Round Peg in a Square Hole

In 2008 I sold a house. I had remodeled the house back to its original character, pulling out 70s carpet and mobile home wallboard, and installing built-ins and woodworking true to the house’s 1920’s charm. After the sale, I realized I had forgotten a little ceramic sun, a smiling cherub made by a local artist. I went to the house and asked the buyers if they had the sun. They told me they had thrown it away. Shocked and hurt, I said goodbye and left. Over the next several months, I heard from neighbors I remained in touch with that they had ripped out the built-in bookshelves, torn out all the shrubs in the back yard, and cut down the giant tree in the front yard. After hearing this I vowed never to return to this place into which I had poured literally years of my life making beautiful. I did not want to see how it had been ruined.

Five years ago I bought another bungalow, my first after the sale of the house in 2008. Built in 1941, it had been a rental for over 20 years. The seller chose mine from several offers based on the letter I wrote to her telling her about my two daughters and my desire to make a home for them. I loved this little house. It was darling and sweet, with an arch between the dining and living room, and tiny arches over the door bell on the wall and the phone nook. This little place was simply lovely.

The seller had installed new windows and had some plumbing done before the sale. She installed a new sewer line, which tore up the front yard. She covered the wound with sod to spruce things up. Upon move in, I set out to create a habitat for birds and bees. I covered the sod with native plants in varying sizes. I installed a watering system to keep everyone happy in the summer. I nurtured and watered and pulled the grass out by hand. No poisons touched this place. I planted small trees that grew tall, fluffy medium bushes, and flowers–so many flowers! Every spring and summer the yard hummed with the life of pollinators and birds, flitting among the plant life, which grew prolifically.

In spite of my love for this adorable house, I gradually grew to despise the city in which it was located. Thousands upon thousands of people were moving into Portland, and it was changing, and not in a good way. It stopped being friendly. Traffic became unbearable. Costs skyrocketed. I decided I needed to live somewhere less obnoxious, plus our whole family wanted to be closer to the land and away from cement and fuel exhaust and noise. After nearly two years of consideration I put my little house on the market, vowing that this time I would find a buyer who loved the house as much as I had. Someone who would care for the plants and gardens. Someone who cared about the character of the place and would not rip out the built-ins in the kitchen to replace with ugly granite counters and steel appliances.

Immediately after listing, someone stole four blueberry bushes out of the backyard. They dug them up, filled in the holes, and covered them with mulch. This broke my heart. I cried and cried, hoping that whomever had taken them would care for them as much as I had. I could only hope that they would show as much care for these plants as they had for hiding the evidence of their thievery.

I received a couple of offers, but both were much below asking price. Two weeks after listing, I received an offer that was below what I was asking, but not by much. As part of the offer, the prospective buyers wrote me a letter telling me how lovely the plants and landscaping were, and how they had seen the yard grow and change over the years, and how this made the house special to them. Oh wonderful! I thought. These are the kind of people I’m talking about. These people will take care of my house. I counter offered to a higher price and they accepted.

I have often in my life discovered that I can be quite naive when it comes to treachery. I don’t see it coming and when it happens, I am shocked and angered at my own naivete. In spite of my efforts to try and make this house sale different, I stupidly did not ask the right questions and made assumptions based on this letter that the people actually wanted to live there and leave the plants alone.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. They have been gutting it and have a for rent sign out front and are planning to “thin” the trees and plants. Even worse, the neighbors discovered they are turning my darling bungalow into a duplex! (Although I guess I can’t call it mine anymore, now can I?) And unfortunately, since I let the guy know I was upset about this, he isn’t letting me come and remove the plants he is planning to kill at the end of the week. When I told the guy that I felt like I had been misled, he told me that he should never have talked to me because I am “too emotional.” Basically, Mr. Lack of Empathy turned his being a lying asshole into my problem because I had an emotional reaction to his destruction and dishonesty. What is really remarkable to me is that I had not really expressed much when he said this.

I’ve spoken to the neighbor, begged him to get in there and rescue things before they are killed. I don’t know if he will do it. He is one of the few people I know who loves plants as much as I do, but his yard is full and his husband has told him no more plants. I asked him just to take them out and I’ll come get them. The most frustrating part of this is the powerlessness that I feel. If I lived just a little bit closer, I would be there now with buckets and a shovel bringing those plants here with me. Getting further away from that city makes it that much harder to get there if I have some need to. I am going to complain about the realtor who brokered this deal, the realtor who allowed these people to lie to me and lead me to believe they were going to live in this house and take care of the plants when they were planning otherwise. I had many conversations with him about my desires. He knew what I wanted. He may have represented them and had a duty to them, but he also had a duty to be honest, and giving me a letter that implied other than their intentions was dishonest. At the very least, I am going to post reviews of him everywhere I can.

I don’t fit in this death culture. Most people, when they hear this story, ask me, “What’s the big deal? They’re just plants.” But why should it matter less because they are plants? Why are their lives worth less? Plus even more than that, what about the fact that habitat I created that was teeming with life? Why don’t those lives matter? For whatever reason, these liars want to destroy this mini ecosystem. No reason they could offer is justification for misleading me or for doing any of it. They want to gut the house and remodel? Fine, whatever. I’ve lived that. But to take out the plant life and destroy it, too is simply wrong. And telling me that this was what made the house so beautiful and special, just so that I would accept their offer is just plain evil.

This is the review I wrote on  the agent who represented the buyers: Mr. Michalowski represented the buyers when I sold my house. As part of their offer, the buyers wrote me a nice letter stating how much they loved the landscaping and beauty of my charming little home, and how they had enjoyed watching in change during the years that I owned it. In the course of negotiations, I explained to Mr. Michalowski that I was excited to have someone interested who wanted to live in and take care of my house. I told him that I didn’t want someone who was just going to rent it out. He never once insinuated that the buyer’s letter was a complete lie and that they intended to gut the house, kill the plants I had spent years nurturing, and turn the thing into a duplex. He did well by his clients, letting them lie to me so that the sale would go through. Now the sale is done, his pockets are lined, and the neighbors I promised would have a family next door will be subject to living with renters who don’t give a damn about the house or anything associated with it. I offered to take any plants the buyers wouldn’t want, but Mr. Michalowski said the sellers could make these arrangements once the sale was done. Landscapers are coming this week to “thin” including taking out trees I spent a fortune on and spent years nurturing to ensure they would grow. Devious and void of any integrity, that is how I would describe both these buyers and Mr. Michalowski. If you want an agent who will do the devil’s bidding, if you want a smooth operator who will skillfully lie and evade, he’s your man. If you want honesty and above-board negotiations and information, run.

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Fixing the Toilet

Did I tell this story already, or did I just compose it in my head and never write it? I started composing it in my head again and it seemed like déjà vu. Weird.

My toilet was leaking. I kept trying to blame the water on the floor near the base on washing my face in the sink next to it or getting out of the bathtub because any time I would notice water on the floor near the base, one of the other two things had happened. Yet somehow I knew that it was more than this. Deep in the recesses of my brain the leaking was there, well, leaking into my consciousness.

The main part of my mind wanted to ignore this. No, it’s not leaking. You just washed your face. You got water all over the basin. See this? Oh, yeah. Okay. Or you just used the toilet after your bath. That’s why the floor is wet. Right. That’s the ticket.

It became undeniable the morning I began cleaning the bathroom and was starting to wipe the base of the toilet off with a sponge to clean it. I knelt down, resting my left hand on the seat lid of the toilet and reaching under to clean. As I did so a splurge of water gushed out from under the base of the toilet.

I pressed the lid again and gush! Out shot another splurge of water. Damn. A leak. It’s a leak.

This meant I was going to have to repair the thing. Pull it off, install a wax ring, clean up the water. Yet while I was thinking Damn! on the one hand, I was also kind of glad on the other. I like fixing things. I like making them better. I hadn’t liked the way the toilet had been installed. Whoever did it did a crappy (isn’t that the perfect adjective for work on a toilet?) job. They didn’t use bolt covers on the bolts. They did a piss poor job of caulking, which was actually a blessing because the water didn’t just sit under the toilet and rot the floor. They also used caulk that was not meant for bathrooms because it was not resisting mildew. I was going to be happy to get rid of this mess.

Aftaer dutifully toddling off to the hardware store to buy a wax ring and new bolts, I turned off the hoses, drained the water, removed the bolts, and lifted the toilet carefully from it’s place. Water seeped everywhere. It really was a good thing this was getting changed. Unlike the last time I changed a toilet and the flooring was too high for the pipe the toilet attached to, this one was level with the floor. Installing would be easy. I scraped up the nasty caulk and cleaned up the old wax. I washed the bottom of the toilet completely and scrubbed out the rest of it in the bathtub. I then went to install the toilet on the base and realized I had purchased the wrong bolts to attach it to the floor. Dang! Back to the hardware store for the correct ones.

While I was at the hardware store, I noticed toilet seat lids. Ours was annoying. It had bolts that constantly came loose. The lid itself was not plastic, but the hinges were and they had broken on one side of each hinge, making the lid rattle and the seat shift when we sat on it. As I stood in the aisle at the hardware store buying the proper bolts, I decided to get a new lid.

I stood staring at the wall of toilet lids on display. I had not realized that there were so many options in toilet lids. Primarily the differences came down to the hinges attaching the lid to the toilet and the ability of the lid to shut without slamming. Hmmm. This seemed an interesting proposition, but an unnecessary one.

I decided on a white wood lid with metal hinges that was about $15. Unfortunately, the store was out of this one except for the display. Dang again. The only other option I liked that was white wood with metal hinges was one that shut without slamming. It cost $35. The other choices were all untenable to me: plastic seats, plastic lids, plastic hinges, or the wrong color or shape. Fine. I’d buy the $35 one.

Back home I installed the lid, finished bolting down the toilet, and cleaned everything up. We dragged the mess of sopping towels to the basement to wash and put away all the tools (my daughter had been helping me with this project).

With the new lid and bolt covers, the toilet looked brand new. No more water seeped from the bottom. We didn’t have to sit down gently to avoid pinching our butts as the seat slid to the side when we sat down. And in spite of my finding such things to be rather silly, I truly liked the lid that didn’t slam. It’s really good, actually.

Overall, the toilet leaking was not a bad thing. I like our “new” toilet. I love it that I can sit on it without worrying about the seat falling off. Water doesn’t ooze out the bottom. There isn’t ugly caulking I have to clean every other day to keep it from looking like someone peed on it. And in the middle of the night when I go to the bathroom, I just close the lid and it shuts softly and quietly. Good times.

Toilet Needs a New Home

I posted this ad on Craigslist a few years ago. A friend of mine asked me to repost it on the blog, so here it is:

It is time that Toilet parted ways with our family. It has been in this house for longer than we’ve been here. When we arrived, the home inspector informed us that this toilet was “top of the line” in Europe and ordered by all the best home designers in the US. “Pozzi Gnorri,” he said. “Go look them up on the internet. They’re one of the best companies in the world for bathroom fixtures.” So I did and was duly impressed. However, I had to wonder what a toilet of this caliber was doing in my little bungalow in Portland. But hey, some of us get riches to rags instead of the other way around, so who was I to question things or to remind Toilet of its brilliant beginnings? I could make Toilet sad thinking that way.

Toilet was lovely; a deep, thoughtful blue, with a white lid. And the flusher was in its top! My 8 year old loved that. Look Mom, you pull this button on top rather than pushing down on a handle! Fancy!

To keep reading, click HERE

Raw Sewage

I genuinely cannot explain it. For some reason, every time I sit down or even think about sitting down and writing something, an overwhelming fatigue overcomes me and I just don’t want to do it. This is not something I’ve experienced before. I’m not sure what is going on.

I have for several weeks now been practicing doing things even when I don’t want to or when doing something would be unpleasant. I have concluded that I have gradually become so accustomed to avoiding discomfort to the point that I wasn’t doing much of anything at all. I could not point to the reason behind my apathy, then while reading a book on mindfulness and meditation and connecting emotion to the body, etc., I realized that this is what I had been doing, avoiding discomfort. And so, in an effort to beat back this pattern, I am making an effort to proceed with whatever I must do, whether it is unpleasant or not. I observe the unpleasantness and proceed anyway. I have been running so regularly that I can’t help but notice the increase in my stamina. I have never, even when I was competitive, been so regular about running in my life. When it comes time to run, no matter how tired I feel, or how much I don’t want to do it, I simply observe that I am feeling this way and then do it anyway. Quite a useful tool. And this writing now is an extension of that. For whatever reason, the thought of writing has been bogging me down rather than lifting me up and so I haven’t done it. Then I caught myself and now here I am.

So last Wednesday our basement floor drain filled with water.  Then it filled even more. There was a quite large puddle and it was taking up a good deal of space around the washer and dryer. I called a plumber who, based on my description of things, thought it would be a simple matter of snaking the drain. He came out to snake the drain. In the meantime, I had given my 3-year-old a bath. This had caused the puddle to increase further, heading into danger territory towards carpets and whatnots. The increase in water caused the plumber consternation. It should not have been happening. It was going to require some water removal. It was going to cost more.

His partner showed up to help and the two of them began working. They started snaking the drain where it seemed at first that the clog was located. This did not work. They ran the snake out as far as it would go. Nothing. They then went to the line that fed into the main sewer line. This caused me further consternation because my sewer line is new; it was just replaced in June last summer. It should not have problems of this magnitude.

As he began to snake the line, the water began to rise. My dismay increased. The water was nasty. It smelled. It was straight from the sewer. My daughter’s room is on the other side of the wall of the laundry room. I went in and observed just how much junk she had shoved against the wall. I called her and told her to help evacuate.

The plumbers had to run the snake line out fifty feet to hit anything. The snake dragged back some weird rags, the likes of which the plumber claimed he had never seen in two decades of plumbing. Out with the snake, up went the water, back with the snake covered in greasy rags. As the water rose, so did my dismay, but there was nothing I could do except watch.

“This is vandalism,” the plumber told me. “There is no explanation for this. Do you have any enemies?” No, I really don’t. There is no one I can think of who would vandalize me. He told me stories of things he had seen, told me what you can do to someone you really want to hurt. I had no idea. Revenge is such a primitive desire, one that serves so little a purpose except perhaps a fleeting feeling of retribution, but then what?

The plumber advised I call my homeowner’s insurance. I went upstairs. I made the call. I didn’t know anything yet, but they gave me a claim number. I puttered around. I could not wash dishes. I couldn’t focus on my book. Isabel came down to see, then went back upstairs to nap. I kept the dog from running down to wade in the cesspool.

It wasn’t until the eighth run that the water began to recede. They snaked again, and again, ten times total. They explained mitigation. They called the number for someone to come and clean. They gave me a very large bill, a very, very large bill. Even discounted $100 because he felt really bad about what was happening, the bill was still enormous.

Shortly after the plumber left, the mitigator came. He explained how they would remove part of the carpet, tear up the walls that were damaged, clean everything to standards set by the Center for Disease Control. Our basement was crawling in sewage. Nasty, toxic, bacteria filled the bottom of our home. They would need a day to clean it all. He bagged up the worst of the carpet, then set up machines to suck moisture. A long tube ran from Milla’s room, across the basement, and back to the now empty drain. Until today, this machine kept pumping water. The following day another man came to clean and move and tear apart, then set up massive drying fans that will probably cost me a fortune in electricity.

This was nearly a week ago. Then yesterday at work, my daughter called me in a panic. She was home from school sick, and water was coming up the drain again. Water and tissue. Oh holy fuck. Seriously?

I called the plumber again. His wife told me I needed to have it scoped. They could come snake again, but I had to figure out what was going on. To do this, a camera would be shoved down the sewer line and hopefully see what was going on. I called the camera company. They arranged to come today, bright and early. At 7:50 Tuesday morning, a man knocked on my door. I was busy getting ready for work, getting baby ready to go to see her daddy, hollering at Milla to get her bottom moving. After fifteen minutes the man had a verdict: the line was clogged on the city’s side. It was their responsibility.

This means, I suppose, that my pockets should be relined again with the large sums of money that have been removed. This would be nice. What a long, exhausting week. In addition to the sewage backup, both girls had colds with fevers. No fun, but life isn’t always fun. In fact I think life mostly isn’t fun, interspersed with occasional fun. C’est la vie. That is how it is.

Rats

I had rats. I suppose that statement is somewhat nebulous. Did I have rats in my hair? Did I have them as pets?  Were they running rampant through my house? Actually, two of these three statements are accurate, and if I hadn’t taken action when I did, likely the third could have been true as well.  I have had pet rats, and I’ve also had them running rampant through my house. It is the latter to which I refer. Rats infested my little bungalow, the one I restored in a SE suburb of Portland. I didn’t want to kill them. I started out using sticky paper to catch them and then I would take them to a park or somewhere else to release them. This was quite distressing. They would be so stuck to the paper and it would cause all sorts of physical stress reactions in the little things, and I could hardly bear it. I would cry as I used a stick or some other means to try and extricate them from the glue, whispering I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, over and over to them, pieces of their skin and fur left behind. I also tried live rat catching cages, but not one rat was caught.

Eventually the infestation became too great for humanitarian aid. My brother was staying with me at the time, as well as his girlfriend, and the combination of the two was more bait than any rat could resist. They were horrible housekeepers, which made them less than desirable house guests. The girlfriend especially. At one point during their sojourn, I found it necessary to clean up after them. The discoveries I made in the girlfriend’s belongings were enough to turn one’s stomach. Derek’s stuff, not so much. His stuff was just disorganized, but there wasn’t anything of organic nature in it. But girlfriend had bags full of clothes and at the bottom of bags were all manner of disgusting and rotten foodstuffs, as well as crusty-crotched underwear, and used menstrual pads. I could hardly manage. I’m on the clean end of the spectrum. I don’t like ghastly aged human excretions and rotten food being left in my home. Worst of all, the rats had burrowed into the bottoms of these bags and made nests filled with tiny torn up underwear crotches and pajamas.

As you can well imagine, the rats had a field day with this. They were mating and spawning like crazy. No sooner would I escort 6 teenage rats to the park than 20 more would appear, gorging on dog food, running across the basement stairs when the door opened, or tunneling through girlfriend’s sacks of nastiness. They also chewed cords and walls and were pretty destructive.

I finally realized that I was, unfortunately, going to have to cause some untimely rat deaths. I did not relish the thought.  Having been a rat owner for many years, I loved them. They are smart and cute and furry and all the things lots of people don’t think they are. Who cares if they have skin covered tails? Is a rabbit any different except that it has a fluffy tail? Not really.

I decided against traps. I could not bear squishing them. However, murderous bait was not much more appealing. They would suffer. Yet disposing of whole bodies were more palatable than getting rid of mutilated ones.

And so it began. I put out bait in big plastic things. Within days, I discovered slow moving creatures attempting to escape and find water. I would remove them to the farthest corner of the yard to die. This was horrible, but my cat and I could not keep up with their endless breeding and destruction.  Eventually my brother and the girlfriend left and I was also rat free. I cleaned the basement room thoroughly and made repairs where necessary. Life moved on and I forgot about the entire sordid affair.

So why did I bring this up now, six years later? Because I have a little safe in which I store a backup hard drive for my computer, and necessary papers like passports and birth certificates. Every now and again I have to get into the little safe for whatever reason, most often to back up the computer. This little safe was stored in the basement where my brother and the rats cohabited. One other problem I experienced with the rats is that they peed on things. They mostly peed on Sarah’s clothes (Sarah was Derek’s girlfriend), but they also peed on that safe. I’ve sprayed and scrubbed it and tried to rid it of that scent, to no avail. It is there. It smells. Every single time I open the safe for whatever reason, there is the smell, musky and stinky. It’s like cat pee; it never goes away. It has faded, but I doubt it will ever be gone. For as long as I own and use this safe, I expect I’ll have a little bit of rat urine in my life. I guess I can live with that.

Home Again

We have led a remarkably busy, whirlygig sort of existence over the last few weeks.  On August 5 we decided to move back to Portland.  As a child is imminent (due September 10), we wanted to accomplish a lot in a very short amount of time.  We also sent a moving truck along its merry way from NYC on August 13, and required a home for our belongings to land.  This put some pressure on us to get things done so we would not have to unload the truck into a family garage or storage unit, reload into another moving truck, and unload into whatever home we located.

Fate was with us.  We searched all day for five days for an apartment or house.  We applied at many locations and were accepted at one, but it wasn’t exactly what we were looking for.  Early the morning after that acceptance, I woke up too early (the m.o. these days) and was doing the search on Craigslist.  The first house to show up that morning was exactly what we were looking for.  I was reluctant to call because it was so early, but figured since the posting had just shown up the person must be awake.  So I called.  I am so grateful that I did.  We were the first callers and the owner said he gave priority in order of who called first.

Later that morning (last Wednesday) went and looked at the house.  Not only was it in the exact neighborhood we wanted, it was the style of house I love the most, had plenty of room, and was simply lovely.  It is a bungalow with a huge front porch, a fenced backyard, a full basement, and all the amenities we could ask for.  The old tenant was a cool guy who was heading to Canada to “hang out with his mom in Vancouver, B.C.”  He graciously agreed to allow our belongings to arrive before he departed, whenever that happened to be.  On Saturday we received the call from the driver that he would be in Oregon on Sunday.  We made arrangements for him to meet us at the house and we started calling friends.

Here is how Oregon is different for us from New York:  In New York, we had 3 people who could help us, one of whom had to leave after an hour for another engagement, leaving 2 people plus Dan to load our truck (considering at the time I was 35 weeks pregnant, there wasn’t a whole lot I could do in the hucking boxes department).  Here, we had 10 helpers, plus Milla had two girls to play with, daughters of one of the helpers.  Loading the truck took nearly 8 hours.  Unloading took under 3.  Unloading always takes less than loading, but the speed here was phenomenal, plus everything went into the house in an organized manner.  I couldn’t unload, but I could certainly direct traffic!

Basically, since we decided on August 5 to move back to Oregon, and arrived so late August 14 it may as well have been the August 15, we have managed to find a place to live, buy a used car, find a new midwife, and begin settling in.  We have been busy, to say the least, but so far things are working out.  Dan has had a few gigs and I’m slated to return to work for a firm here after baby is born and maternity leave.  It has been a lot of work, but it has been so worth it.

A year ago I could not wait to leave Portland.  There had been a long string of hard times and it was difficult to see a future here. Having left, spent too much money, and returned, I cannot imagine being anywhere else.  I am grateful for a place among family and friends.  I am so grateful we found a house we like in the neighborhood we wanted.  Now I just need to relax and sleep through the night.  It won’t be long before our little one arrives and sleeping through the night will be a thing of the past…

The Unclean

Things are not clean.  Even though soap and water have been applied, objects remain clogged with grease and protein, bacteria and mire.

Grease beads on a pan, coats a plate, overlaying knives and spoons.  Grease does not like soap.  Add soap and grease goes away, but with too little soap or soaks in water full of oiliness the grease hovers and swims.  Grease prefers cold water to warm.  The hotter the water, the less likely grease will remain.

Starch is another skin.  It adheres carefully and craftily, defying efforts at its removal.  It cannot be seen in the water.  Water must be removed or scrubs must be soapy and vigilant in order to ensure it moves on to pipes.  Left to its own devices, it curls and dries, affixed with tenacity.

The backs of implements used to eat and to prepare sustenance (plates and bowls, pans, glasses and cups) all need cleansing on their backs and under their bottoms.  Material hides there, ignored by those who do not consider its existence.

Toilets with urine that is not flushed begin to smell acrid and pungent.

If a toothbrush is electric and removed from the mouth before it ceases rotation, it leaves small bits of bacteria and spit on all surfaces in its vicinity.  Others who come into contact with these substances may share.

Why remove items from the floor when it is more simple to walk across them than to place them elsewhere?

Used toilet tissue does not replace itself.