Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Loner...

With my wife and kid still on the lam I was left with another whole Saturday with nothing to do. This time I headed for the mountains. 

The Blue Ridge Parkway, where I spent my youth driving around, hiking, and doing, um, other stuff. I had my sights set on the Peaks of Otter. More specifically Sharp Top Mountain.

No, it’s not Everest. Or the Rockies. But it’s beautiful and spectacular all the same. It’s been maybe five years since I’d been, so I woke up early, fixed the coffee, and hit the road.I drove up in all my dorkdom, listening to an audio book, enjoying the scenery, and otherwise lost in my own little adventure. I don’t mind being by myself. Sometimes I kind of enjoy it. I even saw a black bear cross the road. A first for me.

I hit the men’s room in the parking lot, did a few quick stretches—the same stretches the older guys used to do before basketball.—and took a deep breath of mountain air. I checked my phone, wanting to catch the time. But my phone was blank.

The battery was dead. I fiddled with the button but it only flashed the empty battery then died again. I’m not a constant phone type of person but still it was a bummer. 
Mostly because I’m so freaking attached to technology.

Not long ago there were no cell phones. I’ve hiked up this mountain twenty or more times in my life. Like I said, mostly in the nineties, when nobody had a phone and nobody—at least no one I knew thought to carry a camera around. And if they had, and taken it out and said something like, “group pic guys” or “selfie time” he—or she, but especially he—would have been belittled endlessly for the rest of the day. Maybe week.

But times change. And now, as I saw that the battery was toast, the thought of not hiking up the stupid mountain actually popped into my head. Seriously, I’ll admit it. I mean I did go, after all, and I mocked myself for thinking such stupid thoughts. But the fact that because I couldn’t get up there and take panoramic pictures almost convinced me to render the whole hike pointless was enough. Twenty-year-old me could only shake his scraggly head.

On I went. And it was tough. I’ll be 40 in September. Not old, but old enough to where you start talking about your age and saying you’re not old. I pictured myself bounding up those same rock steps, a little less eroded, both in mind and spirit, laughing about Ace Ventura or humming the latest Pearl Jam tune. And because I’m neurotically deficient I kept thinking, what if I just fell out right here? I don’t have a phone!

I don’t have a phone. Again, twenty-year-old shook his head and spat. Then left me to go drink beer on the top of that mountain.

I pressed onward.

It was nice. No one was around being that it was old person early. I wiped my brow. Are we there yet? I was sweating through my shirt. Then I got my second wind. Everything just started flowing and the next thing I knew I was climbing up the rocks to the peak.

The top. Wow. Let me just say. Nothing puts our world into perspective better than sitting 4000 feet above it all. The rolling green of the treetops. The bluish horizon. The breeze rolls up to you. Everything is quiet. Tiny cars drift by without sound. A wasp lands on your neck.

Where was I? Oh, so I sat in my solitude, where the chatter and all the everyday bullshit that consumes our feeds is muted for a moment. People, cars, civilization blends with the clouds and rock and dirt and mountains. I was glad I came. And I was glad I didn’t have a phone. 

So, no pictures. But then again no distractions. I contemplated the really heavy stuff in my life.

Like how I shouldn’t have eaten half a pepperoni pizza last night but at the same time I couldn’t wait to get home and gorge myself on the other half.

Like how I’d better vacuum the house before my wife returns home tomorrow.

Like how I hoped that black bear was somewhere far, far away.

With my thoughts in order I got to my feet. By then I was starting to see people. Sweaty, heaving young people who made me feel much better about my own heavy breathing.

I passed families and couples. I passed young women who asked if they were almost there. I assured them they were, because I’m still a long hike way from maturity.

When I got to my car I sat covered in sweat. It was only ten in the morning. It felt good. I needed to get out, get myself together. I tossed my phone on the seat. Up and back in a flash. Still got it.

Now if I could just find that old Pearl Jam cd…

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Demolition Man

At last the demo is done. I know what you’re thinking. What took so long? Well, usually there’s a toddler running amuck in our house—which, combined with that pesky day job of mine, conspired to drag out the process into next year. But the other reason is a little more, fault.

That's right, I'll admit it. And like most things that don't involve technology, the following falls squarely into the my wife was right column. For months she nagged begged me to contact a contractor. The idea was for the bathroom remodel to coincide with her yearly summer trip up north. And as I write this it sounds like a really really good idea. 

I did contact a contractor. About two weeks before she set to leave. And let me tell you, business is good. Everyone was booked. Who knew? Not me, I’m not the best at delicate complexities such as scheduling, planning, listening and so forth, but I more than make up for it by whining, groveling, and my remarkable gift for procrastination. 

None of which helped in this particular case...

Anyway, contractor or not, I stuck to the whole time frame of tearing the bathroom down to the studs. Bad move. Had I known then what I know now I would have done things differently. 

Apparently in the fifties they built houses to last. I feel like this bathroom could have also been used as a bomb shelter. If you have an old tile bathroom embrace it. Or pay. Or move. My tub was stamped KOHLER 12-3-53. Try getting sixty years out of something built today. Not going to happen.

Good Times...
But there was a sledgehammer ready and my dad and I were foaming at the mouth with the thought of bashing some stuff. Then my wife and stepmother came home and found my dad patching me up with electrical tape.

My stepmom--battle-tested and hardened after 30 years of being married to my father--turned to my wife and deadpanned, "You know how to get blood out of a shirt, right?"

It was probably then that my wife became not as on board with the "me" part of this project.

A few weeks later I have a dumpster full of plaster, concrete, tile, and drywall. And some awfully mean steel mesh stuff that they used to hold it all together. I also have a newfound respect for contractors.

Last Sunday I finally got the place cleared out. I drank a beer and called my wife.

“It’s done.”

“The floor too?”

My shoulders sagged. She has this uncanny ability to “bring out the best in me.”

“No, I thought the guy said leave the floor.”

“Oh, yeah he did.”

After the call I opened the door. Under the haze of plaster sat the floor, or what was the floor but was now just a carpet of rubble and rock. I cursed. I set my celebratory beer down and hunted down my work gloves.

An hour later I was staring at the beams.

So my house is empty and my pink bathtub is gone. And I survived without any serious injury, just a couple of scratches on my arms. Plaster in my nostrils. My hair feels like steel wool. But there is hope. We did find a contractor to put our bathroom back together. He comes on the third. Of August. Meanwhile I take showers between the bushes in the backyard. Life is grand.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

My Dad and His Cars

Growing up, my dad loved nothing more than a good deal. Especially when it came to cars. He preferred the classics, preferably American made but really anything that caught his eye. 

I can remember more than a couple of times where we were driving along, sometimes on vacation, when suddenly Dad would do a double take, his head halfway out of the car as he hit the brakes and told us to hang on. Then he'd pull the car around for a better look at some old clunker with those two precious words scawled across the windshield:

For Sale.

“Let’s just take a quick look,” he’d say to us, his fingers dancing on the steering wheel. 

There wasn’t much he loved more than popping the hood of some roadside vehicle, muttering in some foreign language about cylinders and horsepower. Most of the time he’d hop back in the car and we’d get back on our way. But other times—when he got that look in his eyes—my stepmom knew that she was about to take the wheel and follow some sputtering heap home.

So many Saturday mornings I spent with him, driving out to the edge of town so that he could see about some unpolished gem. With a boyish gleam, he’d tell me how he’d bought and fixed up his own first car at fourteen, then another at sixteen. Then at seventeen…and so on.

Where most people saw a hunk of junk sitting in a field at the edge of the woods—tall grass creeping up the dry-rotted tires and a dull coat of spray paint on the hood—my dad saw a memory. I think those cars took him back to that carefree place of yesteryear, of saving and fixing up a car and hit the open road without a worry in the world.

One particular evening after work, Dad was all geared up about riding out to take a look at a “classic”. While my stepmother wasn’t exactly unsupportive of these ventures, she didn’t share his passion for them either. How could she? My dad brought home used junkers like a little girl with lost puppies. Nevertheless, we loaded up for the trip, my stepmother's face a paint-by-number portait of frazzle and my father's slapdash smile bouncing along as he gushed about the '57 Chevy we were about to see. Oh, and by see he meant buy.

I think the rest of us were a little underwhelmed when we saw it. Sure it had the cool fins stretching off the back and the rounded windshield, but even I could see that there was a lot of work to be done. But Dad didn’t even flinch, hopping out with stars in his eyes.

After a quick test drive came the haggling. No stranger to negotiation, I watched a master at work. And just as soon as the handshake, my dad whipped out a screwdriver from his back pocket and proceeded to unfasten the license plate from the front of our car and secure it on the rust-kissed back bumper of our new “project” car. Yes, we were driving that beast back home, because to my dad, inspection stickers were mere suggestions. If it cranked up and had four tires, it was ready to roll.

Today, being married myself, I can only imagine what went going through my stepmom’s mind as she followed us home. Was she praying that the brakes didn’t give out on that rolling wreck she was tailing? Or maybe hoping that her madman husband would stop honking and pumping his fist, revving the engine at every stoplight and drawing attention to the sketchy vehicle with unlicensed tags.

Meanwhile in the Chevy, Dad and I were born to be wild. He looked over to me, the wind in his hair and his arm hung over the door, nothing but pure satisfaction on his face. I tried to smile back but I was a bit preoccupied with my task of "keeping an eye out for cops".

We pulled into the driveway. I was somewhat relieved to see that my stepmother hadn’t made a run for it. I guess by then— after the DMV had already contacted my dad about getting a dealer license due to his incessant buying and selling of cars—she’d come to grips with my father’s impulse decisions.

Dad coaxed the lumbering antique onto a patch of dirt just under the maple tree, where it would come to rest for the next year. For a nine year old boy, having a car sitting in your front yard was a dream come true. I still remember that giant, rope-like steering wheel in my hand, as I became a ship captain in stormy seas, an astronaut, or just a regular getaway driver. With push buttons and gauges, roll down windows and more, that old car became my own personal playhouse.

Dad spent the weekends tinkering with the engine. He started mending the bench seating. I imagine the neighbors began to hate us. There was me, scaling the greenish-blue hunk of metal as part of my obstacle course. Our german shepherd barking from the carport. The gravel driveway chocked full of cars. Did I mention I had a mini-bike?

At some point my dad grew tired of the Chevy. With its rust and tears and exhausted engine, it turned out to be a little more than a man with three kids and a full-time job bargained for. One Saturday another man came out to look at the car, and I couldn’t help but notice that he had that same nostalgic gaze in his eyes. I watched as my clubhouse on wheels sputtered out of the driveway, and I’m not quite sure of it, but I do believe there was some celebratory singing coming from the living room window.

As the old car stalled and stammered down the road, I glanced up to Dad to see how he was making out with the deal. He put his arm around my shoulder and with a familiar look on his face, he said, “So I was thinking about going to look at a dune buggy. You wanna come along?”

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

It's Go Time...

Ahh summer....When the days are long and everything slides to a leisurely pace ....Enjoy the pool or enjoy the shade...Just grab a drink, kick back and relax. It's the only way to beat the heat...

Or destroy the bathroom. All the way down to the studs. That's right, pick up that sledgehammer and eat some plaster and/or asbestos.

Our house was built in the 1950’s. And from what I've discovered it was built to weather any major war or class five hurricane. I’m not kidding, the place is a fortress. Just like it's not exaggerating when I say that there is enough plaster and drywall and concrete in our modest bathroom to pave the moon. Twice.

For years it seemed the whole bathroom remodel was something to be done….just later. You know, like, Oh sure when we do the bathroom, and kitchen, and install our zero gravity room. You know, that kind of thing. Whenever I thought about it, it was more, fuzzy-around-the-edges-still-in-the-infancy-stages-of-my-mind. And yes, I tend to think of things in cartoon vision. What, that's not normal?

But my wife is scary sneaky. And somehow when I wasn’t paying attention, this renovation project got moving. We bought a sink and stored it in the basement. I still had time. I chipped away at some tile. Then we bought a shower. Then I took the old sink out. Then there was a dumpster in the driveway. Suddenly, our cute little tadpole of an idea morphed into a big old ugly toad.

Now I live in a construction zone.

Which wouldn’t be so bad. But then I remembered that there’s a highly active toddler running around our house.

He likes tools.

He loves vacuums.

He absolutely adores a mess.

So that leaves us here. We don’t have walls but we have a lamp on the studs and we still have the big old pink tub. I have most of the walls gutted. The main problem is trying to time everything.

See, while I get to play Mr. Construction Worker—which comes with a pretty good chance at major injury—my wife and child are taking their yearly sojourn up north. And that’s when the tile guy and the plumber come in. And that’s when I start taking showers with the hose in the backyard. This ought to be good.

I’ll keep you posted.