Fantasy Sport

I walk into the house (construction site) almost every day. I’ve witnessed the progression from crumbling plaster to see-through walls and temporary beams. And now, it’s getting filled back in. To be our home.

Passing my key through the lock and opening the front door, my nose twitches at the smell of sawed wood, and it tickles with airborne sawdust. Actually, there’s very little dust. The construction team does a most excellent job cleaning the site. Nightly. Every night. We aren’t living there, so it’s mostly for them. Guess it’s easier to keep track of tools. But we’re all impressed.

Right now, though, I’m playing.

As I unbolt the door and pass into the “house,” I imagine I’m standing in the refurbished threshold. I stand on the subfloor that will be a black and white hexagon mosaic. I turn to the new, wide opening for the French doors. They will be glass and usher crosslight from the west bay of windows to the east bay. Beautiful.

I pretend to hang my coat in the newly framed hall closet. Then, with a great flourish, I burst through the doors (that will be delivered in a week). Looks like the electrician was here. It’s the telltale array of blue boxes nailed to the 2X4s. The one on my left must be for the sexy fan I selected for the den–the room that was formerly known as the toy room.

Hmmmmm. I frown a little. I can’t reach the switch until I close the door.

Walk in, close door, engage switch, re-open door? That needs to change. I make a mental note as I walk behind where the couch will be. I walk off a few steps, measuring with my feet, and wonder if both bookcases can fit. Next time I need to bring a tape measure.

Behind the couch is the (phantom) pocket door. This door is scheduled to be half glass, all the better to bring in light, my dear. I step through that passage into the office and play open and close with the linen closet across from the bathroom. I mentally flip that switch.

I run my hand across the air run of maple desk and imagine the chairs tucked neatly underneath. I don’t think the short cabinets are going to fit behind them. Need a Plan B.

The next phantom door leads to the back bedroom. It’s pretty much the same as it ever was. I turn to open the closet.

Hmmmmm. I purse my lips. No closet is framed. I know it was in the plans. That needs to change, too.

Squeezing through the sticks that demark the wall, I find myself standing in the pantry cabinets. Stepping out of them, I choose to enter the kitchen via the dining room. With a renewed flourish I sashay into the kitchen and place my bag on the imaginary island.

I turn from the island and affect the opening and closing of the refrigerator door. Looking up, I see the exhaust vent. Standing underneath it, I turn the red knobs in my head, pantomiming in the air. I reach to place an invisible plate on an invisible shelf. Ninety degrees later, I fake the faucet and look through the framed sheathing to what is likely to be my back garden. In my game, I’m adding a tomato plant or two.

Next to that big window wall is the place for the glass door. I look through the wood, at the back porch. Now, finishing a 180° turn, I simulate opening the microwave and the to-be-installed convection oven. I look through the last window.

Hmmmmm. My eyebrows are raised, and, almost, my hackles.

The window abuts the wall. But if it’s there, it will be blocked by the cabinets–including my spiffy new appliance garage. I look for the design plans, but I know that the window is off by maybe thirty inches. This gets added to my “to discuss” list.

I think about looking out that misplaced window as I’m preparing coffee. The countertop here will support the kettle, and, likely, our toaster.

The crew is happy that my game exposed errors. Everyone makes them. Finding and fixing early saves time and money.

Me? I practice opening the cabinet below the correctly spaced window and filling the bowl of The Beast with doggie kibble.

It will do. It will all do.

Gutted

I was showing a friend pictures from our demolition. The friend’s friend had an op-ed she needed to share. One that bit.

“So, if you hate your house so much, why don’t you just buy a new one?”

Ouch! That throw away comment from a grinning stranger really did burn. It freezes, too.

I, in my shock at that unthinkable thought, objected. Too much, in retrospect, methinks. Too much because her unwelcome comment was based on her observation. Of the evidence. That I provided.

Looking at the photos of the bare and picked over bones of the edifice I had sworn to protect I thought, “What hath I wrought?”

The next day, I hesitated as I stepped onto the porch as part of my daily construction inspection. I gingerly inserted my key. I slowly opened the door. There was almost no floor to speak of–just a bunch of planks that forced me to leap from one to the next at the risk of falling through to the basement below.


And I’ve been stuck here. Right here. For two weeks I haven’t been able to move this post forward. Not able to skip past it. Because I can’t skip it. It has to be dealt with. I have to deal with it.

Usually, I have posts and pieces of posts trolling through my head–all of the time. I sit down and tap them out and hit publish. That’s how it works. Sure, there’s a bit more than that, but not the writer’s black hole I’ve had.

Usually, the hardest ones come out the fastest. Usually.

I’ve been stuck in the unusual.

I’ve reopened this page again and again. I’ve tweaked some words, moved a comma about and walked away. I’ve sat down with a brew in hand and a strict self-imposed deadline to put a bow on it. Three beers later, I successfully avoid any accomplishment. I’ll do it tomorrow. I don’t.

I’d walk into the house and take more photos. I’d look at the skeleton of the house, and see that the specimen is incomplete. Some of the bones are missing. No floor, not just exposed joists, but an entirely missing kitchen floor. No stairway to the second floor, the ladder carefully balanced over the canyon of the basement stairs.

The radiators were all piled up in the former toy room, like the mountains of blocks, legos and Hot Wheels from a recent past.

This week the siding was torn off. The chipped paint along the thin wooden boards were stacked in dumpster number six. Or are we up to seven boxcars of the house toted away? What could be left?

I didn’t know what gutting the house really meant.

GUT: to clean out. strip. decimate. ravage. ransack. disembowel. eviscerate. empty.

That was it. Empty.

I haven’t been able to come to terms with what I’m doing to the house. I started counting what was staying.

  1. The roof. (Which we replaced 8 years ago).
  2. The foundation. (Which is getting parged to shore it up.)
  3. Most of the original sheathing that was diagonally hung, keeping out the elements. (It’s being covered with some kind of new-fangled water impervious wood and then foam insulation and then new man-made siding.)
  4. Most of the original posts and joists. Many of which are being sistered with new, man-made materials.
  5. All of the woodwork and trim in the living and dining rooms. The fake fireplace mantels are STAYING!
  6. I saved the floors in the first two bedrooms, now known as the den and the office. (Over objections of some/one. I can’t let them all go.)

I’m looking at this list and the house that I swore to protect that I can’t recognize and I start hearing Obi-Wan telling Luke that Luke’s father is now more machine than man.

And then I get to thinking. And I feel better. Because in the end, Darth Vader was alright. He kept his soul.

Publish!

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.

The Vapors

The fireplace and hallway. See the peaceful Buddha

Sometimes I feel like it’s not just the house that is coming under fix-it.

On Friday, the contract proposal was announced by a flicker of blue on the right side of my screen. At that moment, I was reading about category management–because that’s actually a thing–and the quick slide in and out at the corner of my laptop almost escaped me.

Except not really. It was after 5 pm. To be fair, it was just barely. Like 5:04:21 pm or so. I was expecting the email. They said I’d get it by the end of the week. This firm is all about making commitments. I really like that about them.

The email was here and wasn’t going anywhere, so I followed a link to an HBR article about new-fangled procurement models. This is a joke in that I don’t know anything about old-fangled procurement models. I was studying.

The Spouse was on his ongoing work-about, in which he works for daze on end sans respite. But he does have running water. And coffee. It’s not the Outback. It’s The Mall.

My brain was twitching just behind my right eye. It wanted to open the email. It saw that glimpse of aqua and processed the letters to see that they were in the right place–like a partially completed crossword puzzle–to expose the name of our Project Manager.

Open. Open. Open.

The reptilian part of my brain was shutting down that idea. There would be nothing good exposed via that email. My internal crocodile knew that we had blown significanltly past our original scope. The number would be huge. To survive we should slither-swim by. With half-closed eyes. Our tails waving goodbye.

Open. Open. Open.

Enough croc-brain! I have the smelling salts in hand. I opened the email. And I sucked air. But I was still breathing.

The next few days I walked around with a new hallway, a new kitchen, a new bathroom, a new deck, a new den, a new office, a new staircase swirling around in my head. I really liked it.

I also turned the finances around and around and around. It seemed fair for the work. It’s still huge. Like a big rock wall in the desert. How to get to the other side? I couldn’t sleep.

I never can’t sleep.

Big decisions are so hard. What we can do can be different than what we should do. Capacity is as much about pushing limits as being within limits. I turned to Dad.

My dad hated debt. He didn’t want to have obligations hanging over him. He was adamant about keeping things in good repair. He’d replace a roof at year 14 of a 15 year lifespan. He mowed his lawn and shoveled his walk. He was responsible and sober.

As I walked to the subway, I wondered what my father would say about this big investment.  I began the budget analysis, and I heard his words. They were coming from behind my right ear, from the back of my head. It was about those shoes. He was speaking clearly.

In middle-school, I wanted a pair of shoes. They were white and had teardrop cutouts next to the buckles. They would be my first pair of high heels. Many girls at school were wearing these very shoes. At my behest, Dad drove me to Bakers Shoes. I tried on the desired pump. I walked up to him and asked him if he liked them. He said, “If you like them, buy them.”

If you like them, buy them.

Dang. I was feeling like Ray Kinsella from Field of Dreams hearing his daddy’s voice in the cornfield.

If you like them, buy them.

That was it. He was telling me to follow my heart. Not the money.

I wasn’t expecting that. Not at all.

I’m not saying that my dad actually gave me advice. I know that he’s been dead for nine years. I know that. That said, I think that he was telling me something.

I told you. This is not just about the house.

I Scream, You?

Sample wares from an ancient ice cream truck.

One spring, an ice cream man posted up just past our school, just after the dismissal bell. It was an excellent move. The kids would line up with their quarters and nickels and dimes for an orange push-up, the coned nutty-buddy and the rectangular ice cream covered in a topping and served on a stick.

I wanted to eat ice cream on the way home from school, too. Mom did not agree. She thought it was too close to dinner time–school getting out at 3 pm and plates on the table pretty religiously by 5 pm. Plus, she was thrifty. She was not one to waste a penny on overpriced convenience food when she could get an entire box of frozen treats for the price of the two ice creams for me and My Sib.

We pleaded as little kids do. I’m sure we made the normal arguments of “all the other kids,” which was likely followed by a standard parental response about the wisdom of following them off of a cliff. We likely then went to bargaining, promising to do extra chores or offering a sacrifice to be named later. Not super effective. Mom was not easily moved. Check that. Mom NEVER changed her mind. She considered equivocation a huge weakness. Actually more like an unrecoverable error. We tried anyway.

Plan B? Ask Dad. Now this was the reasonable guy. He was open to begging, especially when it came to seven-year-old me. I fancied myself persuasive. But, as it turned out, there was no way that Dad would overturn Mom for an after school treat. Our childish desire to eat ice cream did not tip the scales. Nope. Not at all. Yet, it was really too much for us to walk past that white truck with the entire school partaking of sweet frozen ambrosia.

Next option? Thievery. 

We didn’t have any money, but Mom did. Over the course of a week or so, we pilfered coins out of her wallet. We cased the truck, selecting then reselecting then returning to our original goodie of choice. The day arrived. We were going to put our plan into action. After school. 

I don’t know how My Sib felt, but I felt like a grown up. I held my coins tightly in my fist as I waited my turn. The bigger kids jumped in front of me. I was a little lost in the crowd. My Sib was a year older. She found our way to the window. I felt rushed. The paper wrapped ice cream was in my hand and my money gone without me fully savoring the experience. But, there was the ice cream. 

I had selected the ice cream sundae cup. There was a little bowl full of very hard, very frozen ice cream with equally hard and equally frozen strawberries around the edges and halfway down the container. I had a small, thick, flat wooden spatula for a spoon. It could dig into the tundra. My Sib had the cone with the chocolate and nut crown. We had a little less than a fifteen minute walk home to eat the evidence of our crime. 

I think we were nervous. I don’t think we particularly enjoyed the ice creams, but were thrilled at our most clever execution of our plan. We talked about what we would get next time. We had to dump the wrappers. I’m pretty sure we just threw them on the ground. Litterers, too. 

We were not without pride when we walked into the house, after defying all the rules. We procured the cash, bought and consumed the forbidden contraband. Well done, small people, we thought. But, you know what pride goest before. 

Dad and Mom called us into the kitchen. We were not alerted to any danger. They were relaxed. Mom asked how school was. I went on and on about my day. I figured the more I said, the further we were away from the events we were hiding. I soon got into sharing about my reading group or spelling words or flash card math. Dad smiled at us and asked, “So how was the ice cream?”

Without missing a beat, I grinned and nodded and said, “It was GOOD!” My Sib snapped her head in my direction. My little hand lifted to cover my mouth that was now wide in horror. How did he know?!? The next few minutes are a blur. A combination of super slo-mo with everyone talking in that slowdowned way and a flurry of sped up words and fluttering hands and washed faces and off to our rooms. There were tears of humiliation and guilt. Especially when it was explained to us that we stole from our mother. That’s on the same level as drowning kittens, copying off someone’s test or lying right to Jesus’ face. 

This was the worst thing I had ever done. And my lack of discretion under cross examination made me the goat in My Sib’s eyes. Not a good partner in crime. I was pretty much the worst. I felt so sorry for myself, for being so awful, that I cried and cried in my room in the most dramatic fashion. I think my mother came to my room to recommend that I cease and desist with the theatrics. 

We were told that there would be no dinner, and that we needed to go straight to bed. They relented, and we ate dinner in our pajamas. You can be sure I cleaned my plate as I ate in silence, my stomach in knots. My Sib whispered to me that I was forgiven. We went to sleep. I don’t think I dreamed about ice cream that night. 

Parents must have complained because the truck soon disappeared, never to taunt or tempt the second and third graders at Norman Rockwell Elementary School again. I’ll never know if my parents called. They may have, but they were tricksy. They knew things. They were superhuman. They were out of my league. 

Turns out that it was easy to bust us. We both had ice cream all over our faces. No napkins. A flaw in the henious plot. I overheard my Dad telling the story to my uncle. Still, they were good.

Anyway, that’s why I don’t lie. I’m just not any good at it. But I still eat ice cream in a little cup. I pay for it with my own money. And sometimes I eat ice cream for dinner. I’m grown, now. 

Sir Pops Alot

Popped popcorn

There is really only one way to make popcorn. Well, I guess technically that isn’t true. There are, in fact, a bunch of ways to make popcorn.

You can take a pouch out of a cellophane bag, flatten it out and put it in the microwave. That’s a way to get gross tasting popcorn that frequently is scorched or burnt. You can put loose popcorn into a thingamy gig–a thingamy gig is one of those single use tools that you buy on a whim from Bed Bath and Beyond. If you have a big kitchen, it gets stored in the back of an underused cabinet. If you have a small kitchen, you regret buying it. Anyway, this popcorn thingamy gig also goes in the microwave. I think that people use it to avoid using any fat in the making of the popcorn. Creates a taste and texture similar to a styrofoam coffee cup.

Another way to get styrofoam-reminiscent popcorn is to use one of those air popcorn poppers. I don’t know if they still sell them. You used to put a knob of butter in the top of the dome so it would get greasy. Like greasy styrofoam. That’s what McDonald’s quarter pounders with cheese used to come in.

For people with bars in their basements, you know with a cool neon light and dusty bottles of booze because all they ever do is take beer out of the fridge? Yeah, those people. They might buy a small movie-theatre popcorn maker. It’s next to the arcade style pinball machine they got from Brookstone. They can even buy the fake butter for their groovy machine. Mmmm. How about that? They might have that singing mounted fish, too.

Then, there’s jiffy pop. I’ll just leave that one there.

So, to be honest, there may be many ways to make popcorn, but there is only one way that you can make good popcorn. It takes a heavy, 3-quart stainless steel pot, vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pot and some popcorn kernels. (Here, I can go either white or yellow, both have excellent results. I lean a little toward the white as they seem to have less moisture. But it’s not science. It’s not like I’m Kenji López-Alt).

I used to heat the oil and then add the popcorn kernels after a test pop. But that was stupid. I’d heat up the oil and then dump a third or a half cup of kernels which would immediately drop the temperature. Then I’d have to raise it up again. There was occasional burning, and, more importantly, this was very inefficient.

Now I put the pot on the burner set just above medium heat. I put the oil and the kernels in at the same time. I swirl the popcorn in the oil, to coat it. Also, because I like the swirling sound of the seeds on the steel. There’s a lot to like about making popcorn the right way.

Oh, and I place the lid on the pot. Don’t forget that. I had a pockmark in the middle of my forehead after a tragic popcorn popping incident. Fortunately it was when I was young, and it healed over with no permanent scar.

As the oil and kernels heat, I occassionally swirl it some more. My stove is kind of old, so it might not be heating evenly, and you want the popcorn to heat up together. Uneven heat is a big cause of scorched snack. This is to be avoided at all costs. I have heard that some people “like” burnt popcorn, but frankly, they are wrong. Burnt popcorn stinks and tastes bad. Believe me.

Be patient. Do NOT increase the flame. This is a mistake. I know this. So don’t do it.

After some intermittent undulations, it begins. Always with a single ding. The cymbal of the seed hitting the lid of the pan. It’s the sound of promise, of a beginning. I have sometimes questioned this miracle of corn and heat and opened the lid. My advice is to open away from your face, because after the first pop there may be a lull or there may be a a blitz. If the latter, shut the lid. Like NOW. (See scar above.)

What follows is the staccato pummeling of the kamikaze seeds throwing themselves against the pot. The start lasts about four seconds of single kernels popping before it becomes a cacophony of explosive corn, releasing energy and steam. It’s critical that you vent the lid, just a wee bit, to let out some moisture. You don’t want soggy popcorn. What I usually do is shake the pot–this is a good technique to force the seeds that might have been tossed to the top of the transformed corn back to the bottom of the pot where it has a chance to pop, too. Anyway, when I shake the pot, I let the lid clank around a bit and out comes some vapor.

Once the corn starts to erupt, you can’t walk away. The entire reaction is done in very few minutes, and you need to take it off of the heat the instant it’s done. Like, seriously, when it’s done. Don’t delay. Turn off the heat and pour it into a bowl. Now. (See burnt above.)

Some people add butter to popcorn, but I don’t see this as a big plus-up. It makes it greasy and doesn’t add too much, to me. But if you like butter, go for it. I won’t judge you.

Now I like to add two kind of salt. Regular salt shaker salt for brine and chunky kosher salt for crunch. It’s a bit more art than science. But the science does kick in if you use too much salt. I think it’s biology. Too much salt and your lips turn white. Like a chemical reaction.

But my secret ingredient, the one that I wouldn’t tell the boys no matter how many Friday nights I made popcorn for our weekly dinner and a movie nights and no matter how many times I caught them trying to sneak a peek, is ground black pepper. Not pepper ground from peppercorns. Nope. The already pulverized pepper in the red and white tin. I sprinkle on enough that you never realize it’s actually pepper, but there is some extra warmth in the bowl.

The popcorn is the best when there is some crunch, some sweetness from the corn and some salt. Maybe more than some. The oil provides the crunch and a little bit of flavor. I use a neutral oil.

Popcorn presents first in the air, its distinct smell fills your nostrils. It goes from my 3-quart stainless steel pot into my big stainless steel bowl. I think we call it the popcorn bowl. The bowl is much bigger than the pot, yet the popcorn expands to fill the bowl. More popcorn magic.

My next step, almost always, is to take the bowl into the other room and plop on the couch with a huge glass of water that I rest on the table. The TV is on, and there is, almost always, a movie to watch. It’s best when I put the bowl between me and a companion, and especially wonderful if the movie is funny.

And that’s really the only way to make popcorn.

 

Stranger than Fiction

A pic of the columns in the National Arboretum. Someone else took this picture.

Everyone had their cameras out, snapping pictures of the columns against a blue sky on a late fall day. One guy stood in the tall grass, like a wildlife photographer trying to capture the lion on her hunt. A group had a big white umbrella to reflect most beautifully on their glamour shot. Don’t anyone tell them that to include the stately columns in the shot, nobody will be able to see her face. The guy with the camera wasn’t that good.

There were the folks with their phones. Some standing on the base of the columns. Others hugging significant others, a pair of cheesy grins. The one lady who kept backing up and backing up and backing up until she fell in a hole. She recovered before she hit the dirt. The parents broadcasting their kids on Facebook live–their kids racing around, jumping from one tile to the next, tagging each other and barely avoiding the couple sitting on the ledge of the cistern having an intense discussion about the failures of the Clinton campaign. He was earnestly trying to get her to care.

The Park Service had drained the fountain for the winter so there was no reflecting pool in the foreground. There were some crunchy leaves stuck to the bottom of the reservoir and some very sketchy looking liquid that The Beast lapped up before he could be pulled away. For those of you tracking, we discovered later that it didn’t sit so well with him. That’s all I’ll say about that.

When we first came to the arboretum, the columns were laid out on their sides, scattered across the top of the hill. From the road, it looked like the abandoned rejects from a rook factory. The hill was mushy and the columns sunk a bit.

Over the years we watched them stand upright. We came back once to see the foundation for fountains. There was a dirt path but mostly you’d walk across the mucky meadow to get to your personal interaction with the columns. Later, they built the winding paver paths and planted grasses and wildflowers. I can hardly remember when it was a ruin. Now people have wedding shoots there without fear that the bride’s white high heels will sink slowly into the mud.

We circled around the outside loop and stepped along the path to the back of the sculpture. There was a nice couple–funny how we call strangers a nice couple–him with an arboretum brochure folded, almost crumpled up in his hand. We walked past them as they were straining to see the tops of the twenty-two columns. Maybe the guy was counting them. She found The Beast entrancing and remarked on his very good looks.

That’s how it started. An exchange of pleasantries about the dog and then some remarks about the remarkable columns. The visitors were a little unsure about them, but The Spouse, with the authority of an arboretum historian, explained that they were actually ruins from the burning of the Capitol during the War of 1812. Wow, was all we could say. They were that old.

Except if the guy looked in his damn pamphlet, he’d see that they weren’t built until 1828 and were a key feature of the Lincoln inauguration. Oops.

“You really had me going there.”

“I had myself going there. It was a good story, no?”

Yes, it was. And hopefully the nice couple either read the inscription in the stone at the base of the columns or shared the incorrect information with others. The latter would be funny. Or maybe they had read the crumpled paper already. They were nice, so would likely not have corrected The Spouse. That is kind of funny, too.

“You know, it was as if you really knew.”

“I really did.”

Cool story, bro. Sheesh.