And, thus, we were in our new home. End of story? Not quite.
(OK, so I have dragged out this home-buying saga a bit much, but there is relief in sight! September 1 will mark the first-year anniversary of The Bollard and, with it, this column. At that point – after just three more cliff-hanging installments — I will wrap up this, the “Househunters in Hell” portion of my story, that took place over two years ago, and bring my column into the present, although I can’t guarantee the pace is going to pick up any. Nor have I decided what I plan to write about, although I’m sure you’re dying to hear about the antics of Tailless, Monsieur, Andy, Beauty, Little Girl and all the other characters at my birdfeeder, but you’re going to have to wait and see if I’ll share them with you. In the meantime, back to our story.)
We spent the day after the move cleaning our Morning Street apartment and my downtown office, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. That’s 12 hours of toil, the kind of labor people who actually work for a living do, like the ones we want to keep out of our country. (Perhaps we all need to labor for 12 hours every once in a while to see how it feels before we decide we don’t want anyone taking that privilege away from us.) At any rate, Herself didn’t much care for it.
Like everything else around that time, much is a blur, except I do remember being disgusted at what I thought was our tidy apartment. “What kind of people live like this?” I barked as I crouched beside our food-splecked stove and attacked cobwebby corners. Funny – this was the exact same complaint I had when I watched the brown sludge trail slither down the white porcelain sink in our new house. (Perhaps we also need to be a little more careful about slinging slimy stones in our streaked-glass houses, hmmm?)
I also remember wandering around like Lady Macbeth, madly gazing at my pruned, rubber-glove-smelling fingers, incanting, “Here’s the smell of Playtex still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.” I remember finally stopping to have something to eat and almost breaking a tooth on a tomato that had frozen on a leftover Italian in the schitzo fridge at the new house. I remember squatting in the tub that night to bathe, not wanting any part of my body to touch the porcelain – despite the heroic cleaning efforts of my family – except the soles of my feet. And I remember John, who has the patience of a saint, walking by the bathroom (I would not shut the door for fear it might never open again), seeing me scooched there and saying just a little crossly, “We live here now,” and I sat. I sat in the cootie tub and bathed because this was now our tub and it was time to christen it with my own cooties. So I sat and I bathed, and then John and I went to bed without supper because the only thing we had to eat that didn’t require cooking (I had actually moved a frozen turkey) were the leftover Italians with the frozen tomatoes that almost broke our teeth. It was a fitting start to life in our new house.
Which wasn’t really all that new – especially when we did the walkthrough with our electrician, who pointed out all the nasty knob-and-tube wiring that would surely cause the house to burst into flames if we plugged anything more than a nightlight into a socket. I believed our electrician would deliver us from danger. We hired him because he looked like the kind of man you wanted wiring your house. Solid. Capable. With the type of build that would support a tool belt. Our own Giant Walking Serviceman. We also hired him because he was the only electrician out of the 10 we called (including one woman – I am no sexist) who returned our calls. He made me feel secure about this decision that was going to cost us five grand. Like it would be worth every cent for my peace of mind.
Except that when the doorbell rang at the appointed hour of 8 a.m. one week after we moved in, Mr. Capable was not standing on the porch – a child was. I looked out and saw a van in our driveway with Mr. Capable’s name on the side of it, but he was nowhere in sight. I wanted to ruffle the lad’s hair and ask, “And now, where’s your father?” until I saw the gear piled beside him, and the proverbial light bulb came on. I realized this child was our electrician. We had been duped by Mr. Capable.
(As we have had work done on the house, I’ve come to learn that this is a common bait-and-switch ploy. Send the heroic “Aw Shucks, I’ll Take Care of You Ma’am” guy over to give the quote and then send the B-team when it’s time to do the actual job.)
Another thing I learned: If you ever have to make the choice of being at home while someone who looks young enough to come back from his lunch break with a Happy Meal prize rewires your house or far away on a distant hilltop, book the Sherpa and pack your yak. Being on site while all the wiring is ripped from your new home and replaced is like, say, having a veinectomy while conscious. Of course, not being there has its drawbacks, too. Like when the Incident occurred.
Junior actually seemed to be doing an OK job (like I’d know), and I grew inured to the sound of the constant drilling and ripping. But on the third day, after he had crashed my computer twice (after assuring me it was safe to work), I had an overwhelming desire to go to the mall and shop for curtain rods. When I got back at 4:30, Junior was gone, which was my signal to turn up the furnace. Except that when I moved the dial, nothing happened. So I twirled it back and forth, back and forth, as though I were trying to crack a safe. Nothing. I went down to the basement and pushed all the red buttons I could find, but still nothing. It was clear this was related to wire yanking, and I wanted Mr. Capable to come over and fix it. Now. Except that when I called his office, all I got was a machine. Then I looked up his home number and found he wasn’t in the book. I even called our building inspector, who had recommended him, to see if he had Mr. Capable’s number, but I couldn’t reach him either. John was on the road and wouldn’t be home for a couple hours. I was on my own. I was still hardwired to be a tenant. I wanted to call my landlord. I wanted someone else to take care of this problem. Except that there was no someone else. This was Chapter 1, page one, of “Homeowners in Hell.”
It was a mild night for March, and because there was nothing we could do until morning, we had a nice sit in front of the fire, then piled up the blankets and went to bed right after supper – just like our ancestors. (Of course, they probably didn’t have all the Burgundian antifreeze in them we did.) And, like our ancestors, we survived.
Rub Elizabeth Peavey the wrong way, and watch the sparks fly!