Archive for May, 2018

Memories for Sale

I’m selling my house.

After eighteen years and precious memories, things have changed and I feel compelled to try something else. My sweet wife, Ila, passed away nine months ago. The house is quiet. Too quiet. Too much time to think. Too much time.

It’s a big house, more than I need. How many bathrooms can I use simultaneously? How many acres can I traverse in a day. And how big a bed do I need when all I want to do is lie closer to the woman I love?

And I want to be nearer town. Closer to people. Closer to the noise of everyday living.

Yesterday I went to Java and Joes, the little coffee shop in the middle of town that has great coffee and the occasional stale muffin. It’s a slow-moving place with the usual assortment of regulars. I sat outside and watched the cars go by. Dogs on leash. People carrying stuff from Rains and Rainbow Bridge. I don’t know who they are, but I welcome their company. It’s like a battery recharge. Something that makes me part of the scene, rather than being alone.

Anticipating a positive outcome to my own sales effort and the need to find another home, it seemed appropriate to find out what was available on the market. Led by an intrepid real estate broker, Jackie and I looked at some candidates. Comparing my home to the ones we visited was disappointing at best. A feeling of why am I doing this dogged me both during and after the visitations. Our broker’s admonition of it’s a tight market, not much inventory, failed to make me appreciate my situation.

As a further step in preparing for a new home, I have taken to watching HGTV while I treadmill at the gym. I am mesmerized watching homes being renovated quicker than possible, even under the best conditions. I snicker as the disasters involving wood rot, crumbling structural beams and faulty plumbing are discovered and corrected in record time, and at a cost that is well under Southern California prices. Homeowners bounce between major depression and glee as each episode invariably ends with a happy outcome.

Couples seeking a new home are doggedly focused on the number and size of the bathrooms. Young couples with small children seem particularly possessed with the need for a bathroom for each of their kids. Four bedrooms, four baths, for four people is the ubiquitous mantra. God forbid that little Susie might become socially maladjusted if forced to wait in the hallway while little Jimmy diddles on the toilet.

I grew up in a three-bedroom apartment that was shared by my parents, my older brother, my aunt and uncle, and my grandmother. Other relatives, usually homeless, often appeared without notice and stayed for weeks. On the floor if necessary. I slept peacefully on a couch in the dining room, while my elders played poker and smoked cigarettes not two feet from my head. And we had one bathroom with one sink, a toilet and a shower.

It all seemed normal to me. If someone was in the bathroom, I retreated to wait my turn. If it was urgent, I would ask through the door “will you be long?” I learned to pace myself and always take advantage of vacancies. Maybe that’s why, even today, I hardly ever pass up the opportunity when a public toilet is within easy reach.

Friends have mixed feelings when I tell them that I’ve listed the house and its three bathrooms. Some don’t know what to say, but others are very supportive. Some, who think they can see into the future, promise me a positive outcome.

As I look out at the Topa Topa mountains that have become familiar faces over the last eighteen years, I find myself see-sawing between euphoria and depression. I alternate between welcoming potential buyers and hoping that they lose their way as they climb Sulphur Mountain Road.

I had my seventy-ninth birthday on Saturday. Sweet Jackie did herself proud by organizing a first-class party. She showered me with gifts and whispered words of love. Attuned to my mixed emotions about the house, she repeatedly checked my mood by asking, “Do you feel like it’s your birthday?” I’d think about her question and hesitate. It was as though the party was marking the end of an era. One that was filled with good times and sorrow. Something I couldn’t and wouldn’t forget.

The next day I got a note from my Chicago cousin Judie who had seen the over-the-top photos taken by my real estate broker…Just as I remember it. Nostalgic for me. But I understand why in your heart you hope no one wants to buy it. Even though that’s what should happen. It will be easier on you.

Maybe it will, after a while.

Sweet sounds

The iPhone messaging application announces the arrival of a text message with a unique sound. More than a tinkle but less than a bell, it can be best described as the sound produced when an expensive teaspoon, held between your fingertips, contacts a very fine crystal goblet.

I receive iPhone texts throughout the day. From some friends, some vendors, and some who may have stumbled across my phone number and which I delete without reading. I find the sound of an arriving text captivating. Not knowing who the sender is until I look at the phone display tends to heighten my curiosity and draw my attention from whatever else I may be doing. It can be very addicting.

I believe I have developed a knack for identifying the genre of the caller by the sound of the arriving text. Business messages tend to produce a sound full of sharp edges, and are insistent on a response. Friend’s texts produce a milder, friendly, sound that announces the arrival of someone who just wants to talk.

People I love can be identified by a soft, melodious sound that announces the arrival of a text that I may have anxiously awaited. A message that has words that make my heart beat faster and my mind imagine what they are, even before I have opened the text.

Jackie’s messages have a unique sound. Sweet and soft with a hint of the mischief to come. Or with words that will fill my day with big smiles. I find myself anticipating their arrival throughout the day. Much like a child who can’t wait to find out what’s under the wrappings of a gift, I long for their arrival and am severely disappointed when hours go by without getting one. Sometimes her message may not contain the words I had hoped for. Sometimes they don’t lift my spirits. Selfish boy, I tell myself…she must be busy…no time to compose…wait until next time.

There’s something about a text message that changes the dynamic from that of a phone call. I tend to be anxious during phone calls and have little patience for idle chatter. The call itself is also somewhat challenging given the technology of smart phones. Unless I am very patient, I find myself talking at the same time as the recipient. Then I hesitate, much like the simultaneous arrival of two cars at a four-way stop, waiting for someone to say something. Calls tend to betray emotions that may be misunderstood, due to voice volume and the speed of the exchange. Long pauses raise my anxiety level. Too quick responses often lead to “why did I say that?” moments.

Texts, despite their bad press, tend to moderate those problems. There is more time to think, compose responses, type, re-type, delete. I can read what I’m saying and can avoid most “I shouldn’t have said that” moments. No one really notices any pause in the recipient’s response and if they do, it’s usually attributed to the passage of data over thousands of miles of electronic circuitry.

When apart, Jackie and I sometimes call each other in the evening to review our day and say nice things that make the transition to sleep a pleasant one. Last night, knowing she had put in a long day, I waited for her to find the energy to call me…and waited. At 9, I thought she might be asleep after more than two hours of driving from Goleta to her home. Enough waiting. “Are you asleep?” I texted, sent it and waited. No response. Believing she was asleep, I typed “Sleep well pretty one.” But before I could send it, her response arrived. “Grading papers and eating soup.” Not very encouraging. And definitely not sexy. Enough already. I picked up the phone and called her.

Our voice call was complicated by advanced technology, or lack of it. Muddled voices led to a series of adventures in phoning. Cell phone to cell phone did not improve matters. Jackie’s cell phone to my land line was even worse. Land line to land line produced a cacophony of sounds, much like you’d hear during overtime at a Laker game. Running out of options, my cell phone to her land line finally did the trick, but did little to erase the memory of the effort to get there.

Our voice call was memorable for its lack of anything remotely helpful in assuring a pleasant night’s sleep filled with the things that lovers think about. We were both a bit grouchy and we focused on the negative aspects of the day. Running out of tricks, I wished I could reach through the world-wide-web and softly stroke her face and kiss her lips. That technology may be on the horizon but perhaps is best left undeveloped. We ended our less than satisfying call and I slogged my way to a cold bed.

Sleeping went well until 3am. I recounted our call and, in my semi-comatose state decided to try texting my way to sleep with loving words. ”Wish you were here so that I could wrap my arms around you. You have my heart and I long for your touch.” Not bad for fuzzy thinking, I thought. Wonder if she’ll respond.

Then it was 4am. No tell-tale tinkle from the iPhone. Now 5am and no tinkle. Tinkle still not evident at 6am. Had I miscalculated. Had I been too aggressive at 3am? What did I do wrong? Does she still love me?

7am produced the sweetest sound. Like a silver spoon on crystal. Having read the time stamp on my long-ago text, she had responded with “What are you doing up in the middle of the night.” Lovelier words were never spoken.

It’s sometimes the sweet sound of a text, rather than its content, that kindles a flame in my heart.


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