Posts Tagged 'change'

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.


Hats and buttons

Sweetie and I were in Westridge market yesterday.  As I was picking out some shitake mushrooms for the chicken dish we were planning that evening, I looked up and found my old friend Steve walking toward me.  Hadn’t seen him for several months.  Fact is I only see Steve at the local markets.

He’s a working stiff in the construction business and a bright, amiable guy.  Steve’s always ready to give me some help figuring out a plumbing problem, carpentry challenge or anything else at which I exhibit the qualities of a certified doofus.

As usual, my Obama/Biden button was securely pinned to left side of my t-shirt.  My old friend Steve was wearing a McCain/Palin baseball cap.  A really good looking, obviously American-made one.  As my mother-in-law Marge might have said, “I was shocked.”  How could Steve, who is no dummy and who must be impacted by the economic meltdown, possibly be a supporter of the Old Guy and the Snow Queen?  I thought “What’s a nice guy like Steve doing supporting two people who are not?  Doesn’t he read the papers?  Doesn’t he watch TV?  Doesn’t he read my blog?”

I wondered if he knew about the Rudy Giuliani robocalls where he says Obama is a weak-on-crime liberal who’s against mandatory prison terms for sex offenders and murderers.  Or the other ones from faceless callers that warn old ladies about the Muslim’s nefarious relationship with terrorists.  Why wasn’t Steve outraged about the Snow Queen’s gazilliion dollar wardrobe and the $22,000 paid to her hairdresser by the Republican National Committee in the first two weeks of October?  Money that came out of Steve’s pocket.  Doesn’t he care about the Old Guy’s quick trigger temper and rapid fire u-turns?  Wasn’t he just a teenie weenie bit concerned about McCain’s mental state as evidenced by his choice of a running mate?  And why wasn’t he worried about the Old Guy dropping dead during his inaugural speech and turning the reins of government over to someone who thinks “foreign relations” refers to my ancestors in the Ukraine?

My life was flashing before my eyes.  I kept talking to Steve about the weather, his job and his family.  And eyeing that awful baseball cap.  I’m sure he saw my Obama button especially since at that moment I felt it must measure three feet across and have a spotlight focused on it.  I wondered if Steve was thinking stuff like “How can that nice old guy support someone like that Muslim?  What can he possibly be thinking?  I always thought he was a pretty sharp guy.  Maybe he’s senile.”

Maybe I am.  Maybe I think we can actually win this election.  Maybe I think that Colin Powell’s endorsement must mean something.  Maybe I think that this country is in need of a change…a big one.  Maybe the fact that American Muslims are fighting for this country alongside non-Muslims means something to those who are afraid of anyone different.  Maybe we actually think we want smart people leading us instead of someone who’s just average…at best.  Maybe Steve needs a new hat.



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