Monday, June 27, 2005

Holy Bug, Batman!

We settled into our pew on Sunday morning, behind an older gentleman whose name we don't know, but whose back we are quite familiar with. I noticed a little tiny bug crawling on his shoulder, the kind with carapace like steel, the kind you think you can squash with impunity, but which resists with the strength of simply being diamond-hard.

Now, what to do? Smack it and hope for the best? Flick it off his shoulder? Neither option seemed viable. How do you explain cracking an old man on the back when he's just minding his own business in church? Besides, at least I knew where the darn thing was, as long as it stayed on his back. so I opted to let it sit there. Do you know for the entire service it roamed all over his left shoulder and never left?

I listened to the homily, honest I did. It was about...well, you see, the whole point was...Oh, you had to be there.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Sale-ing, sale-ing over the bounding...driveway

Kathy and I had a garage sale today. Since we divided up all the things from her mom's house, we had to make room somehow and decide what we really wanted to keep. We didn't plan to make a lot of money, we just wanted to move some stuff out of our house and into someone else's.

One of our best customers was a woman from work who bought an air conditioner before the sale even opened. Her husband came by the evening before the sale and picked up a few more items. Early this morning I went out and set up tables and arranged the knick knacks, bric-a-brac, flotsam and even jetsam in an attractive way that hopefully said, "Buy me!"

It's funny what other people will buy. Things you never thought you'd sell go right away, while the really good stuff just sits all sad and lonely, ignored. A beat up old serving tray was snatched up by one of the first people through today, but a perfectly good little dorm room refrigerator sat forlorn during the entire sale. A very nice platform rocker will be on it's way to Goodwill, since I couldn't convince anyone to take it. I spent five dollars on a can of spray cleaner to spruce up the chair and after a while I wondered if I'd even recover the cost of cleaning the darn thing. I'll see if one of our students can use the fridge. The rest of the stuff goes to the church rummage sale.

Since it was only 95 degrees, it was a great day to sit outside and enjoy the fresh air, so it wasn't a complete loss.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The House Song

That's the name of a melancholy track on the Peter Paul and Mary "1700" album. It's playing in the background now. Can you hear it?

"This house goes on sale every Wednesday morning.
and taken off the market in the afternoon.
You can buy a piece of it of you want to,
It's been good to me if it's been good for you.

Take the grand look now, the fire is burning.
Is that your reflection on the wall?
I can show you this room and some others,
If you came to see the house at all.

Careful up the stairs, a few are missing.
I haven't had the time to make repairs.
First step is the hardest one to master,
The last one, I'm not really sure is there.

This room here once had childish laughter,
And I come back to hear it, now and again.
I can't say that I'm certain what you're after--
But in this room, a part of you will remain.

Second floor, the lady sleeps in waiting,
Past the lantern, tip toe in its glance.
In the room, the soft brown arms of shadows
This room, the hardest one to pass."

There is more, but I couldn't quite catch the words off the speaker, but that kind of gives you the idea. All through the winter I played that album, hearing that song and thinking of Kathy's mom Anne and her house for sale. We've already had a tour in a previous post, but like that house that PPM sing about, we can't quite get that simple bungalow out of our system. Kathy has all sorts of dreams about it, usually involving entering the house quite illegally, or just being inside when the new owners are there. In the first dreams, they didn't catch her, but lately they have confronted her, wondering what she is doing there. If I were her analyst, I'd find this progression very interesting. Wonder what will happen in the next installment.

We occasionally see the nice neighbor on the one side up at church and she fills us in on how the new people are doing. They are preparing to put up a fence--something we always wanted to do. They have cut down the pine trees that Kathy's father had planted many years ago. It's OK, though, since their little boy is autistic and they need to be able to keep him safe in the backyard--hence the fence. The boy has an older sister who plays well with another little eight year old boy next door. The husband has already had it out with the weird guy next door, going so far as to order the odd character to go back in the house and not even think of coming out again! All due to the goofy guy's terrible language, hollering in the backyard where the kids can hear. Good for him.

Kathy drives by the house at least twice a day, even now. I've stopped telling her to give it up. After all, whenever I'm in New Jersey, I go past the old family homestead just to see what's happened to it. The key is probably in her dreams. Let's see what happens when they finally play out.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Inside the Wire

Sometimes I read lots of things by authors I already agree with. Once in a while I like to challenge my thinking by picking up something that seems to represent a different point of view than my own. Such was the case with a book called "Inside the Wire" by Eric Saar. At first I thought it might be some hyperpatriotic treatise on homeland security, but it wasn't that at all.

Saar worked in military intelligence as an Arab linguist. He volunteered for a six month stint at the prison camp for "detainees" at Guantanemo Bay in Cuba. At first he bought the administration's line that these were all "bad people" who deserved to be there. The longer he worked in the camp, the more he came to see that at least some of the men there were as innocent as they claimed to be.

Turns out the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan would pick up men they identified as Al Quaeda or Taliban fighters and collect a bounty on them. The prisoners were then shipped to Guantanemo without further ado. They were housed in those big ship containers that had been cut in half and turned end to end. Held without charges, without hope.

Surely some of the people in the camp belong there, but we betray our ideals when we treat the prisoners like that.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Not exactly the honors English reading list

My fellow bloggers have put me to shame this week. I just couldn’t get motivated to turn on my computer. Too busy reading. I think I did tell you that my plan is to sit outside every night until it’s too dark to see. If Stacey were blogging this summer, she’d say, buy a laptop and sit out there, but I’m too engrossed in my books.

I used to be sent to the barbershop downtown in our little suburb in New Jersey with about a dollar and quarter to get my haircut, and I would consistently miss my turn in the chair because I had my nose buried in a comic book.

So what am I reading this summer? Just the usual James Patterson, Sandra Brown, Jonathan Kellerman, Faye freakin’ Kellerman, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwell type of stuff. The only legitimate reading I’ve done so far is a book called “Lost in Tibet” by Starks and Murcutt. It’s about a group of American airmen whose plane crashed in the Himalayas in World War II and how they eventually made their way out of Tibet and into India.

Any Carl Hiaasen fans out there? Sometimes I think the first book you read by an author seems to be the best, and then the others are just following a formula, but “Skinny Dip” was pretty good.

So that’s where I’m headed—outside to read.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Meet the Crew

We’ve had a different sort of week, with the heating and air conditioning installers tromping up and down the basement stairs, and much banging and drilling and hammering going on in the depths. Let’s meet the crew:

There was Phil, a 40-ish stocky guy with immense forearms, who knew what he was about and was proud of his work. Turns out he grew up in Manhattan (that would be New York, not Kansas) on 102nd Street, as he said, “Between the rich people and the poor people.” He talked a little about his hobby: “flying” World War I airplanes on the Internet. Apparently there is a whole group of people who are into this, and they sometimes meet down in Dayton, Ohio at an air base and they continue their virtual flying there.

Jonathan is a twenty something, hearing impaired, tall guy who reminded Kathy of her own sons, so she became Mom, and related to him that way. He has been at this work for three years and though he was the junior partner, he was quite competent. I have a feeling he gets most of the dirty work, such as lying in the crawlspace with the spiders and the mice. He hopes to move to North Carolina at some point.

We met Phil and Jonathan first, and on one day Phil stayed in the shop and a guy named John came out to work with Jonathan. John was probably in his late thirties, since he said he had been doing this work for fourteen years. He was rather over solicitous in explaining what they were doing, a sort of Cliff Claven if you will, but not a bad guy altogether.

I noticed that there was a lot of up and down the basement stairs as they came up for tools and materials. I wouldn’t last five minutes in that job with my arthritic knees.

In the backyard the condenser wound up in my rose bushes, but that’s OK. One of them died last year and I didn’t get around to replacing it, so there was a perfect opening for the apparatus. Then I just enlarged the flower bed around the condenser and put a bunch of pansies (Kathy’s favorite) in there. She looked at my work today and said it looks like a shrine to our air conditioner.

So now the job is finished. We have a new furnace and air conditioning. After having these guys tromping around the house all week, it turns out we’re going to miss them. But that’s OK, we’ll still think of them every time the AC kicks in this summer. Mmmm. Nice.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Money Pit

If you’ve ever seen the Tom Hanks/Shelly Long movie, you’ll know how Kathy and I have felt this week. We decided to finally get air conditioning and a new furnace put into the house. We’ve never had AC, and the furnace was probably the original one in our 48 year old house.

One of my first duties as a new homeowner was to replace the blower motor in that furnace. (Kathy called me at work in a panic when the furnace quit working just after we had moved in). I did it twice, once with a used one a friend had sitting in his garage, and then with a new one. That was the extent of the maintenance we did on that banging, wheezing old contraption for the next 23 years. Then I had to replace the belt. It was so badly shredded, you could barely read a part number on it, and miraculously, the appliance parts place had one in stock.

Every winter we wondered if our aging hot air machine would last. We were sure that most of our utility bill money was going right up the chimney, since “energy efficiency” hadn’t been invented when this furnace had been installed.

We had the requisite three estimates done and in the end we chose the most expensive option, since they came up with the most elegant solution to running the ductwork in the basement. Everyone else wanted to take the cheap and easy way out and just run some ducts across the basement ceiling to an existing cold air return. This would have blocked a light fixture and meant that I would have to duck my head every time I went into my own basement. The company we chose was very thoughtful in their analysis and even had two people look at the problem. Finally they decided to break through a cinder block wall and put a new return up in the living room. This means cutting through our hardwood floors (ouch) to get it done. So this is now a $7,000 job.

Of course, you need an electrician to rewire the fuse box to accommodate the load of an air conditioning system. The guy who runs the electrical company is an engaging seventy year old man who thought he’d be retired by now, but he’s having too much fun to hang up his wire cutters just yet. He wears a wooden cross on a leather string around his neck, so you gotta love that. He came over to write up an estimate, and says, “You need a whole new box (of course) and you need to move the electrical meter because it’s out of code (of course), and by the way, don’t let the inspector see that illegal set up you have in the basement for that one fluorescent light.” He went on to say, “I can probably do it for under $1,000.” Before I could stop her, Kathy piped up at that point and said, “Oh, that’s fine! I said, “Kathy! Don’t say that!”

His estimate came in at $975. Of course.

All these guys needed was to say, “Whole job—two weeks”—just like the movie. Turns out to be four days. We escaped for a little bit today by going shopping and to lunch, but we returned to some horrific banging and drilling and breaking noises, shaking the whole house. We stay outside on the deck—me with my book and Kathy with her battery operated TV, since the power was off most of the day, but it’s still a little unnerving listening to all this destruction.

We’re sure it will be worth it in the end, but now we see other projects. Kathy wants a Pergo floor in the kitchen, I want power in the garage, Kathy wants those nifty levelor blinds inside the window for this huge window we have at the back of the house.

‘Tis the season for home improvements—anyone else have big plans for this summer?