A First Dark Day

Note the contrasting flooring. The stairs are original and the landing is new. This was from my recon trip yesterday.

The report from the trades on trades day was fine. Of course, we found yet another thing that needed to be done that was outside of the initial scope.

There’s no question that we need a new front door. The report included an option to use the entire width of the door opening. The original door was a big one and it would be so sexy to power-up to the authentic entryway.

The Spouse was providing the report, since he was there.

They had discussions about electrical boxes and radiant heat underneath the tiled spaces. There was some confusion over my second story cork floor requirement. Somebody got a crazed idea that I wanted carpet upstairs. Nope. Nope. Nope. I truly hate carpeting. I liked cork for the warmth and soundproofing of carpet in a renewable and easy-to-sweep-dog-hair-out-of-corners form.

The floor guy was less sanguine about the main floor wood. The beat up planks that mean a lot to me. The ones that I love. The Spouse’s report included words about a lack of sub flooring, about the grooves getting untongued or something, noise about exposed nailheads and a few holes that were shortcuts to the basement. The Spouse also noted that our project manager was very worried about how I would react, since the floors needed to be replaced and he remembered my resolve that that wasn’t going to happen.

And I’m like, “Nope. Not happening. I am keeping the floor.” This was not a great part of the report. Nobody [that would be The Spouse since it was only the two of us in this discussion] said I was being stubborn or ridiculous, but I felt that those concepts were just barely stopped at the back of someone’s tongue.

I was feeling like The Spouse was always taking the side of the mens. Some kind of he-man club. That I was being patted on my little emotional head and was out of my element. Even though I am the logical one in our equation. I’m the one who pushes emotions aside to solve an issue. And this is an issue that I am sure can be resolved with engineering and tools and ingenuity.

That said, it’s true that maintaining the soul of the house, respecting and honoring the bones of this structure is my top requirement for this remodel. Number one. I wrote it down first, before new kitchen or second bathroom.

It was why I was [secretly] putting off this project. I’ve been worried that I might not make the right calls for the house. The house has embraced us and our madness. It’s known families before ours, too. It’s been the keeper of our secrets. The holder of our joys. The witness to our sorrows.  Our protector. We owe it our fealty. We need to protect it back, like the special vessel it is.

After a bit of tension, the report was finished with the decision hanging in the air like the smell of Elizabeth, N.J.  Next day I hit up the Google to arm myself with knowledge. I typed in searches like

  • replace or refinish old floors
  • salvaging heart pine flooring
  • stain or varnish

The links I clicked were things like Restoring Old Wood Floors to Their Former Glory or Can I Save My Hardwood Floor? or Refinish or Replace Wood Floor from Bob Vila’s Blog.

My research turned up the same types of challenges that the Spouse described–exposed nails, separated planks and balancing the volume of floor that needs to be replaced. I read time and time again, in article after post after discussion forum that old floors can last 100 years.

Gulp. Mine are 100 years old. While floors that have been well cared for could certainly last longer, it seemed that 100 years was a good run.

I was on my knees, with my hands running along the floor boards. I looked right inside those crumb filled gaps. I felt the nail heads with my fingertips. I laid my cheek on the rough floor. A surprising liquid welled in my eyes and dropped to wet the ancient surface.

Where the hell did that come from? I stood up and pushed my hair back behind my ears. I strode into the bathroom to wash my hands and found myself oddly agitated, pacing along a four foot path. What was I doing? If the floors have to go, maybe I shouldn’t even do this project.

I sat down at my 1917 built mahogany table that desperately needs to be refinished and pushed my coffee cup back and forth in front of me. I flipped the newspaper away from me and a sob escaped my throat. In the split of a second, The Beast bounded from his perch on the couch and I found his paws supporting his 85 pound body in my lap. He put his snout next to mine and lapped up the wet salt streaking my face. He wasn’t going to stop until I stopped. He really hates it when I’m sad.

I looked for solace from the floors in dining room. They hate it when I’m sad, too.


Little Action in Action Park

Waterfall Action [!?] Park, Rodanthe, OBX, NC.

There is loneliness in abandonment. Like a baby’s sock spied on the sidewalk. You know the baby kicked it off, and the parent is later annoyed by an unpaired sock. Yet, you see a single sock alone on the concrete, maybe it has a ruffle and little multi-colored hearts, and your heart breaks. Just a little.

Combing though boxes at a yard sale–and seriously what the hell are we doing going through other folks’ castoffs??–there’s that beat up puzzle box. It’s likely missing two or three pieces. You find the beat up box next to an old Barbie with a fright wig style hairdo. She’s always naked. And her twist and turn waist is seriously wrong.  Pawing through, there may be a few stacking blocks, the ones with the ABCs, rattling around. I guess someone just couldn’t throw it out. So you are stuck with their melancholy just because you were hoping for… Oh, nevermind. Don’t go to yard sales.

Even a car up on blocks in a front yard, once you push past the eyesoreness, is mournful. Especially when you see it in front of a short boxy house with a mostly sunken roof and peeling siding framed by what had been a screened in porch. Today, though, the door flaps in the wind and makes a loud clapping sound when it tries to fit in its frame. The porch is minus much of the screen. You can see the broken couch that would have been hidden on the porch. Nobody is there. But the couch, a pile of mail overflowing the mailbox and an old green hose snaking from the side of the house toward the rusting car makes it clear that was not always true.

Driving on NC-12 reveals the remains of what had been the Waterfall Action Park in Rodanthe. First, what an odd name. What were they trying to sell? Anyway, it was built in 1980 but had the look of the worst of a 60’s amusement park. Passing by, it looks like it was abandoned 30 years ago. The grass is growing through cracks in the concrete. The chutes and flumes of what must have been the water action slides are both sun bleached and misshapen. There is almost no color left. Everything is askance and a silvery grey-white, with maybe a darker gray that was once blue.

The park was big and spanned both sides of the highway. There was a putt-putt golf course and two or three go-kart courses. All that is left is a bunch of old tires and the curve of the concrete that the absent carts dragged across. Seeing this wretched wreck over the past few years makes me mourn a past that I never knew.

This wreckage, despite its full ruin, is all of four years old. After a one-year decline, due to the founder’s death, Hurricane Sandy ripped through. In less than two years, this “action park” became an inaction eyesore.

Like that. The story isn’t ancient history, although the site looks it. It’s more like the missing sock from a baby’s foot. Immediate. Transient. And sad.

Mourning In America

Detail from William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Pietà, 1876, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Mary is so sad. She lost her son.

Women with loss. Loss of a child. A boy, a man, a son, a girl, a woman, a daughter.  A Gold Star mother saying these words, “I became a Gold Star mother,” into a microphone. To millions of people. And tucked deep inside her story of bravery at the unspeakable, she thinks, “Keep your star.” It’s an exclusive club. Nobody wants to join.

Wailing women. Weeping. Pounding their chests. Grabbing their heads. Pulling out clumps of hair. Faces wrenched. Clenching jaws and grinding teeth, trying desperately to hold back the bellows of grief. Of their worst moment. Of falling to the ground with horror. Of being unable to breathe. Of minds going blank, no thoughts, no feelings, nothing, because the alternative is that this is real.

Women of grace. Standing there. Alone. Together. Some with anger. Many with anger. Some struggling to find meaning. Others taking the mantle of meaning. Sharing their heartache, despair, agony and anguish. Pleading with us to see them. To acknowledge their children. To imagine their pain. To warn us. All searching for peace.

There are no words. But I am so sorry for your loss.


Blighted Bud


Open office spaces are very au courant. They are all about collaboration and breaking down hierarchies, but they end up being insulating. Because headphones.

You walk up and start “collaborating” to a colleague with their face in a computer screen. No response. You say their name. No response. You say their name louder. No response. You tentatively tap their shoulder, like some creeper. The colleague jumps out of their chair while pulling at the string around their neck to pull the bud out of their ear. Then they profusely apologize as you interrupt with your own set of “sorries.”

Meanwhile the person in close quarters NOT wearing headphones is totally disturbed and now reaches in their desk for something to plug into their speakerboxx thereby closing themselves off from the collaboration.

It’s worse than that.

I’m walking The Dog. It’s stunningly beautiful–sunny and warm. We stop frequently and at length so he can smell the hell out of every last blade of grass and dandelion to be. I spy a guy with a dog a block down. Those of you who are not dogwalkers may not realize that you must be ever vigilant for other creatures–squirrels, cats, birds, skateboards, baby carriages and dogs–just in case someone decides to bolt. You work to get the attention of The Dog as you choke up on the leash preparing for a burst of muscle that taxes your own.

As the guy approaches, The Dog notices the other. I’m prepped. The guy gets closer and asks me, “Is this your dog?”

Odd, but I’m like, “Well, yeah, I’m walking him.” I’m thinking he’s wondering if The Dog is friendly. We are close to the physical rendezvous, and he leans away a little as his dog with his waggy tail tries to make contact.

Guy is looking straight at me, and I start to tell him that The Dog is friendly. He abruptly waves me aside while telling me, “I’m on the phone.” I hear him say something about being “right in front of your house. I thought he got away. Where should I go?” He hadn’t been talking to me at all. He was asking somebody else about a dog. I didn’t see the telltale cord, but, as I dragged The Dog past, I saw his earbuds. I hope he reunited the other dog with his family.

He was disconnected from our false encounter while making a connection somewhere else.

There’s a great outside service window at the local watering hole, restaurant and grill. I perched on a stool at the smoothed concrete bar because the billowing smoker beckoned me to beer and BBQ.

A woman asked me if the seat next to me was available and settled in. She left the menu alone and began flipping through on her phone. I turned to the friendly people on my right who were downright hysterical pontificating on the different styles of sauce, bracket deadlines and other trivial matters.

The bartender approached the phone clutching patron for her order. The woman was unresponsive. Bartender looks at me to make sure that she was in fact making sounds when she was speaking. I indicated that she indeed was. We shared the moment of realization that you couldn’t hear if you were wearing headphones. Again, the headphones. Self-isolation from the surrounding conviviality.

The woman looked at the bartender and pulled out the bud. She ordered a house white. Then she put the earpiece back in and went back into herself. A few minutes later I heard her emotionally asking her phone, “Is that how you are treating me?” She was talking to someone who wasn’t there.

I didn’t want to eavesdrop on her pain. The conversation must have ended because she stopped talking. She kept flipping. I wish she took out the noise-cancelling and secluding earphones. I wish that she could have joined in the moment that was around her. Mostly, I wish she’s going to be okay since I somehow connected with her even though she doesn’t know.

No Place

paper lanterns floating away.

We walked out to snow covered trees, grass, hedges, porches and cars. The sidewalks were snow-free and even dry. It wasn’t crisp, but not humid either. It was pretty in that snow-silence way and without real cold.

The snow was losing its grip on the branches and parachuted down to the ground in a zillion formations of white. It was the inverse of white paper lanterns that use candle power to float up into the air.

It was a business walk, but we weren’t in a hurry. There’s an apartment building at the end of the block. It’s only three stories. I’m not sure how long it’s been there. It’s not like one of the sexy new buildings with marble counters and artisan wood floors with a big common lobby with a fireplace for the hipsters to hang. It’s a simple rectangular building made of red brick, maybe from the sixties. It’s not ugly enough to be from the seventies.

The building is on the corner and as we squared it I saw an old mattress and boxspring on the curb. It looked like a sheet cake frosted with snow. There was a chair just beyond the matress, also next to the curb. It was one of those chairs made out of that heavy wood composite. A super cheap chair that is super sturdy, except it’s prone to splinter or rock. The seat had snow on it and some snow clung along the edge of the chairback. There was another one. My eyes followed the space between the sidewalk and the street. Next to the tree there was a pile which included a backpack, a smashed purse, some towels, a folder with papers, a cushion and a blender.

An eviction.

There was the grey box that was a 27″ tube TV. A broken three-shelf bookcase made out of the same composite wood stuff. The dog sniffed in another pile of homegoods and I pulled him. I didn’t like him sifting through somebody’s stuff.

An eviction always makes me sad. It’s someone’s worldly possessions tossed out on the street. Cruelly exposed. A person or a family’s dinner dishes, shower curtains, socks, CDs and books. Pieces of their lives broadcast next to the street.

I feel like a voyeur peeping in a stranger’s window. I turn my head out of respect for these people who I don’t know but who I now know about from their belongings.

It isn’t the worst eviction I’ve seen. I look at the piles again and don’t see anything that says “kids.” No colorful toys, little shoes, kids books or school supplies. I sigh in relief. And, actually, it looks like the remains represented an abandoned apartment, so nobody was put out. At least not in this transaction.

There was a cardboard box at the end of the eviction train. The dog poked his nose in the quarter-filled box. More papers, a small round vase with a fluted top, a coffee mug and, on the top of the pile a big black book. BIBLE.

I jangled the leash and told the dog let’s go and mumbled a nonspecific petition to the morning sky.

Tear Chasm

President Obama with tears running down his face because more people were killed with guns and he wishes it would stop.

I saw the President cry yesterday.

One of the most powerful men in the world wept. On national TV. In front of God and everybody.

I watched him wipe away a tear of sorrow, tears of frustration and tears of anger. Tears of mourning as he, once again, remembered the little kids–kindergartners–who were massacred by a man with a gun in Sandy Hook. You can see photos of their beautiful faces, and those of their brave teachers, here.

Go ahead and look at them. I’ll wait for you.

See their smiles with missing teeth, their dimples, their smirks and their headbands. See their birthday candles, itty bitty sneakers, temporary tattoos and baseball caps.  They are frozen in time as children. They won’t get a chance to become the amazing young women and young men that they could have been.

That is a vast sadness. A sadness that chokes you if can bear to think about it.

I’m glad that the President cried. Everyone should be able to cry. Men, even powerful men, need to cry. And it’s okay. No, it’s more than okay. It’s what humans do when they are feeling sad, frustrated and angry.

The President asked us to feel those feelings with him. Of course he cried. I cried, too.

When Thinking Doesn’t Count

Ooogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas

Charles Blow writes today in the New York Times about head versus “heart.”

This underscores the current fight for the soul of this country. It’s not just a tug of war between left and right. It’s a struggle between the mind and the heart, between evidence and emotions, between reason and anger, between what we know and what we believe.

This conflict was captured in a tit-for-tat between Obama and Rush Limbaugh. In an interview with CBS this week, Obama complained about the “vitriol” coming from the likes of Limbaugh: “I think the vast majority of Americans know that we’re trying hard, that I want what’s best for the country.”

Limbaugh shot back on Friday, “I and most Americans do not believe President Obama is trying to do what’s best for the country.”

And there it was. Obama’s language focused on what people “know,” or should know. He seems to find comfort in the empirical nature of knowledge. It’s logical. Limbaugh’s language focused on what he thinks people “believe.” Beliefs are a more complicated blend of facts, or lies, and faith. And, they can exist beyond the realm of the rational.

And this is the part where I get really scared.

You see, I am a thinking person. I will look at facts. I will look at data. I will follow the trail. If I am worried about the provisions in the health care bill, I will read them for myself. And, I will change my mind when I am wrong.

Here’s the scary part. There are many–and truly not all–people who are strongly against health care (really insurance) reform who are just making stuff up. These people are making stuff up all the time. They are in an alternative reality. Where birth certificates from a sovereign state are suspect and there is a great and evil communist-nazi conspiracy.

And the left, we are going with logic. And facts. And thoughtful arguments. If people only understood–the President seems to be saying–they would support.

They have the boogie man. Boogie man wins over thinking man.

Keep an eye on the elections. Thinking people need a new strategy.

Trying to Get It Right

white charger

I was speeding up M-39 one year ago, at this time. I was zipping around cars to try and get to St. John Oakland Hospital.

No that’s not right.

I was creeping along up the Southfield Freeway. My flight was on time to Detroit, and the Sibs knew that I was on my way. I was really wishing that I had taken the noon flight. I got the call around ten in the morning, but it would have been too close. The next flight was 2:30. Gave me a little more time to deal with the logistics of an out of town spouse and two boys home for summer vaycay.

No that’s not right. My dealing with the logistics was: two frantic calls, throwing some clothes in a bag. I specifically packed a jacket. In case I was staying for a funeral.

No, that’s not right. There was no “in case.” At least that’s what my ever-the practical brain knew. Fortunately, the brain was in charge of packing. And the brain was in charge as I was stuck in traffic on the freeway. Between exits 5 and 6, my cell phone rang. And for that split second, the brain lost control of the situation. The heart fumbled for the phone.

The brain grabbed control back and immediately was sorry that the phone was answered. It was the Sibling who had news for me.

No, that’s not right. She didn’t have news, because I already knew. And I asked her not to tell me. I told her I would be there in about 30 minutes. I didn’t need to hear it right this second. I still had time. I wasn’t ready, and it would do me no good to know right now. “It can wait,” I said. I cried as I crawled up the “express”way.

No, that’s not right. My volume was high when I told her I didn’t want to know. She felt I had to know right then. I was so angry. I hung up before she could get it all out. I screamed. Then, I cried. I was stuck in traffic, I was all fucking alone in some strange car, in a city that I hate. I couldn’t pull over. My eyes stung.

I wasn’t so sure where the hospital was. I knew where the other hospital was, but not this one. I drove past it, had to turn around. I went into the lot and parked the car. (I think it was a sliver sedan. A white Charger maybe? Yeah, that was it, the white Charger that failed me.) I went to the desk and asked to see my father.

No, that’s not right. I didn’t know what to ask. I couldn’t see my father in the way you see someone in the hospital. It was more like seeing someone in a morgue. He was dead. So I told the woman at the information desk that I wanted to see my father, and that he was dead, and that he died within the past hour. Where would he–and my family–be?

I went into the ICU and he was there. With my mother and Sib#1. Sib#2 and SpouseOf#2 were in the hall.

No, that’s not right. He wasn’t there. His body was. And I don’t think that he had been there for a few days. So it didn’t really matter that I missed seeing him. Traffic didn’t matter. The noon flight wouldn’t have helped. But what I wanted was that all three of us were with him so he would know that we were all there. All together. All for him. The brain knew that he wouldn’t have known. Then brain went to work tending to the tasks at hand. There was alot to do, and this was all new.

No, that’s not right. The heart kept trying to poke out from the heavy blanket. It did matter.

No, that’s not right. It doesn’t matter.

No, that’s not right. It does.


Three Things

First thing, I am over American Idol. It’s on now. And I really don’t care. Didn’t vote once. Missed a bunch of shows. Don’t care. Boring. [Like another “news” story on how Hillary doesn’t have a shot, but that she still gets coverage like it matters. Ron Paul is still running for the Republican nomination, but he doesn’t get airtime. Must be ageism.]

Second thing, I wish I could be Chef Ramsey sometimes. Number one, he is world class in his profession. Number two, he just lets it go in the kitchen. He calls people donkeys because they are acting like donkeys. He tells them–in a forceful fashion–when they are screwing up. If he is disappointed, people know. And then he recognizes excellence in the next breath. I bet he gets hoarse, sometimes. I sure would like to call the donkeys by their real names, sometimes. And yell, sometimes. [Okay, in the non-reality T.V. world, it’s not always so good to speak your mind. Unless the campaign is all reality T.V. anyway?]

Third thing, [House spoiler] was too sad for me. I am struck by the calm of people who know they are dying. I used to think that it was a TV or movie drama thing–people looking serene, knowing that their time is almost over. But it really is like that. And we really have to let them go. In TV, though, we can go back to an earlier episode, and the ones we cared about are still there. So, I cried.