was busy talking to a client–me. But I think he was even happier that he wasn’t at the permitting office. Just a guess.

I Fall to Pieces

One of the many boxes of legos.

Bear had done right by me when he cleared out his room. Per instructions, he left the books for me to pick through. And the Legos.

There were four or five plastic containers full of the red and yellow and blue and green and gray blocks. There were some block blocks–squares and rectangles. There were some windows that opened and closed. There were also a few doodads that could turn around like a faucet or maybe could be a flower. There were bodied and disembodied yellow heads to pick through. And an amazing number of little gray connectors that must have been from the many Star Wars and knights kits that were under Christmas trees and gifted for birthdays.

I found Legos to be a wonderful mindless manipulative. It wasn’t mindful for me, as I didn’t focus or concentrate on my creations. I’d sometimes make a color pattern, but, for me, it was always indeterminate.

The Bear and the Big Guy spent many hours assembling and disassembling roads, houses, towns and worlds. It was the journey of a Creator, trying different combinations, making evolution happen and then reshaping a next one.

There were kits that were constructed following the guidance on the box. But only once. After it was made, it was rejoiced and then deconstructed and the spoils added to the pile. There were no Lego trophies that were saved for posterity. Legos made fluid sculptures.

On Saturday, I returned to my boxing duties, back to the Bear’s room. I cleaned out the craziness in the closet. I don’t believe that the back of that closet was cleared out in fifteen years. Frankly, it was scarier in thought than in fact.

For some reason, there was a big pile of coins on the dresser. Next to the pile, there was a box full of even more coins, as well as with a bunch of little rocks. Why don’t people (in my family) recognize that nickels and dimes and quarters and, yes, even pennies, are money to be spent rather than items to pile. There was once a day when I ordered a pizza only to realize that I had no cash (before delivery took credit cards). I paid for the pizza with coin I conjured from pockets, under the pillows on the couch and from the bottom of my bags–even going to the closet to rummage through every bag I owned. The Pizza Hut guy wasn’t particularly jazzed, but at least I found enough silver to include a decent tip.

I picked through the rocks (why rocks in that box, too??)  and tossed them as well as a number of wires and quite a pile of empty wrappers that made me both relieved and a little shocked.

I parsed through the books, fondly putting some in boxes and others in the to-go pile. I soon found myself sitting on the floor picking through those Lego boxes.

I started tossing out the tiny green army men I found in one box. There was some nerf bullets in another and a fuselage of a plastic airplane. The dust in the uncovered bins was charring my fingers and making me sneeze. I started combing through one of the bins to shake out the chaff, the unique Lego plastic-on-plastic sound whistling as I shook through the box.

WHAT THE HELL WAS I DOING?

Seriously. What. The. Hell. Was. I. Doing.

I was spending fifteen, soon to be thirty and likely sixty minutes going through old toys. That had more than a decade of dust on them. I said I wasn’t sentimental and here I was. On the floor. Picking through junk.

Nope. Nope. Nope. Done. Said my sane self.

I took a photo of the boxes of little colorful blocks and posted them under FREE on my neighborhood listserve. I identified them as dusty and recommended running them through the dishwasher. In less than ten minutes I had a a taker. In five more minutes I took the two trips downstairs and to the front porch to await pickup. I had two more pings for them before I took the listing down.

I went for a beer and a sandwich and when I stepped on to the porch I looked down. They were gone.

And I’m good with that.

 

Boxed Out

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I had vowed to never move again. I was 9.5 months pregnant that last time. The doctor told me not to lift any boxes. She commanded me to sit in the new house and point to where I wanted others to move things.

While I packed many boxes, I followed doctor’s orders and did not move any furniture. I unpacked most of the stuff and put the stuff away. I climbed up on chairs to do the putting away thing.

I painted the brown pegboard white. The Spouse caught me, standing on a cafe chair with a paint brush poised. There was no stopping me. There was a baby to be born. I didn’t have much time.

After the moving madness was done, two weeks before our first child came into this world, I announced to The Spouse–and with all imaginable drama that a very pregnant person can conjure–that I was never moving again. This was it. Throw my corpse in the yard when I’m done with this life. Done. Finito. Fini.

And, today, here I am. Twenty five years later. Sitting among a pile of boxes that need to be packed up. Because I’m never leaving this house.?.

Two weekends ago I started packing. I packed three boxes with books. I took some I wasn’t keeping to the free little library. And others that I don’t want and that don’t belong to me are in a pile to be reviewed by The Spouse. So I packed three boxes. In the grand scheme, three boxes is the equivalent of zero.

Last weekend, I was going to really get stuff done. I had a goal of packing ten boxes. I emptied a bookshelf and the media cabinet (except for those four things I left). I cleared the mantels of things. I transferred a box full of bar and glassware to a neighborhood victim who succumbed to my listserve offer. I said it was free, but she had to take whatever I put in the box.

I packed up two “medium” boxes with dishes that became so heavy before I filled them I had to switch to topping them off with table cloths. Medium wasn’t strong enough for what I needed to load.

I emptied the server in the dining room, mostly shifting items for later packing. Doesn’t show much progress moving things from a shelf to a staging spot. I know this.

I packed eight more boxes and successfully dumped out about four more, so, if I am generous to myself, I exceeded my goals.

Except I look around the accretion stuff over of the Big Guy’s time on Earth and realize that I have done absolutely nothing.

Ab. So. Lute. Ly. Nothing.

On the other hand, all will be done. Just in the nick of time. Because that is exactly how things happen. In real life. I have a few more weeks.

Windows and Opportunity

East wall of the house with the big windows in the dining room, the bay at the living room and the picture window on the front.

Our neighbors, on the next block, had their door removed. They had gone to work, and at 10 a.m., the cleaning lady came by to find the door with jam meticulously disengaged from the threshold and leaned against the brick wall, leaving a gaping entry. When they replaced that door–after reconstituting a bunch of laptops, TVs and a clarinet–they installed an insanely heavy duty door that would require an army of super Orcs to remove. It’s an illegal door in NYC.

This makes me feel incredibly lucky that nobody has kicked in our borderline decrepit front door, the lower-middle third punctuated by a fault line. Maybe the luck was boosted by a wild animal howling and snarling in a vicious baritone on the other side of the door. Nobody said The Beast didn’t do his job well.

Today we got to pick out door knobs and locks for a new door. Compared to our current non-descript brass pulls, the new rig is positively sexy. The door wasn’t in the original scope, but we really needed it.

The windows weren’t on my list either.

Actually I like these old windows. Almost all of them open, and almost as many stay open on their own. There are screens and storms for the hot and the cold. They are a little heavy and make a squeaky woosh sound on open and close. Sometimes I need to get leverage from above–like standing on a chair to push it closed. But only sometimes. And only on two or three of them. There are lots of windows. Oh, and did I tell you that none are standard sizes. Glorious. Custom windows. 

The Spouse was hot for new windows, though. I think it’s the Eagle Scout in him. You know. Camping and loving the earth and recycling and being energy smart. His Christmas is Earth Day.

I’m less jazzed. Camping to me is staying in a hotel without a closet door. You know, just hangers in a nook? And thin towels. 

New windows are so tight. They squeal versus swoosh. You work them along their hermetic guides to vacuum into an airless seal. They lock steadfastly in place with little plastic doodads. Keeps out the cold. Keeps out the heat. I get that that makes sense.

I’m not against energy efficiency, but I will NOT see these windows pay for themselves. Perhaps that’s not the point. The ancient siding is coming down. The outside of the windows are an unholy mess. New windows simply make sense. I can be good with that. 

[And mark this well, Loyal Reader. This is how scope creep happens, not with a bang but via the inevitable whisper of air held at bay by glass.]

Next, I need to learn about windows to make a choice. They have “features,” and not just finishes. You can tilt them so you can clean them. (I don’t do windows.) There are e-value and u-value. Casings. Sashes. Glazes. Rails. Latches. Layers.

I can have wooden windows. And I’m making an investment for decades. And, mostly, The Spouse will be so happy with them.

The design-build team is recommending different window vendors for the basement versus the upstairs. I’m ready to learn why at my Spring term accelerated Intro To Windows 101. I’ll let you know if anything is interesting.

Bye, Calypso

One hundred and seventy eight pages of documents to sign--signatures indicated by colorful sticky flags.

A friend is almost a year ahead of us in the renovation journey. Journey is her word.

She’s been at this way longer than us, which makes sense given the (huge) scope of her project. But her identification of journeys seems to have some universality. She has named the design journey, the finance journey, the downsize journey and the journey of the build. There may be more as they are revealed to her. I’m sitting at the foot of her throne of wisdom, waiting for her to drop more knowledge.

Yesterday, we did our finance journey. Or, at least, a major part.

We had one-hundred and seventy eight pages of forms and contracts and acknowledgements and clauses and hold harmlesses and a smattering of goofiness that all needed to be signed.

So, today, I will tell you some of the things we agreed to.

  • We won’t run a meth lab on the property.
  • We won’t do any nuclear energy experiments, either.
  • We will buy insurance to protect against fire. And locusts. And fire hail. We didn’t need flood insurance, so no protection against a river of blood.
  • We will show how we would sign our names with and without middle initials.
  • I wouldn’t demonstrate how I would sign my name misspelled. Seemed counter-productive.
  • We initialed four different documents that said we saw four different credit reports. Each of us did that. That was sixteen of the pages.
  • We gave our lender permission to ask the IRS information about us that we already provided to them from the IRS.
  • We did that a second time, too, but this time as a married couple. So there was a total of three forms saying the same thing to the IRS about information that was already in the file.
  • We said we were not terrorists. And this is true because we signed a form with our drivers license numbers.
  • We signed a paper saying we were married. I did laugh out loud for that one, especially since the Spouse refused to acknowledge our relationship on Facebook for years.
  • We put our initials on a bunch of pages. The Spouse dogged me for missing one. The notary found one the Spouse missed and let me pay his snark back. I liked that guy.

There were many more pages and affirmations and agreements and promises in the finance journey. Yet it is all simply the prelude to the writing of the checks. Now, signing those lines feel like the real Odyssey. Next journey, up. I hope we didn’t piss off Poseidon.

Origin Story

The kitchen, sketched out in its inglorious glory.

Truth be told, this was not my first rodeo. I had emergency surgery twice to complete my pregnancies. Those boys always wanted to do things the hard way. And then, a dozen-plus years later, I had six pins put in my ankle to ensure it didn’t hang at a bad angle after my free fall.

Perhaps the first two didn’t count. Both of those were epidurals. I did have general anesthesia for the orthopedic surgery. I had been knocked out for oral surgery before, but it wasn’t general. The ankle doctor warned me that I would be intubated.

This translated to waking up in a a new place with the worst case of cotton mouth that I have ever experienced. And then they gave me crackers!?! I guess to get my system back in flow. I took a nibble. I had absolutely zero moisture in my mouth so the slightly salty cracker dust sat between my cheek and my gum like a very dry and very heavy sand. I tried to float it away with apple juice, but instead the sakrete expanded and solidified into an immobile brick. I had to work it out with more juice and my pinky finger. And then all I wanted was a toothbrush–except dry mouth and toothpaste was almost worse.

This time, I was going under to get a tattoo (if you want, you can catch up with this part of the story here). I was there, cheerily in the morning. I was cheery because I needed to be. It made the entire process better for the surgical team, and being a frightened mess served no purpose.

The Spouse and I were called into pre-op, which was an eight or nine square feet space delineated by a bed in the center and a surrounding set of curtains that made a metal swoosh sound as they were drawn aside. I stepped into my bay, was given a not-cute outfit and a set of instructions. I placed my street clothes into the clear plastic bags with drawstring tops and snuggled my feet into the surgical socks with gripper bottoms likely required by the risk manager wishing to avoid unnecessary patient falls on the cold slick floors.

I wasn’t walking around, though. I was on my cot with my jacquard hospital blanket tucked under my elbows. I had my surgical gown on, but didn’t need to wear my green mesh hat until later.

Pretty much everyone in the hospital verbally verified my name and birthdate as they spied the data printed on the plastic bracelet around my wrist. The first year resident put in my IV. He totally blew it and got blood all over my bed and uncleverly hid it under my hand. He then had me apply direct pressure to stem the flow until the weary nurse fixed his mess. She did make him clean the floor.

There were additional residents and medical students, nurses and nurse anesthesiologists, techs and transporters, my doctor and his assistant and the anesthesiologist herself. They all name-checked and proofed me.

Everyone was very polite and, more importantly, kind. I teased the youngins and joked with the pros. The Spouse shuffled between the single guest chair and the space just outside the curtains, depending on the staff directions. I liked it when he was closer. I think the staff did, too.

We did our schtick–where we trick everyone into thinking that we had deep affection for each other via our cruel and cutting banter. There really wasn’t reason to be too worried about this procedure, but it was the start of a series of procedures with more worry. But today, we were keeping it light.

It was close to showtime. My gurney was flanked by the transporter, a pair of nurses and the anesthesiologist who stood at my right. She patted her breast pocket.

“This is the good stuff,” she smiled. I didn’t know there was any “good stuff.”

Turns out they give you some pre-juice before wheeling you into the operating room. She explained that the syringes in her pocket didn’t completely knock you out, but relaxed the patient. I would be awake but wouldn’t remember anything.

I was a bit suspicious. “Is this like some kind of truth serum?” Everyone laughed, the nurses, the transporter, the Spouse and me.

“Naw. We won’t quiz you.” She pumped the happy juice into my IV and I woke up two seconds later in the recovery room. Well, it wasn’t two seconds in a literal sense, but that was all I knew.

I had my apple juice and skipped the snack. While I avoided the dry crackers, I did have real moisture in my mouth. After a short stint, I was unhooked from the monitors. I changed back into my civilian clothes. Not long after, I was dropped off at home for an uneventful day, and the Spouse was able to squeeze in a half-day at work.

That evening, when we sat down for dinner, we went through notable moments that day–the funny socks, the charming nurse, the failed resident and the happy juice.

“Hey, did I say anything after I got that shot?”

The Spouse looked at me for a second before he answered. “Why, yes, you did.” The way he said it made the hair on the back of my neck stand up a little.

“I did? What did I say?”

He paused again. “Well, as they were wheeling you away, you pointed your finger at me and said, ‘You will not stop me from redoing the kitchen this time!’ And all the women around your bed [there were only women] looked at me in horror and said that I better get you that new kitchen.”

Whoa and WHAT? I had no idea where that came from. Really and truly, I didn’t. This hadn’t been a major point of discussion or contention. That morning, I was going to have a procedure to mark the tumor in my mouth. I had this cancer shit on my mind, and of all things, I talk about a stupid kitchen remodel?

And, Loyal Reader, three years later, that’s how we got here.

End of Book I

The front yard and front porch. Stylized.

It is officially real. After pouring over the plans. After nitpicking the locations of each electrical outlet and switch by posting up in the hall and peering past what would be darkness but would be lighter because it will be like that.

After staring and staring and staring, again, at the simply white versus white cabinet paint and shuffling those samples along with the tile swatches–in this case white v. biscuit–from dining room to kitchen, from sunlight to cloudy day, to overhead fixture “on,” only to full-circle back to the original selection that was recommended by our guide. 

After sweating the doors that I couldn’t tell the difference between for an extra thousand dollars. After learning that paint selection comes at the very end. And, after kicking the decision about our floors down the road. 

After all that, we signed the contract. It was the contract and the drawings and the biggest check I ever wrote out myself, accompanied by a handshake to seal the deal all pulled close to my chest. To my center. 

It’s the big checkpoint in the game. We have reached a new, boss level, and there’s no going back. Unless we start a new game. But why would we? I like this player, and the progress is in the right direction. 

And, importantly, everyone is still breathing. Sounds like we should play on, player.  Boom shakalaka.