Archive for December, 2019

Houses and Shirts

“You bought your new house quicker than you buy your shirts.”

That’s what Jackie said to me, more than once. And it’s probably the truth, especially since I can’t remember when I bought my last shirt. Maybe it’s the blue one with an interesting design that still has the Rains Department Store price tag hanging from the dark blue button just below the collar. I regularly stare at that shirt as it hangs forlornly in the closet, wonder if I should put it on, and then let the feeling pass without taking action. I generally follow up this timidity by selecting a least frayed t-shirt, and a somewhat manly pullover sweater.

It took eighteen months to sell my old house. Eighteen months of unanticipated anxiety. Eighteen months of thinking that it would never sell. Eighteen months of entertaining potential buyers, all of whom disappeared into the ether without so much as a by your leave. Doomed, I thought, to living a lonely, monk-like existence frequented only by chipmunks, and ravenous birds that would eat enough seed to deplete my kids’ inheritance. Eighteen months of fantasizing that I’d live there until I grabbed my chest and keeled over in the kitchen while stirring brown sugar into my oatmeal. Not to be found until my desiccated body was discovered by the pest control guy.

“How do you like living in your new house? Do you miss the old house?”

It’s a question often voiced by friends. To which I generally respond, after the obligatory moment’s hesitation, with something like “Yes, the new house is nice, still getting used to it. Do I miss the old house? Not really.” Never one for prolonging conversation, I let the questioner silently figure out how I really feel without asking me to expand on my broad-brush evaluation of my current circumstances.

My old house was a mile up Sulphur Mountain Road. Surrounded by oak trees and acres of solitude, visitors were infrequent. Noise was practically non-existent and, when it did come visiting, was eminently noticeable and usually unwelcome. Hiking trails meandered through the oaks and passed through neighboring equally silent properties, adding to the lonesomeness. In twenty years, we never had a Halloween costumed trick or treater. Who would dare come? Only someone who has no fear of the inky darkness, the eerie rustling of oak branches or the diving Great Horned Owl that might mistake you for a tasty midnight snack.

I half-jokingly say that I moved from one hundred and ten acres to a tenth of an acre, where my less remarkable new house sits on a corner. Cars pass my home on two sides. I accept the whoosh of their presence as a sign that I am not alone. My next-door neighbors have two small children as do my neighbors across the street. Their voices are welcome as a sign of burgeoning life.

A man my own age and his ten-pound curly haired dog often pass by the window where I sit and travel through the internet on my computer. His routine repeats itself daily. I’ve spoken with him at length but, to my chagrin, cannot remember his name. I struggle to ask him, but am embarrassed to do so.

My neighbor on the opposite corner also walks his dog, Charlie. A small pooch, he tends to lead the much larger man who is, supposedly, much smarter. The man has a bad back and we repeatedly discuss the latest unhelpful advances in medical science. I occasionally want to invite him in for a glass of wine; but at 10:00 am, I don’t want to be thought an alcoholic.

I have a small mailbox that the postman delights in over-filling. I think he’s a masochist, made hostile by the brickbats thrown at the U.S. Postal service by ignorant people like me. He takes his deserved revenge on the system by making it nearly impossible for me to pull the wedged mail from the all too small container. I avoid complaining for fear it could get worse.

My new house was built thirty years ago. Not old as homes go, it’s more like a young adult looking for someone to love it. Multiple owners have come and gone leaving indistinguishable marks of their short-term presence. The main living area has a moderately sized living room capable of serving about ten people, so long as they are friends who don’t mind accidental touching while drinking my cheap wine. The kitchen, remodeled seven years ago, offers enough appliances to challenge me with their complicated arrays of led lights, push buttons that have no give, and oven settings that encourage me to eat out more often.

A long hallway leads from the main living area to the bedrooms. It is dark, challenging my failing eyesight. Shell shocked from Edison’s warnings and their unfathomable multi-tiered pricing structures, I foolishly refuse to flip the switch that would add light to the hallway and reveal the coveted art pieces that line its walls.

I bought the home after deeming it move-in ready. In good condition, it required little expenditure of resources. However, a feeling of “this is not my house” has permeated my existence ever since I set foot in it. A familiar feeling, it was also there when we purchased our San Fernando Valley home nearly fifty years ago. It was fifteen years into that occupancy before people stopped saying, “Oh, you live in the Peterson house.”

I’d cringe at their remark and want to reply, “No, the Petersons died in the Charge of the Light Brigade and we commandeered their home from the British.”

I probably don’t have another fifteen years to wait for a similar evolution of “Oh, you live in the Collins home.” I need to turn their house into my house right now.  I need to speed things up, much like the time lapse photos of tulip bulbs opening wide in the blink of an eye, cars moving along the freeway at the speed of sound, or clouds streaking across the sky as if powered by jet engines. And I believe I have found ways to do just that.

First and foremost, Jackie moves in as a full partner to this madness on the 13th. Turning my house into our house.

A second part of the solution, in full implementation, is to spend money in rapid-fire fashion at close to the speed of light. New floors, window coverings, paint, lighting, bathroom fixtures, water filtration systems, patio covers, landscaping and more. With each alteration or upgrade and each check in payment for it, an ever so slight transformation is taking place. More of the house is morphing into ours, not theirs.

My growing awareness of where things are also impacts my feelings about the house. I no longer search aimlessly for the silverware. I don’t need to open multiple cabinets to discover my favorite one-quart pot. I’ve almost figured out the dishwasher’s cryptic directions. I flip fewer wall switches in my quest to turn on the desired light fixture. I know when the junk mail will arrive, and when the trash man will collect it.

And I plan to wear my new shirt next week.

 

Three Jews on a Treadmill

Sounds like the beginning of a joke…There were these three Jews on a treadmill

Two months ago, I moved from Sulphur Mountain Road in the Upper Ojai to the more gentrified mid-town. Prior to moving, my drive time from the mountain to town was eighteen minutes. After Ila died, I made the thirty-six-minute round-trip to the Ojai Athletic Club every day just to get out of the all too quiet house and find social interaction. It was lonely up on the hill without someone to share my life.

I had used a rowing machine at our mountain home nearly every day. Five thousand meters of rowing in thirty-five minutes, that got me nowhere. A nagging shoulder injury caused a forced migration from the rowing machine to the treadmill and, thanks to Jackie, membership in the athletic club.

My daily routine on the hill was religiously repeated day after day. Up at 5:45. In the car by 6:15 and at the club by 6:35. Flash my membership card at the electronic reader and react with hidden glee at its assurance that I was still welcome.

Exchange pleasantries with the ever-changing person behind the front desk. Enter the men’s locker room. Change into my Lulu Lemon shorts. Grab the headphones that Jackie bought for me…got to be careful what I wish for, or it will surely end up in an Amazon box at my front door.  March up the stairs to the second floor without the aid of the handrail…it’s a macho thing…and deposit myself on one of the six treadmills that line the far wall.

Moving to mid-town replaced my old eighteen-minute car ride to the town epicenter with an eighteen-minute walk. But old habits are hard to break, so I still hop into the car for a three-minute ride to the club. Not enough time to warm up the innards of my car on cold mornings, necessitating the wearing of a wool cap that sometimes draws giggles from the club’s front desk.

Even though my shoulder has healed, and the club sports two rowing machines, I am still on the treadmill. To further cement my place on it, I sold my own Concept 2 rowing machine last week to a nice guy who schlepped to my house from Glendora, a one-hundred-fifty-mile round trip.

The club opens at 5:30 am and draws people who exercise indoors or, god forbid, swim outdoors in near freezing ambient hell, then head for work. When her teaching responsibilities require it, Jackie often prides herself at being first in line at the club’s front door, in the dark, with little to wear but a very pretty smile on her face.

The sweet spot for me is between 6:30 and 7. That’s when the locker room empties, and parking spaces open up close to the club entrance. Finding an idle treadmill is easy. Sometimes I get the pick of the litter, the one on the end in front of the windows that open onto the pool where crazy people do laps. Or, in a pinch, I take the one next to it. My decision whether to turn on the overhead fan is challenging. Shall I suffer a cold draft until my body warms up, or be an overheated wimp.

Each of the treadmills has its own video monitor. I can watch live TV, but I nearly always opt to sign into my Netflix account where I am entertained with mindless comedies, serious documentaries or, my favorite, the Great British Baking Show. I avoid the news which, I have found, generally provokes me to mumbling angry epithets that attract the unwanted attention of those within earshot.

The same faces regularly populate the area around the treadmills and the other, sometimes fathomless, exercise equipment. It’s comforting to see these faces nearly every day. It brings order to an otherwise chaotic and all too often sad world.

My sixty-minute treadmill routine at a four percent grade generally starts before the others arrive. About fifteen minutes into it, Sheila appears. My age, but not yet aging, Sheila is a whirlwind of activity both on and off the treadmill. We are also members of the synagogue where she leads the Friday night service on alternating weeks. Her petite, bouncy, figure and perky cropped hair are a welcome addition to my sixty-minute trip to nowhere.

Norm, also in the octogenarian category, is a lot less bouncy. But he makes up this unfortunate difference with a strong torso, friendly smile and a blessed sense of humor. I relish our conversations which, on occasion, include prolonged inexplicable laughter over a comment that often has its grounding in something Jewish.

Silence, or the soft-spoken word, is the desired state when in motion. This unwritten treadmill rule is often violated by heavy footed young men and women who strive for unattainable recognition by generating massive decibels that offend nearly everyone in range of them. Fortunately, a good pair of over-the-ear headphones tends to mitigate the otherwise mind-numbing racket.

This morning, Sheila, Norm and I find ourselves together on three of the six treadmills. The other three are unused and blessedly quiet. Norm correctly notes, with some humor, that we are three Jews on treadmills, which seemed to me apropos of life as a Jew. Moving with determination to escape stereotyping, and maybe worse, with only a modicum of success.

Ojai has a significant number of Jews who have blended into the community. Except for the synagogue, we find ourselves fully integrated in the life of the town. Yet there is something special when three of us find ourselves on the treadmill. A certain comfort, often indescribable, takes hold. A certain calm descends and allows us to enjoy a moment devoid of tension.

Perhaps it’s genetic. Perhaps it’s our strange customs that have been etched into us over thousands of years. Maybe it’s the same for people of other faiths. Maybe they relish time together on the treadmill. I hope so.


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