Posts Tagged 'neighbors'

Dinner and Beanies

Jackie had just put on her pajamas and covered herself with the old lumberjack smock that her mother had worn. No matter, she cannot hide her beauty and sexuality under frumpy clothing. But that’s a story for another day.

Settling down for a vegetable laden dinner, its preparation was interrupted by the phone. Sheila, who lives five walking minutes away, announced that her turkey meatloaf was about done, and would we like to come over to share it with her and Sid.

Sid was recovering from a confrontation with a chain link fence. No longer able to drive a car, he had adopted an electric scooter complete with a ten-foot high flag that announced his presence to those who shared the road with him. Ever the competitor, Sid roamed the streets of Ojai with little regard for his own safety. At ninety-one he was invincible and ready to take on those who might challenge him.

Unfortunately, Sid’s injuries were not caused by man. His attention had been diverted upon entering the Soule Park driveway. He had sideswiped the unyielding metal fence that lined the driveway and had been rewarded with cuts on both hands, requiring twenty-three stitches to staunch the bleeding.

Sheila is a habitual hostess. When Jackie responded to her turkey dinner invitation by suggesting they come to our house, I could visualize the somewhat bewildered expression on Sheila’s face. Taking a few moments to absorb this surprising change of plans, Sheila agreed to do the unexpected and promised to arrive around six, with the turkey and Sid.

Chilly evenings are the norm. We compensate by burning politically incorrect fossil fuel, and by donning multiple layers of the aforementioned frumpy garments. Sid has an insatiable appetite for heat and often wears those ubiquitous checkerboard nylon jackets that in some secret way contain body heat without any readily discernable goose down, wool or polyester. I have two, just in case.

Wearing tonight’s checkerboard jacket du jour, Sid’s arrival was punctuated by his announcement of “It’s cold in here, can we have some heat?” I dutifully added a degree or two by burning more than my daily allotment of fossil fuel. Sid found a comfy warm spot under a ceiling vent and looked as though he planned to remain there the rest of the evening. Fortunately, the heating system, having complied with the extra demands made of it, shut down leaving Sid with the job of discovering other places where heat might still be available.

Dinner went well. The turkey meat loaf exceeded expectations. Deigning the turkey, Jackie had her usual two cubic feet of salad. We all shared spaghetti squash, and Sheila and I polished off a very nice bottle of red wine whose gender and proper name is lost to me.

Sid was still cold when I noticed that his head was bare. Both of us are bald. Sid tends to cherish his remaining follicles while I mow them down without mercy. I learned at an early age that an uncovered bald head is the quickest way to chill the body. Maybe that’s why I have a gaggle of hats intended to limit the amount of heat that escapes me. Much of the hall closet is home to warm hats, especially those comfy wool knit beanies that can be found littering the Amazon website.

These are not your grandfather’s beanies. Ralph Lauren Polo, North Face and Lacoste have jumped into the market. Ranging in price from nine dollars to thirty-nine dollars, there’s a beanie for everyone’s head. My favorite brand is Carhartt because of its working man’s label and its generous helping of wool that allows me to pull my cap nearly down to my buttocks.

“Sid, why don’t you wear a hat.” I asked.

“I don’t like hats.” He responded.

I excused myself from the table and went to the hall closet. Kicking aside the beanie overflow that littered the floor, I selected one of my favorite Carhartts, a black beauty with Sid’s name written all over it.

Unwilling to take no for an answer, I stealthily approached Sid from the rear.  I quickly placed the beanie on Sid’s head, pulled it over the top quarter of his ears and adjusted its rakish angle to suit his face shape. He looked ten years younger and a lot cuter. The hat remained perched on Sid’s head for the rest of the evening and I quietly bumped the thermostat down two degrees.

I gifted the beanie to Sid, and he wore it home. Uncertain about its continued placement on my friend’s head, I wondered if this was just a one-off event.

Morning came and it was bright and chilly. I backed my car out of the garage and proceeded to the stop sign at the corner of Andrew and Daly. I looked left. I saw someone on a scooter heading up Daly Road. He had the right-of-way and I waited for him to pass. It was Sid with his ten-foot high flag.

And something else. A black Carhartt beanie perched rakishly on his head. It was going to be a warm day.

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.

 

I’m a Townie

The ride up the Dennison Grade last Thursday was interminable.

I had made that trip, sometimes twice a day, for nearly twenty years. More than seven thousand round trips. I start by driving one mile down Sulphur Mountain Road, carefully avoiding collisions on the all too narrow road. I turn left on Highway 150 after assuring myself that speeding cars are not lurking in the shadows of the ancient oaks that line the road. I cruise by the seasonal yellow mustard fields on the Black Mountain Ranch. I wind down the seemingly endless Dennison Grade, ticking off the twenty-three turns. I reach the bottom of the hill where Boccali’s restaurant gives me the first evidence of a civilization set apart from the Upper Ojai. Not yet finished, I drive another two miles into the middle of town. A one-way total of eight miles. Consuming thirty-six minutes of my life during each round trip.

And I had loved nearly every minute of it. Until last Thursday.

Two weeks earlier, I had sold my house on Sulphur Mountain Road and had moved into town. I traded those thirty-six driving minutes for the freedom to walk to restaurants, stores and community events. In those two weeks I thought that my car’s fuel gauge had malfunctioned; it didn’t seem to move. I walked to a friend’s house for dinner last Tuesday and thought “In twenty years I’ve never gone out to dinner without first getting into my car.”

I had lived those many years in the Sulphur Mountain house. My sweetheart and I built it. She died in it. With her death and my inevitable aging, it became clear that I needed to move from the mountain to the town. With her passing, the house seemed to have doubled in size. It had become too silent. Even the birds seemed to visit less frequently. The olive groves, once a delightful diversion, now seemed a burden. The mountain vistas lingered, but the inevitable night abruptly shut them down.

Jackie loved the spaciousness of the mountain house during her too infrequent visits. Spoiled by the advantages of town living, her zeal for dragging that very cute fanny up and down the Dennison Grade waned. Night driving on the darkened roads proved too much of a burden. She never said, “You should move.” But my feelings for her helped push me off the mountain and into “Townie” living.

It took fifteen months to sell the mountain home, and one day to buy the home in town. Escrow on both homes closed the same day; think of it as a whirlwind love affair. The town home is about half the size of the mountain home and its diminished storage capacity was a challenge. Twenty years of accumulated detritus required a hardened heart as I waded through it. And in every room, closet, drawer and cabinet I was confronted by memories. Photographs seemed to emerge from everywhere. Birthday and anniversary cards numbered in the hundreds. Like buried land mines, Ila had stowed them in dark recesses that hid them from prying eyes.

Letters between two lovers had been placed in the backs of her dresser drawers; I could not bear reading them. And in every instance a decision was needed. Toss or keep. At first, I kept nearly everything. As I realized the futility of it, I began to toss more. Would the children be deprived of some legacy if I tossed rather than kept? Probably not, I lied to myself. So I tossed more and more. Without ceremony. Without a proper burial. Like junk, the cards, letters and photos were deposited in king-sized black plastic garbage bags. Lugged to the garage, they awaited a trip to the dumpster. There were times I wanted to run after them. But didn’t.

Packing boxes soon littered the house. My god, I thought, who needs seven frying pans. A fish poacher that had been used once with disappointing results. Twelve different fruit extracts, only one of which had ever crossed our palates. What were we thinking when we saved scores of empty plastic containers with mismatched lids? Silverware that hadn’t seen the light of day more than twice in twenty years. Ten flower vases that had once held the precious flowers I sent her.

The movers arrived with the cast from Spartacus. Brawny guys, lean and mean guys and one that looked like he needed a good meal. They wrapped artwork, hung clothes in garment boxes and dragged everything onto two trucks. “It’ll never fit in the new house” I thought. But it did. All sixty-five boxes, a rowing machine and Jackie’s treadmill in a pinch.

Oliver and I unpacked. As we did so, I felt the urge to toss some more. And I did, setting aside items that might find their way into more needy hands. We filled cabinets. We stuffed clothes in bedroom dressers and filled every square inch of kitchen space with only three frying pans and a blessedly diminished horde of other items. It was sort of like running a video of the packing phase, only backwards. Empty boxes and discarded wrapping paper were enough to start an Ojai version of the Chicago Fire.

I’m settling in. I can hear cars go by. They make a whooshing sound, just like the surf rolling in off the Pacific. People are as close as a hundred feet away. Their faces visible. They stop, we chat, just like neighbors are supposed to do. There are two youngsters next door at Danni’s and James’ house. My doorbell rang last Sunday, and Danni’s brother was there asking me if it was alright to come into my yard to retrieve a ball the kids had tossed. “Sure,” I said. “Please do, and then do it some more.”

I always wanted a porch. And now I have one. It’s an overstuffed chair that cost $5 at a garage sale. It sits in my garage. I open the overhead door, grab a sandwich and sit in that chair. I can see some of the Topa Topa mountains. But more importantly, I can see and hear the sounds of life.

I drove up to the mountain house last Thursday to check my old mailbox. The ride was interminable. I’m glad I’m a Townie.


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