All Falls Down

The toilet has been excavated and moved into the Big Guy's bedroom. And there's no plaster left on the walls.

It was brutally hot last week. Hot to the tune of breaking the 100°F mark. Not the kind of days that I’d want to pull plaster and drywall down. Not especially since the first task was to shut off the water and electricity. I hope they had one outlet active. For a fan.

Putting my key in my front door gave a false sense of norm. When I opened the door, it was the anti-Oz. Instead of Dorothy walking from gray into technicolor, I walked from a green summer day into a monochromatic world. The slats on the walls, the wood that the plaster adhered to, reminded me more of a historic National Park Service site than my house. I almost looked for one of these shiny NPS trifolds that would tell me how people used to live–back in the day.

From the front door looking back past the demolished bathroom in the back.

Each day I’d visit my house and more of it would be missing. There were sections of the dining room wall peeled away. The next day there were bags piled in a corner of the room formerly known as our bedroom. The upstairs was drywall and the first floor plaster. The drywall was a lot easier to pull down. They did that first.

The converted attic looks more attic than converted. Beyond the posts was our bedroom.

You could see patches of daylight where the roof joined the walls so the house could breathe. The new foam insulation won’t require that. But this day it was hard to breathe with all the loosened and stirred up particles swirling around and around in the updraft of hot air. I went back downstairs.

The dining room looking into the kitchen. They’re protecting the millwork.

Another day or so later I could barely get up the stairs. The bottom step was missing and piles of the remains of fluffy blown-in insulation that fell between where the wall used to be had to be climbed. The insulation had fallen because part of the wall that held it was now gone.

Looking from The Big Guy’s room through the office to the “den.”

It was both familiar and strange, but nothing was as strange as seeing the toilet in The Big Guy’s bedroom. It sat there, lonely, in the middle of the room, hooked up to nothing and surrounded by the naked wooden lath stripped of its plaster. The room was a poetic shambles with the commode looking as if it was gently placed there by a twister that viciously and randomly passed through.

The tiles were pulled off the remaining bathroom wall. The next day, from The Big Guy’s room, standing next to the toilet, you could see all the way through to the outside kitchen wall where a secret window that had been plastered over when the cabinets were hung during an update in the 1930’s or 40’s was revealed.

Never saw this wall paper before. It was behind the hideous paneling. Hope to stop with the hideous moving forward.

It was coming down.

CatchUp

Guy packing a box in front of empty bookcases.

So, like these last couple of weeks have been full of whack. We were backed up against an immutable deadline–demolition. So we moved a generation’s worth of life out of the space it had occupied.

I fully recognize that I’m making a big deal of what others just manage without comment. But, I’m here to say those folks are just withholding. They might be outwardly strong, but this shit is real.

It’s not like packing up all of your worldly possessions accrued over a middle-aged lifetime is insignificant. But you’re correct in your impulse to say, “Doc, shut up. It’s just life. And you’re getting what you want, you ingrate.”

Okay. Thanks for the reminder and for your chastisement. I earned it.

But now here I am with so much that I haven’t told you. Not for lack of thinking about you. Not for lack of sentences that I strung together in my head without any tether. It’s that I’ve lacked the mental space to write. Since I’m a bit behind, I’m just gonna share some pictures. And some captions. Just to catch you up.

Above is a sampling of old crappy furniture that you can’t even give away. Except that there are always takers. I might have had to post online more than once, and there may still be some crappy junk furniture yet to find it’s forever home, but I can always put it out on the curb and send an alert to the listserve. Crossing fingers that someone doesn’t try and have me cited for illegal dumping. If all else fails, there’s a dumpster on the way.

Warning sign that there is an impending dumpster. And there's some wild marigolds.

There was the day that I came home to find a pair of candy corn cones marking the spot that the dumpster will sit. It says that we have the permit until mid-November. That coincides with the hopeful move in date of, “before Thanksgiving.” Also, check out those wild marigolds that are growing from a crack in the street. I hope they survive the ordeal.

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Truly a ridiculous amount of boxes. At one point I just started throwing items in and marking the boxes rando.

green yellow and orange dot stickers

Now this, this was a piece of my genius. There were some items to go to our interim abode, some things–mostly furniture–to be stored in the garage, and others to go in the basement. I color coded everything. It was brilliant. The movers thought it was brilliant. I had to mark some of the crappy furniture with duct-tape and a handwritten “NO,” to keep the flow going. That helped kill the questions that slowed things down. I paid the guys by the hour, not the pound.

The moving truck, in front of my house.

This is the moving truck. That is all.

The emptied wall.

We painted the dining room walls this amazing terra cotta twenty-some years ago. I wanted to capture the color, and the nail that steadied the sconce for four candles. You can see where the sconce hit the wall. I saved the sconce. I don’t know if it will go back there.

Two red mugs and a coffee setup.

We left the coffee rig at the house when we moved. It was the last thing to pack. We moved the bed, and that meant no coffee. Since the interim abode is only one and a half blocks away, I figured I’d walk over there and make coffee.  But guess what? The Spouse went and got it. So I woke up to fresh coffee. This was the best morning.  I married well.

Yellow tomatoes, parsley, bread and cava.

There was much eating out around the move. This was the first dinner I made in the interim abode. It was rice with minted peas and sweet, salty and sour chicken thighs. Oh, and, obvs, some bubbles. Celebratory and what not.

The Beast, chilling.

The Beast was a little worse for the wear during the move. But he found a chill spot on the floor at the interim abode. He kept an eye on everything because even though the movers came last Wednesday, we didn’t actually finish moving out until yesterday. Yes, a full week later.

It was at a point–or perhaps a few points that I may have made in a borderline hysterical tone–that I didn’t think we’d ever finish. But that’s what happens when you move. You lose your mind over the fact that you seemed to be almost done and then you weren’t. And you cycle through that again and again until you realize that the contractors are coming tomorrow. And then, it’s done. And there are things on the porch that will be picked up by Purple Heart and stuff that the person from the next neighborhood over claims to want and then the stuff that the city will take. I love the city for that.

The front door with all the signs of construction.

And today, the front door was adorned with the signs of construction. Warning labels. EPA certifications–required in a house as old as ours–permits, and the posting of the nuisance fee that we pay the city because…dumpster. Just for the record, my neighbors don’t get any of that nuisance fee.

As I walked through the empty, echoing rooms, I didn’t know what to feel. I thought that I should feel a big emotion, yet I barely even registered relief.

So I found a random pink ribbon during my clean out and decided it would look perfect next to the random green ribbon that has been hanging from our door knocker for more than a year. The house is still ours. I’m feeling good.

Wolf Whistle

The current state kitchen from big stainless steel fridge to teeny counter to old sink to more teeny to stove. Also some raggedy cabinets. And no backsplash.

There was that day, much earlier in this adventure, when we went appliance shopping. We needed to pick stuff out so it could be designed in. Like what if we wanted warming drawers or wine chillers or a pizza oven? For the record, none of those items were on my list.

Our contracting team sent us on the adventure to the fancy appliance showroom.  This was not Kenmore-land. Not big box Best Buy. It was quite fancy and a bit intimidating. But, first, we had to get there.

We made an early Saturday morning appointment, which bordered on stupid since we don’t normally travel together in the morning.  Except for those early mornings that marked the beginning of two weeks at the beach–also known as the pre vacation screamfest that takes fifteen miles to overcome. I know this because for as long as I’ve been with The Spouse–inclusive of those pre-nuptials years–whenever we drove up the I-95 corridor, like going to see the Orioles in Baltimore, visiting his family in Manhattan or trekking the rest of the way up to the Cape for those beach days on the island, whenever we’d near Exit 35 to Laurel/Scaggsville I would always say,

“Hmmmmm. Scaggsville. That’s where you’re from.”

And The Spouse would always reply, “That’s where I met you.” It’s part of our shtick.

And on those early mornings, after frantically shoving bags and boys and bikes and dog into the car. And after the inevitable disagreement at volume. And after me glaring out the window through hot tears and in cold silence, we’d approach the exit. And I’d wrestle with my righteous anger and vow not to talk. And then I would get this worry that if I didn’t say it this time, that it would break everything. And so I’d say, “Scaggsville, that’s where you’re from.” And he’d answer, as always.

But on this morning, the one I started writing about, we were driving up I-270, the other way north out of D.C.  We weren’t heading on a trip, but were still in the car in the morning, together. This time, there was no yelling. Well, maybe a little peckish huffing followed by some sighful puffing. Nevertheless, we made it to our appointment on time. Our appointment to check out major appliances.

Our architect had emailed a list of items to the sales consultant a few days before. She was well prepared for us.

We were early, the first clients in the showroom. We started with an offer of coffee. There was a fridge that had a built-in keurig coffee maker right in the door, near the water dispenser. It took a long time to brew.  It was silly and gimmicky. I asked who would buy it. In fact, they don’t sell very many of that feature. Us? We’re keeping our current bottom-freezer-without-French-door icebox. It’s fine and just a few years old.

Our guide steered us to our first event, the cooking surface. This was the only appliance that I wanted to invest in. I wanted high heat burners and low heat simmer. I was thinking five burners. It was going to be the jewel in my kitchen. It would make me a cooking star.

First, we learned the difference between cooktops (burner controls on the top) and rangetops (the top of a standard oven with controls in front). We went through the paces on a pair of GE’s to see the difference between the cooktop and range–especially in moving pots and pans across the surfaces. I was leaning rangetop. She then had us walk across the showroom to the far side. The Spouse ran ahead.

“Oh! It’s the Wolf! It’s the Wolf!” He was nearly jumping up and down.

I looked at the salesperson a little sideways. She was caught a little off guard, too.

“You know this appliance?” If I could have raised one eyebrow independent of the other, be assured I would be doing so. I think he saw the unnatural furrow above my right brow. He took his hands off of the red knobs, caught in his excitement like Dan Ackroyd gleefully sliding down that fire pole in Ghostbusters.

“I’ve used this at the condo in Telluride and at Sundance, too.” [Yes, Loyal Reader, The Spouse is way cooler than me.] He described the low and high burners. The model we were looking at had low and high on all six burners–yes six.

After we wiped the drool from our chins, we looked at the Viking. He knew that one, too. Was not as favored. Turns out he was right. They are in a quality spiral, and not in a good way. The Thermador? He knew that one, too.  But it was the Wolf that compared to all others. It was our new standard.

It was the all super hot and super low burners. It was the relighting feature. It was the clarity of the controls and the more obvious signs of being “on,” especially important for super low simmering. It was the promise of an amazing chocolate roux for shrimp étouffée, like The Spouse prepared for his colleagues in Park City.

“Do they all have red knobs?” The salesperson started to answer, but The Spouse interrupted.

“That’s their thing.” Turns out, though, that you could get stainless steel knobs if you wanted.

Today I old-school mailed a check for our new appliances. And in addition to buying the first dishwasher that I have ever owned (I know, right?!?), we bought the Wolf. That mighty fine Wolf. With the red knobs. Added to our repertoire, next to the exit.

Elm Street

A collage of the same flowers candle and wine glass with a variety of filters.

My countdown clock was ticking. I estimated ten grim days before we moved to the next stage–construction. This, followed by the final act, moving into the new old house (or old new house?). I was down to day nine.

Until.

Yeah. You knew this was coming, didn’t you, Loyal Reader.

Until. Until the morning we had our pre-construction hand off meeting. This is the meeting where the project lead passes our relationship over to the construction team. The Lead Carpenter–I’ll call him Carp from here–will be onsite daily. He will supervise all the work from setup to daily clean up, from managing plumbers and electricians to kissing up as required to inspectors or neighbors who are mad about a dumpster. He will oversee the hanging of drywall and cabinets as well as texting me for any game time approvals.

The Production Manager was there, too. He has a one level up role. I don’t really know what, but it’s built into the contract. And I like him. He has the same name as The Spouse. The Beast literally sat in his lap during our meeting. He casually draped his arm around the thick neck of the red dog and gave a little hug as he wrote his notes. He took notes. He had a hat. I’ll let you know more later.

Anyway, they walked with our project manager–trailed by The Spouse–around the house and pointed at things and went over the plans with visual annotations. The mantles and baseboards and window casings will be carefully removed. The remaining appliance will be wrapped and stored.

We shared contacts and established communication protocols. Mostly to not hold things in and not let the little annoyances grow until an ugly explosion. I think I’m good with that. I contributed important data about a certain person who might live next door to someone who may have a documented tendency to call the cops for nothing.

We went over lead abatement rules, plastic drapings to keep dust out of lungs and other hazmats, and construction safety instructions primarily for clients not having the entire guts ripped out of their house. This last item wasn’t necessary for our project.

We’re moving out. No need to carefully protect rooms. No protocol required to keep The Beast from escape. Our movers were already scheduled for a Friday move out.

Not.

Turns out there was a week delay on the job before ours, and the crew won’t actually start until July 5th. Holiday and whatnot.

[Full stop. Insert abrupt sound of record scratch.]

So all my stress and planning, the anxiety over our insufficient packing progress, the pending argument over the incomplete bathroom at the interim property, and the immediate garage and basement haul are no longer on a short fuse.

And I’m pissed.

I’m not pissed about the delay. We knew it was a possibility. Our firm has finite crews, and I want them to finish the other job–just as I want them to finish mine.

I’m not pissed about the change for the move. I got two days back at work this week and rescheduled the mover without a penalty. And, honestly, while we would have made the move if we had to, I expect there would have been a weekend after the move of crashing around trying to pack up 35 additional boxes of odds and ends. This is actually a gift.

No. Im only pissed about one thing. The worst part of this project is the moving out. Moving back in will be so awesome–especially since we are doing minimal unpacking,  we will have lightened our lives of stuff, and, well, beautiful home.

No. I’m pissed because the end was in sight, only to find out the damn episode drags on. It’s like the insane killer, after killing the rest of the cast, is finally done in by the spunky heroine. Yet he refuses to die. He keeps coming back for one more battle. And one more.

I don’t like those horror franchise movies. I get no thrill. Just die already, bad guy. I got something else to do.

Thinking about it, maybe first thing I need is to make an attitude adjustment, because this episode will end. I just have to believe that I will survive it.

The Pit of Despair 

The shitshow of in progress packing in my dining room. Find The Beast.

Ooof! This packing game is so very, very, very painful. I am not liking it at all. No. Not at all.

To be sure, I was not expecting to enjoy this part of the “journey.” I am on record as one who totally despises moving. I have infamous antipathy to the picking up all of my stuff and transporting it en masse to a new destination. A little of my stuff? I’m okay. I like to travel. But the whole enchilada? “Hatred” does not do my emotions justice.

So much is my aversion that I have avoided moving for nearing 26 years. Yet, and herein lies the rub, in order to stay here–where I want to be for the rest of my life–I need to physically exit the space so it can be remade.

Oh, the sickening, sickening irony.

This move has unfamiliar complexities. In the past, I’ve just moved. Still hated it, but it was Point A to Point B. This equation has a few more hops. Point A to Point B, Point C and Point D simultaneously with a return to Point A.

First, what to move? While everything needs to move, much will be placed in a temporary deep freeze. So I’m marking boxes with things that we can suffer without for the next few months and with things we will need. This includes crossing seasons. Ugh.

Then there’s a set of things that are in the in-between on my hierarchy of needs. That which needs to be protected. Anything that is susceptible to scourge. So photos, all cloth-based goods, and some Christmas perishables. Then, there’s another category of goods: where things will fit. The spaces available–basement, garage and temp house–are not like a Harry Potter magical tent. They have physical requirements.

Alas, I am just a Muggle.

And, boy, I’m not even an above average one. I completely disgusted myself by attacking the room that was once known as The Office until it degraded into The Locker.

Sure as I was that the meaningless piles were all detritus of The Spouse, I was chastened to find those dust encrusted boxes were actually my own. Untouched for twelve years, forced via the pressures of time and neglect to barnacle underneath the beomouth of my old dining room server and attach to the wall like the lost sailors who became one with Davy Jones’ Pirates ship. Pieces of my own, forgotten past lives.

Letters of offer from before Bear was born, paperwork of praise and raise, and fastidiously folded physician folios from forgotten afflictions were scattered among paper clips, my father’s old stapler and other things unseen by human eyes for a decade and a quarter. Undoubtedly, other, smaller eyes did pass among the ruins. But not ours.

I was ashamed. It was as if I was moving though my parents’ home, discovering the madness of laxity, of ignoring the progress of inaction, of the results of indifference.

I hung my head and imagined being draped in sackcloth, my cheeks rubbed with ashes. I walked into the other room, winding my way around misstacked boxes, tripping on the upturned edge of the rug.

“I’m sorry,” I said to The Spouse. “It’s not you, it’s me.”

Now, to the next pile, to the next box , to taping them shut and marking their destination.

Poster Child

An amazing kitchen with a back wall of windows, white subway tile walls and green cabinets on the bottom and upper open shelves surrounding a stainless steel hood.

Don’t try and lie to me. I know. You stopped at the picture, didn’t you? And you were wondering. Weren’t you?

You were wondering if I found this image on Houzz or Pinterest. Maybe that I posted it to share elements that I’d like in my own kitchen. Could be that you were wondering if you Rip Van Winkled, maybe that you fell asleep for a few months and the project was complete.

But I bet that you weren’t wondering if this was an image from a new rendering tool that was used experimentally on our project. I bet that you weren’t thinking that there is some whack technology that morphs design and products all the better to view with some fancy 3D phone goggles.

It’s like the best CGI–so that it looks real. It’s proportional. It has the fixtures and cabinets and colors that we selected. I’ll get the entire 3D experience when I go to the office and use the goggles. This newfangled technology brings sketches to life.

Right now though, I sit on the subway and open up the image on my phone. I zoom in and pan across. I imagine opening drawers, and I stretch my mind to stack my plates on the open shelves. I think about where I will pour my coffee, on the right counter next to the appliance garage and below the shelves where the coffee and tea will sit.

I fancy the positioning of the dog bowl on the slate floors, underneath the dog food cabinet, of which they’ll be one. I dream about looking out those big back windows at my new trees and watching the morning birds flit between them and the evening fireflies sparking up the grass.

In my reverie I may miss my stop. But I’m in my happy place. That place that gets concocted in my head–where the physical drawings and the computer generated imagery gets animated into a dream sequence that generates warmth like it’s coming to life.

And it’s just a made up picture.  I don’t have apples in a bowl or a pitcher full of milk. It’s pretend. At least for now.

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Dumping Carol

A car load of computer equipment to go to the dump.

On the twelfth day of moving my basement gave to me

  1. Twelve old shirt boxes cycled from pajamas and button downs over Christmases past.
  2. Eleven million spider victim carcasses webbed across pretty much everything.
  3. Ten busted picture frames.
  4. Nine moldy sport bags.
  5. Eight disgusting wooden crab mallets.
  6. Seven printers spanning a history from dot-matrix to ink-jet. (somehow not a one thrown away)
  7. Six kiddie vehicles like scooters and skateboards and skates.
  8. Fiiiiivvvve C. P. U.’s.
  9. Four sets of old bathroom rugs.
  10. Three boxes of Playstation 2 games.
  11. Two screens–a monitor and a portable black and white TV from college.
  12. And a Hafler amp salvaged from an old theatre rack.

The chorus was followed by a trip to the dump and a de-accumulation achievement.