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.

End of Eden

The sum total time f my counter space with tonight's dinner prep all over it. It is literally a 24 square inch patch.
Actual entirety of my work counter.

I’ve been working on a postage stamp space in my kitchen for a generation. I have used all of my wiles to maximize the chopping, measuring, mixing, cleaning and plating space. I stage in the sink. I manipulate pots and pans and cauldrons across the stove when I need to hold something. I rotate mis en place on the counter, on the storage cart behind me, in the dish drainer, in an open cabinet on top of the dishes, and, occasionally, when it’s not in use, inside the oven.

Today, I just might have hit a wall that I knew not of.

I knew not because I was managing in what is. When the kitchen designer asked me what I didn’t like in my kitchen–what didn’t work–I looked at her blankly. I actually never thought of my kitchen in that way.

Sure, I’ve broken a glass or burned my wrist or spilled a plate full of food on occasion. But these faults have been exceedingly rare.

Yes, I cook many days during the week. And, yes, I enjoy trying new foods and new techniques. And, yes, I’ve hosted many dinners. And, no, I didn’t think it was any trouble. I was simply cooking in the kitchen I had. Nothing to complain about, because I got it all to work. If it didn’t work, then there would be reason to complain.

Today, I almost lost it. I didn’t have enough room. I was working in layers. There were piles upon piles of workspaces in order to mimic more than the less than two square feet of workspace. It’s actually smaller than that, since the kettle and dish soap and olive oil and salt are permanent tenants on that patch. Why don’t I move them? Because there is no place else for them to go.

In fact, lots of things have no place to go. And when there is no home, things mill around like a grade school class without seats. Chaos.

I’ve been plotting where things would go in the updated kitchen. With it’s new cabinets, ample drawer space and new island that, by itself, is six times bigger than my current counter space. I stand at today’s sink and think about turning around to line up four or six or eight plates, plopping down the rice or potatoes on each and then the green beans, next, the chops or steaks or thighs and, finally, spooning the relish or sauce–all without tying myself up in the pretzel contortions to which I am expert and accustomed.

I stand near the door where there will be a dishwasher that I’ll remove the used utensils and bowls to–rather than figure out how to get enough space in the sink so I can get the full salad bowl just waiting for it’s vinaigrette out of the work’s way.

The imagining has been fun. I’ve been anticipating the efficiency and ease of a right-sized and right-spaced kitchen. But not today. Today I was frustrated.

Today, I was annoyed at the high level of tightrope walking and high wire balancing that I perform every time I try and get a good meal on the table.

If the architect asked me what bothered me about my kitchen today, I’d tell her that it isn’t the kitchen that I will have. I am dissatisfied with my culinary life because now I see myself in a new environment. One that is not so difficult.

I’m hungering for something better than what I’ve had that I didn’t actually feel was that bad. It’s a loss of innocence.

I feel like I’ve taken a bite from the apple. I like apples.

Making Change

A restored store on Old Maple and 4th, NW.

The town is changing. The corner store where patrons could buy a single black and mild along with a lotto ticket is still there. It still sells lotto. There are a few cold 40s in the cooler, next to an extended collection of batch artisanal beer from the Rocky and the Sierra mountains. None from Milwaukee.

The long-term neighbors keep an eye on the new folks. The ones who foolishly stand on the street, rifling through their bags, not paying attention to the opportunistic predators. The first ones who fixed up Miss Carter’s house after she passed on. They were very into their front yard. The next ones who bought the houses that someone else fixed up. Lots of granite and walls coming down for an “open” floor plan.

The ones with their fancy three-wheeled strollers. They carry their fat babies in their reverse backpacks, facing out with their pink cheeks and pillow feet. In one hand they grip a stainless steel coffee cup and in the other the leash for their misshapen dog. The dog that is afraid of blowing leaves and trash trucks and barks at the ladies wearing their church hats.

The old timer likes most of his new neighbors. They borrow his tools and ask for his opinion on roofers and electricians. He tells the youngest ones to get their keys out before they step out of their Ubers. He’s not crazy about the Ubers, though. His buddy supplements his retirement by driving a D.C. He said that he’s not going to drive his own car.

Looking up and down the compact streets with homes that were residences to African American professors, judges and lawyers before it became a “transitional” neighborhood, two or three homes on every block proudly fly the red and white D.C. flags. A bunch of them “work” from home–whatever that means. One thing he knows it means is that there are more people around during the day.

The old timer sits on his front porch and nods to the parade of walkers and bikers and strollers bringing life to his street. He’s glad to have activity out in the open–but he knew what was happening in the shadows, too. It’s not gone, though it’s definitely on the wane. But every time there is a car break-in or a mugging, there is much clucking. It’s still the city, man, he thinks to himself.

He wonders if they will raise their kids here. If they will go to the neighborhood schools. He hopes so, because the corner store is carrying organic milk in addition to wines with foreign labels. But there’s also sandwiches. His wife doesn’t like him eating greasy carryout, but if he brings home a wrap, they’re both happy. These new people? They better stay.

Splice of Life

A almost collapsed cake with four lit birthday candles. The cake is greenish. With some chocolate cake poking through the frosting. What a mess. We didn't eat this. It's just a picture from the Internet.

Our neighbors moved a few months back. It’s only a few blocks from here, and they really needed more space. Their new house is terrific. The people who moved into their old house are very nice.

But it’s just not the same. It’s like there is a hunk of film spliced out of the reel. Something is missing.

My dog misses their dog. He’s gone up to their porch to check if his pupster uncle is there. He never is. He doesn’t live there anymore. Or maybe The Beast is just waiting for the door to open. One day they were having a party and he pushed into the house and beelined to the brie wheel on the table which he proceeded to eat in a single gulp. The kids were amazed by his audacity. It might have been their favorite story, ever. I know this because they have told it to me more than once. So maybe the dog’s standing on the porch because he wants more cheese.

I miss watching the kids running to the car in the morning on the their way to school. Sometimes they were in a big hurry and there would be backpacks flying and open jackets and someone carrying their coffee in their almost free hand. Sometimes it would be less frenetic and we would have a short visit. The kids would all ask to come across the street to pet the dog. Even though they had one of their own that they didn’t actively pet.  It was always a charming part of the morning. Sometimes I would bitch about The Spouse. Sometimes she would bitch about hers. Always in a loving way. That’s what neighbors do. Listen to each other bitch about loved ones.

I miss the extended family. Grandma’s and sisters and nephews and cousins. After a while, they all knew me. And I knew them, too. I’d get called over for a glass of wine at the tail of a family party. One day The Spouse brought over the leftover ginger ice cream I made. It was Christmas Day. Another day we were all snowed in and they saw that someone made me a fancy mojito. IN THE WINTER. You know how Facebook makes you jealous of your friends? So I sent the Big Guy over with a summer drink to make them feel less envious. The flow of goods and services frequently criss-crossed the street.

My friend and former neighbor had a birthday party. There was cake. There was dancing to favorite music–Hall and Oats and Skee-lo and some 80s music that I must have slept through but that everyone else knew.  And there was love. My neighbors are spliced out of the daily reel, but still have important scenes. I miss seeing them every day. But am glad I still see them.

Sign of Time

Sunset from the porch.

Summer isn’t giving up yet. Nope, not yet. The trees are still sporting a full green suit. Daytime temperatures are squarely in the 80°s. Charcoal and lighter fluid scent evening strolls on most nights.

There’s still no requirement for sweaters in the evening. I think we’ll have weeks until that morning when you look at the basil and it is a black-green from the cold.

That said, the earth is still circling on it’s crooked axis around the sun and moving our hemisphere out of summer. While a sweater is not required, it is not unwelcome by bare arms, either.

The peaches and sweet corn are long done and the tomatoes are less heavy. You can plant those fancy lettuces without them burning up or bolting. The pools are closed. The traffic is back to heavy.

But mostly, it’s the day itself. Long days are gone. They’re tucking in earlier and earlier. I wake up just as the sun is chasing out the last shadows, when a few weeks ago the sun shook me awake.

It’s the end of the day that I notice the most. Last week I stepped out of my office into the opening strains of the dusk overture. This week when I walk to the train, I am steeped in dusk. Dinner, that is served at the same time according to the clock, isn’t making it to the table until after nightfall. The candles that were for show are now for light.

I love the fall. I love all parts of it. It might be my favorite season. Except. Except the thieving of my day. Of the shrinking of time. Of the march to the darkness of winter.

But the autumn sunsets are the most beautiful. The oranges are the most orange and the streaks of pink are the brightest against the indigo sky that reaches to infinity. So as the days seem to collapse on themselves, the sky opens up. And soon, I’ll look up and see my old friend Orion who’ll guide me through these months of short days.

Falling Behind

This was a stunning September morning. The Beast led the way.

At the beginning of a conference call, one of the participants gave us the MidWest weather report. According to her, the weather was nice, and that was weird, but that will soon change. That is that both the nice and the weird will change, and the weather will be back to the regularly scheduled bad. It was apropos of nothing. An odd non sequitur. And not very interesting, bless her heart.

How many times have I written about the weather this year. Six times? Maybe ten? How many ways can I describe the change in weather? The heat? The cool? The sun filtering through the trees, making shadows on the sidewalk, sending up an artist’s palette of colors?

How many times have I posted my morning stroll? It is always about the air–crisp, heavy, frigid, humid. It’s about the light–dark, bright, layered, orange or purple. Storms–rain, snow or just wind–have provided fodder for my daily writing struggle.

Is it enough that I’m using the weather as a tool to write descriptively? Is it better that I sometimes use the weather as a metaphor? Is it of value that I use the weather to transmit a small tale?

Have I committed the worst sin of writing, by boring you, My Loyal Reader?

I took on the challenge to write every day. I know that the quality is uneven. I know that there has been more than a score, maybe even four score, of less than stellar results. But dull?

Maybe I’ll reconsider my framing. I’m not delivering a weather report. I am describing the environment–how it looks and how it smells and how it feels and how it sounds. I am practicing using words to share details so you can imagine what I am thinking, so you have some context, and to bring us closer together.

This morning the shadows were longer and the air was cooler. I stepped onto the porch but kept my hand on the door handle to push it back open. I needed a little something.

I went to the hall closet and found my black Hope and Change hoodie. It’s eight years old now. It’s stretched out at the cuffs, the zipper catches on loose threads at the bottom and there are little holes in the left pocket, the one that holds the treats. I blame the Beast.

I pulled on the worn fleece, but didn’t zip it.

The leaves on the trees were still green, but some had given up. The sidewalk was spotted with dry leaves. They skittered along the concrete until they crunched under paw or sneaker. Definitely a sign.

We’re on the cusp of the next season. But we’re not there, yet. Summer still has some breath left. She will be elbowing back and forth with Fall for the next few weeks. Until Fall wins the match. I never did pack my sweaters away. Now it’s definitely too late.

As always, Loyal Reader, thank you for your time and for imbibing with me and my thinkings through another season. Almost time to pack away the summer.

As Time Goes By

Louis and Rick disappear into the midst, a beginning of a beautiful friendship. Last scene from Casablanca.

A friend from college said that his mom always made him try something three times before deciding that he didn’t like it. I guess he could decide he liked it in one, if he wanted.

The first time that I saw Casablanca, I was in my late teens. There wasn’t on demand viewing, so you waited for films to appear on the network or cable TV schedule. When you got to college there was the repertory circuit. My large state university had four or five film co-ops that took over large auditorium space in the evenings to show movies. For like a dollar, or maybe two.

There were black and white films from all over the world, soft-focused and slightly washed out French comedies, Woody Allen retrospectives and the screening of Indiana Jones and The Lost Ark that I saw with a friend who was studying archeology.* Leaning over after the first set piece, where Indy narrowly escapes the traps only to find himself face to face with his nemesis, the friend whispered, “Archeology isn’t really like that [one thousand one], it’s actually much more exciting.”

My first screening of Casablanca blew me away. Rick’s self-perserving opportunism. The corrupt police. Bad Nazis (not like there are good Nazis, but you know what I mean). The bravery of the resistance and the face of Ilsa. Watching the way her face was lit on the big screen in the lecture hall made me want to brush her cheek. The way she looked down when she lied to Rick. The hurt in her eyes. Her perfect nose. Her cute hat. I fell in love with Ilsa immediately. Just as Rick did back in Paris, which they would always have. When he turned her away on the tarmac, ruining their chance for love just for the good of the rest of the world? What a sacrifice. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I choked back the sobs. What a tragic story of love that could not be. Not at that time. War is awful.

Today a friend remarked that she very rarely rereads books. She knows what’s going to happen and there are so many unread books it seems unthrifty to spend time on the known. I reread books all the time. Especially if I loved the characters or the writing, and it’s not always the same story.

The second time I saw Casablanca was on home video. The Spouse had hooked up a new rig, and I bought some classic movies I thought we’d like to see. We bought them, so they would need to stand up to rewatch. The pile included Nashville, Ran, Wizard of OzNotorious, Bladerunner (pre-director’s cut), GhostbustersIt’s a Wonderful Life, ChinatownStar Wars, Bridge on the River Kwai, The Princess Bride, and, of course, Casablanca.

I draped myself over The Spouse on the couch. I made popcorn. We pressed  ⇒. Intro and the map of North Africa. Then there was the impenetrable armor of Rick, the injustice of the lawless law, the heaviness of the Nazis crawling around the bar, the bravery of those trying to help refugees to safety, and that petulant Ilsa. That immature, selfish woman who in a pique was ready to abandon her husband as he worked–at grave danger–to defeat those awful Nazis. You know, the man that she made a promise to? Her HUSBAND? I hate infidelity. I hate that someone makes a promise and throws it aside when times are tough. I hated Ilsa for her childish grab at romance when the world was going to hell. And where did she get that stupid hat? War makes people do bad things.

I instituted the three times rules with The Boyz. It was useful when applied with truth. That is, if they tried it and did NOT like it, they could push it aside. They would never be forced, or even cajoled, into imbibing in that which they didn’t like. It wasn’t a trick, but an approach. Sometimes they didn’t like something because of the texture. The Big Guy was like that with tomatoes. Sometimes it was the flavor, I’m thinking about that thing with tarragon. Sometimes both, that would be Baby Bear and cooked carrots. I don’t care much for cooked carrots, either. No matter, the idea of revisiting something you didn’t like to see if it’s still true seems a classically liberal approach.

The third time I watched Casablanca, it was to be cooperative. There was an outdoor screening that The Spouse was involved with. The movie was the backdrop to a family evening, and I got extra spouse points since my disgust with the film was duly noted years earlier, while draped on the couch. The Boyz were pretty sophisticated cinephiles and there was a picnic in the works. I was in.

It was just past dusk when the movie hit screen. There was too little contrast for the first ten minutes until the dark moved in and filled in the black parts of the black and white. As expected, there was a stiff Rick in his monkey suit looking like he needed a double on the rocks, the crooked police chief handed his winnings declaring that he was SHOCKED to find gambling going on, the irony of hating the Nazis for occupying the French in its colonial empire–but Nazis are still the bad guys, the Nazis getting drunk and singing their stupid song until the brilliant resistance leader drowns them out leading a patriotic chorus of “La Marseillaise.” That crazy pillbox hat on Louis Renault, the police chief.

The lighting of Ilsa’s face was still beautiful, but she’s the backdrop, just another Mary Sue. But watch how Rick and Louis play cat and mouse with each other. Are they on the same side? Well, in a way, yes. Rick is on his own side and Louis is on his own side. Not exactly the same side, but interesting. They’re both trying to stay upright on shifting ground, trying to stay alive in a dangerous world. Then, to make sure that the resistance leader gets to safety, Rick threatens the police chief with a gun. Wildly, the police chief supports Rick’s murder of a bad guy Nazi. Now Rick and Louis have resolved their conflict, realize they’re good together, and walk off into the fog to maybe defeat more bad guys. A buddy movie. War brings out the worst and best.

I take in art through the lens of my world. As a young Doc, Casablanca was a love story, as a recently married Doc I saw a barely adverted betrayal, as a Doc with kids, the movie was bigger than a hill of beans in this crazy world. Different flavors at different times.

I haven’t tasted City Lights in a long time. It would be my third time. The charm. Play it, Sam. Again.

_____________________
*Fun fact. This was the same friend whose mom instituted the three-times rule.