Monday, August 31, 2009

"Herein My Former Dean and Always Friend, Jim, Gives Me A Guest Blogger Assist During a Week Where I Might Lose My Mind Otherwise"

Sometimes helping a friend and engaging in public navel gazing are the same thing. In this case, I offered to write a guest blog for Jocelyn because I know she’s just started school, has all her junk all over the house, and can’t find her Triscuits.

Recently I was remembering an annoying woman I met in college, and how one particular branch of her annoying tree reminded me of the film Slumdog Millionaire.

Her name was Rachel Katz, and I use her real name, because I believe everyone googles themselves occasionally (or, in my case, daily) and should find their name somewhere unexpected. So, yes, Rachel, you were bright and funny and a good dancer, but you were also amazingly annoying. To me, anyway. I’m sure the rest of the cast of Grease that summer at the University of Wisconsin-Superior all loved you. (See, now Joce will get Google hits with many other types of searches.)

Rachel was dance captain of said musical, and I played one of the lesser greasers, Doody. I know; I have been typecast from the beginning as good boys, priests and whatnot. One reviewer, bless him, mentioned my “baby-faced Doody,” which is better than being a doody-faced baby anyday. I was twenty; I looked fifteen; I am now forty-five and look forty-five. (This is what forty-five looks like, as Gloria Steinem would say.)

I’m wearing my own clothes (second from left)! That may be Rachel Katz immediately behind me. Jocelyn's editorial: the gal in the middle looks like Susan Lucci to me; did Erica Caine get her start in Wisconsin musical theater?

One day in the green room a bunch of us were playing Trivial Pursuit. I don’t remember who else was there but probably Doug Ronning, our Danny, who I was crushing on since high school. We were all good in the entertainment category, natch, and it was a close game.

Rachel was in the habit of explaining why or how she knew every answer she got correct. “I only know that because when I was in the fifth grade my mother gave me a scarf that was this amazing color of orange and she told me that it was actually saffron, and it comes from the spice saffron, which is really expensive and you only need a little bit of it in the rice to make it saffron rice, and so now whenever I see that color I know that it’s actually saffron. Plus I really like Indian food, so…” (I’m sure she said “actually” a lot, and her explanations were invariably in the form of the run-on sentence.)

This went on for the entire game. “The only reason I know that is because I was in New York last year and toured the U.N. and so I met the ambassador from Swaziland who told me about the net worth of their exports. So…” I ground my teeth and tried to catch someone else’s eye to share my pain. I don’t think anyone else was irritated, which shows that I was a crank when I was twenty and that my irritability did not come on to me in middle age.

Even then I recognized Rachel’s mannerism as more of a nervous tick than anything else. It was probably a result of being a smart girl in school and trying to minimize that intelligence, making herself more ordinary as if to say, “I’m not smarter than you are really, I just know this because…” Sort of the way smart girls in the Midwest often end every sentence as if it is a question? With a little raise of the voice at the end? (“I know my paper is late? But my boyfriend is in jail? And my mom threw my dad out of the house? And my dad was my daycare provider? So…”)

Rachel had the opposite effect on me, however. Not only did the needless repetition ruin the fun of the game, the subtext of her remarks (the “I’m not smarter than you” part) came off to me as a slight dig at the rest of us, sounding more to me like “I am smarter than you and this is why.”

What does this have to do with Slumdog Millionaire? I’m just getting to that. You’ll recall that our slumdog, Jamal, is a contestant on the Indian version of the gameshow, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? He’s condescended to (and worse) by the show’s host, who continues to refer to him as a Tea-Wallah. (You’ll have to google that one yourself, it’s fun.) The entire plot of the film is structured around Jamal’s memories: whenever he gets a question right, the film flashes back to his memories of (yep) why or how he knows that particular bit of information.

Thus we get thrilling, beautiful, horrific scenes of Jamal’s life, from swimming through a fecal swamp to get a glimpse of a matinee idol to scamming tourists (and stealing shoes) as a fake tour guide at the Taj Mahal. And he does all this in order to find Latika, whom he refers to as his destiny. “I went on the show because I thought she would be watching,” he says.

It’s a brilliant narrative move by screen writer Simon Beaufoy. One of those I-wish-I-had-thought-of-that moments. So I couldn’t help but wonder, what if I hadn’t just been annoyed by Rachel Katz’s stories but instead had seen them as a creative way to tell a story? Would I have developed my own version of Slumdog Millionaire? Okay, so mine wouldn’t have the lovely Dev Patel and Frieda Pinto, in her long saffron scarf, doing their Bollywood dance in a train station.

And I only know that because…

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Hypertension in the Key of D"

Sometimes, if your house is already in chaos due to a kitchen remodel, and then a new crew comes in to start refinishing your floors (one half of the house at a time, which means all possessions in two rooms get shoved into the other two rooms, and then the next week, everything from that side gets shoved back over to the side of the newly-refinished floors), you hit Maximum Chaos and Crap Overload. It ain't pretty. In fact, I feel like I'm actively restricting my drinking this week (what with classes starting back up, too) so that I don't just sip from a flask--delicately and discreetly, mind you--from the moment my eyes open in the morning 'til the moment they slam shut at night. Under my current plan, I'm not allowed to have twenty beers until after 8 p.m.

We have so much stuff. Usually, we can pretend there's a place for it. Not this week. We have not place.

...except out on the curb. The case with this spinet is that it's untuneable unless we shell out about $600.

Not gonna.

So we listed it on Freecycle and Craig's List and got no bites. We put it out with "Free" signs all over it and got some. Our neighbor said she'd take it. Woot-woot! We turned away all lookers after that.

She called this morning and said she can't take it. (good thing she's a lovely woman otherwise; I've never seen Groom, who makes Gandhi look like an a-hole, contemplate violence before)

It's supposed to rain tonight.

We can't find enough tarps to cover it adequately. The other tarps are already covering a kitchen table that's living outside.

We can't pay to buy anymore tarps because--WERE YOU LISTENING?--we're already paying mounds of dollars for a kitchen remodel and floor refinishing.

So there sits the piano. Forelorn.

Come and take it.

Should you arrive, I'll make you pie. It's raspberry season, you know, and I have cream cheese.

All right, so bummers aside, the kitchen is getting prettier. Getting the cooktop in has been transformative. We eat pasta and beets now.

The oven's been in for a couple of weeks. Look what it did for us last Sunday morning! Oven must've known we had a big week coming up, one with new students and no access to the kitchen during the floor business.

Oven likes skillet pancakes (aka "Dutch babies").

Jocelyn likes Nutella.

Jocelyn also wonders when someone stuck her mother's hands onto the ends of her arms.

For the first time since we moved into this house, our recipe books are in the actual kitchen and not out on the back porch.

Of course, I still go out on the back porch to look for them every time I need a recipe. Why can't I just holler, "Dutch baby recipe: come to Mama!" and have it gallop right to me, to save some of this annoying rustling around, looking confounded? That's exhausting work, the Rustle and Confound.

Miss Silvia and some still lifes (yea, I know it's "lives," but humor the English teacher who knows all the rules so well she has license to violate them) have come aboard, too. See how much our floors needed refinishing?

It's proven confusing, as well, to have the food IN the kitchen. I still am wandering around the living room, calling out to my Triscuits. Now I hear their muffled cries coming from inside this pantry.

I've made two good choices in my life: 1) the man I live with; 2) the transom window above the door there. Both are transparent.

A shot of the dining room, after we cleared it out on Sunday. Note the refrigerator on the left. I like a fridge that serves as maitre d' to everyone entering the house.

Because this is a high-class joint, we also have a hostess, Sideboard, to greet you on the porch.

The living room, all this past week, has been JUNK, JUNK, JUNK. Just typing about it makes my blood pressure skyrocket.

Dining room table in the living room.

Have to stop typing about this now. Need my meds. Pressure is spiking...

Every now and then, though, the crap and junk come together in a queer synergy.

And it delights me.

If I stare at Maestro Monkey Love long enough, some nights I can wait until 8:18 p.m. before cracking the first two beers.

And then I stare at the dramatic dark vs. light of our half-re-finished floors (plus Paco doing the hula), and I can wait until 8:49.

Monday, August 24, 2009

“No Matter How High Their Heels, My Boots Never Rate a ‘Strongly Agree’”

As the new semester revs up this week, my thoughts drift back to an adjunct instructor whom I mentored last year.

A cool, lithe blonde, she shared with me how difficult it had always been for her to get valid, helpful student feedback in end-of-semester evaluations.

“Sing Hosannah to the choir, Sister!” my enthusiastic phantom mental churchgoer person chimed in. As I nodded vigorously and started leafing through my hymnal, I also thought, “Don't I know what you’re talking about, Blondie Adjunct! When I read the comments from students at the end of the term, they usually veer from ‘We should have used the textbook more’ directly to ‘I wish we hadn’t used the book so much’ to ‘This class, which I dreaded, has made me love writing’ to ‘I want my money back; all this class taught me was to write a thesis-driven academic essay’ to—an all-time favorite—‘Jocelyn certainly seems to think she’s funny.’

Oh, yes, I am well familiar with the cacophony and discord that constitute a class’ final assessment of my performance. As I started to raise my hand to give Blondie Adjunct a high five of solidarity, she continued her original train of thought:

“I mean, year after year I’ve had to caution students, when evaluation time comes around, that they should not be complimenting me on my ‘lovely dress with the dragonflies’ or on my ‘delightful dangly earrings’ or asking me where I get my hair cut.” Almost moaning at this point, she went on: “I actually have to tell them to keep their comments focused on my teaching and their learning and not my appearance.”

Nonplussed, I felt my high fiving hand drop down to my side, where it hung limply, kind of reddish and frecklish and wrinkledy, not at all blondish or coolish or lissome.

Strange, thought my hand and the person attached to it,

I’ve never run into that problem.

These reminiscences now have me reconsidering my first-day-of-class outfit for tomorrow:

Clearly, I’m going for something memorable enough to merit admiring words 16 weeks from now. All I want is for the comments on their evaluations to sidestep mention of textbooks, learning to write, and my attempts at humor.

Indeed, if their comments revolve around my appearance, won’t that make me an Honorary Blonde?

I've always wanted to have more fun.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This photo--of someone elses's trashy mini-van--is one of the few things that makes me feel better about my own.

“Crumbs Under the Mini-Van Seat”

Our mini-van is a pit, littered with popcorn, Goldfish crackers, granola bar wrappers, toys, and books. It’s a random place that, I fear, may never feel organized or tidy. The second that it does, we’ll know it’s time to move on, time to shed the catch-all vehicle and ease into a more adult vehicle (Toyota’s new XXX, perhaps?), something littered only with lip tints, incense, and throw pillows.

At any rate, my thoughts today are random, like the crap under the seat of the mini-van. My brain is a jumbled mash of odds and ends:

1) At National Night Out a few weeks ago, we had a big block party. Customarily, police officers and firefighters stop by—part of the whole community-building vibe and all. During the visits, I totally appreciated that my kids actively avoided all officers of the law, refusing to come over for high fives or badge stickers. Such avoidance tactics will serve them well in 8 years, when the keggers they’re at are being busted.

2) I’m sitting and watching Paco’s karate class as I type this. Straight ahead of me is the father of a kid in the class. Every time I look up, I think, “I’ll bet you were pretty attractive in your younger years, Pappy, but right now, you just look bloated and like you drink too much.”

3) Oh, hell. Turns out I was looking at myself in the mirrors that line the wall of the karate studio.

4) Joking. There really is a bloated dad here. If it sounds kinder, I can qualify: he’s only bloated in the face, which looks like it’s still detoxifying last night’s 12-pack.

5) Funny how all the beer went to his face.

6) But he is wearing nice flip-flops, and that’s something.

7) Plus, he is here, watching his kid’s karate class, so that’s something else.

8) I just hope he doesn’t yack. He seems to be fighting the urge.

9) Seriously, he’s gone into the please-don’t-let-me-hurl-in-public zone…you know, the one where you sit up a little bit too straight and pull your chin in towards your neck? My kids will know it well in 8 years, the day after they’ve run away from the cops at a kegger. And I’ll recognize it then, too, and make a pungent scallop stew for breakfast that I ladle out with a dried ox tongue and serve over a bed of ear wax. That should really get them pulling their chins in towards their necks.

10) As long as I’m rambling about kids’ activities, let me trip across the subject of Girl’s soccer coaches this year. I totally think the two doctors-by-day/coaches-by-night guys are to be admired for offering up their time and buying a clipboard and all; however, they both seem very nervous around a herd of 16 nine-year-old girls, to the point that they avoid interacting with the girls the same way my kids avoid interacting with officers of the law. For example, these coaches, several weeks into the season, still don’t know any of the girls’ names except their own daughters’. This REALLY bothers me. Also, they ask the girls to arrive to games half an hour early, yet they themselves arrive a fair bit after that and, without ever acknowledging the crowd of girls standing there in full gear, they have a huddle with each other that lasts until the start of the game.

I’m giving them a couple more nights before I go all Enthusiastic Parent Volunteer on their asses and jump right in, as they huddle importantly in doctors-with-clipboards fashion; while they murmur to each other, “I dunno what our goalie’s name is. You ask her. No, YOU ask her. You ask her. Oh, all right: Let’s just refer to her as Curly Hair Girl when we confab like this and, er, during a game, to pull her off the field, we’ll gesture wildly and yell, ‘Red Team Goalie: Come IN!’; in the meantime, my enthusiastic volunteer parent self will get the girls warming up together—maybe making a circle and kicking the ball around while playing The Name Game, so they at least know the names of their teammates. Of course, once I do that, it'll be a short step from pairing them to do dribbling and stopping drills, having them practice passes, working with them on scoring goals, to becoming a doctor with a clipboard one day myself.

11) Classes start next week at the college. My lack of enthusiasm for this indicates, if any doubt remained, that I was actually born to be a Manhattan trophy wife who fills her days with Botox injections, hiring and firing the help, and “charity work.” It astounds me how easily I can fill a day with non-workish activities, and the hours fly. But in the face of teaching 175 students (my all-time high, speaking of how lower student/teacher ratios improve the quality of education), I am limp and full of dread, as though I’m about to head into the theatre to watch a buddy comedy called BRAIN TRUST starring Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey as former cabinet members (clearly from the Bush administration) who, at professional loose ends, decide to open a detective agency aimed at solving pet-related crimes; this film also features a cameo by Jessica Simpson emerging from the waves in both slow motion and a bikini. Indeed, even before the opening titles of the semester, I’m sitting all slumpy and waiting for the final credits to roll.

12) Okay, the hungover dad just left the studio and is now pacing in circles out in the parking lot, a little too near to my mini-van, if you ask me. On the flip side, the van is so filthy, I wouldn’t actually notice the addition of a puddle of spew.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"Translating Candyland to Concrete? You Know It's August, and You Still Have Almost a MONTH Until the Kids Go Back to School"

How would you use up four buckets of sidewalk chalk?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

“Friends Without Benefits”

For a variety of reasons, I caved and joined Facebook recently. Since then, the barrage of friend requests has been interesting—bringing me up to date with people I actually have ongoing relationships with, but also, yes, causing me some bemusement. Several times now, I’ve had requests from people I don’t remember at all. I stare at their pictures, trying to subtract 30 pounds and 30 years, and faintly, I hear an internal murmur of, “Didn’t you once go to her birthday party?” or “After she made majorettes in high school, didn’t she look right through you every time you passed her in the hall?” This process becomes even more bemusing when, after accepting that we once were “friends” and, in a complete failure of logic, thereby should continue to be so now, I go back to Facebook to read such barely-remembered people’s comments about how I haven’t changed a bit…and am left thinking, “But, um, really: who ARE you?” An interesting sidenote to this situation is that it is primarily happening with people who never moved away from my hometown; perhaps because they still drive the same roads every day that I drove when I was 15 and cruising around looking for beer, they remember me more vividly than I do them. (most likely, I stick out in their memories because I gave them beer when I scored some; most likely, they don’t stick out in my memory because, after giving them a can of Bud Light, I drank the rest of the twelve-pack)

Outside of the general friending weirdness, I’m not sure I’m feeling the Facebook love, either, just in terms of what having these connections is supposed to achieve. A few people I’m genuinely interested in do post updates nearly every day; this is fun and gratifying. Dear pal Jim: I love knowing that you were a big ole Huck Finn and canoed the Mississippi the other day! Dear friend Kirsten: I am so glad the “tummy tuck” you just had after losing more than 200 pounds due to gastric bypass a few years ago resulted—gawp—in the removal of 18.5 pounds of loose skin! Dear Facebook: now that’s what I’m talkin’ about! However, most of my friends don’t seem to post or comment much--what with the people I’m attracted to having a compulsion towards real life and all--which leaves me wondering why we’re all loitering there in the same cyber corner, cocktails in hand, frozen in the grips of a stilted silence.

Also confounding me are the people whose contributions to my Facebook news stream are about what quizzes they took and how they scored on them. I have twelve levels of snark I could dip into on this one, but the words that sum up my feelings best are these: REALLY? REALLY???? Beyond wading through people's quiz results about how well they remember the Huxtables and which Transformer they most resemble in real life, I find myself spending time in front of the computer, mumbling "What the eff?" when the news updates from my "friends" report that: "Mike Conrad was farming quietly when a lost cow wandered onto his farm. Won't someone please adopt this poor cow and take it off Mike's hands?" The first time I saw one of these now-ubiquitous posts, I thought Mike (who grew up in my subdivision and, um, had freckles, and, er, maybe was a wrestler?) had taken an interesting turn in his adult life and somehow gotten some land and--ooh, fingers crossed--was manning a small organic operation that could be a step towards humanity getting back to good and just food. How odd, me thought, that a random cow had come wandering across his acres, and I did hope it hadn't trampled his leafy greens, but how even odder, me thought, that the modern farmer solves his livestock dilemmas through Facebook (I was on the verge of messaging Mike and telling him this lost-cow thing could be a terrific chance to up his fortunes: become a passive cattle rustler--a cattle receiver--and raise that poor, lost heifer on delicious grasses, thusly saving it from a life of misery on a feed lot). Just when I was starting to believe, wonder of wonders, that Facebook might provide a really specific service for today's farmers with fencing problems, I re-read Mike's post and realized his "farming" is completely a cyber-gameish Facebook activity, and his hands never touch soil, his heinie never leaves the chair, his pitchfork never gets unhooked from the barn wall. Tarnation, but I'm starting to think he might not even have a barn.

The net effect of my Facebooking so far has been reactionary—that is, to garner greater appreciation for Twitter (the 140-character limit actually forces users to create a very specific “voice” for a very specific writing purpose, a fact that doesn’t hurt my English teacheritude one whit; plus, there’s something steady, consistent, and immediate about tweets…they fulfill a certain social impulse) and, woot-woot, to bring me back to the beauties of blogging. In particular, I am renewed in my appreciation for this venue that allows for careful crafting (not that you’d always know it), that fosters exploration and reflection, that urges storytelling, that creates an audience of new readers/friends who don’t necessarily grow only out of previous life experiences who who are drawn to the site through choice. In the face of Facebook, blogging feels like a refreshingly creative and dynamic space. What’s more, I have to censor myself on Facebook, due to the wide range of ages and beliefs of my friends; however, in the world of blogging, while I do hold back from some therapeutic writing about certain experiences and people, I feel fairly liberated, can out-and-out make shizz up and, occasionally, even allude to the fact that I have a vagina. Some of my youngish Facebook friends have ‘em but don’t quite know it yet, and I’d hate to be the one to drop that bomb at their feet.

Or between their legs.

Because ultimately, with some things in life, isn’t it more appropriate to learn about them in the back seat of a car, with a boy whose name you vaguely recall is “Randy” but whose whispers of breath across your cheek make your knees weak with anticipation

…rather than through the computer, from your dad’s cousin's wife, even when you definitely know her name is Jocelyn and that she needs a Tic Tac?

Sunday, August 09, 2009

"A Day at the..."

Hark and sunscreen!

We visit the beach. Look, I have a mother who visited from California. Look, we have sand here ("here" being Park Point, the longest freshwater sandbar in the world) and not just pebbles. Look, we pose carefully for the nice lady from Minneapolis who asked, "Do I push this button?'

We shriek at the 45 degree water. We think back to the lovely lunch we just had at the New Scenic Cafe--remembering fondly walleye encrusted with pistachios, Belgian waffle sticks, upscale BLT's with avacado and jalapeno bacon, fried egg sandwiches with gruyere and asparagus. We shriek some more as the waves lap around us. I urge my mom out further and further, as icing her torn meniscus is recommended. We save on the cost of ice cubes.

Then we chat.

One person, he with the most clarity, gets down to business. He is six, and his name is Paco, and he absolutely. didn't. want. to. go. to. the. Park. Point. Beach. because. he. hates. it. there.

Admirably, he overcomes his reservations.

And sets the standard.

He makes me wonder why I was so terrified to have a boy.

He likes making things.

Like shields and red envelopes for Chinese New Year gifts and lanterns and quivers and moonscapes.

He is growing his hair out because he admires skateboarders and a boy named Oscar.

His legs, called his "pudgers," are the softest, creamiest things I know outside of a Dairy Queen ice cream cone.

Maybe he admires his grandma, too, as they share a 'do.

Girl can't be bothered. She understands, implicitly, one of life's great joys: reading at the beach.

You can try to engage her attention, but she will cast you off with a look that says, "Do not even try, white lady."

Ten feet away from the reading, construction continues.

Many more yards away from the reading and construction, life in the city continues.

But mostly, we're just where we're at this very moment.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

“The Crying Game: Except I’m Not Hiding Anything Under My Skirt”

I posted a few weeks ago about needing the physical release of a good, deep cry. The comments in response to my “make me sob, woncha?” post were amazing. So far, I’ve used some of your suggestions and shed a few quiet, gentle tears. First off, I want to thank my close personal friend “Anonymous” for her terrific tip to watch something I never would have otherwise: the Catelynn and Tyler episode of Pregnant and 16 on MTV. Since we don’t have cable, I watched it online and, yup, found myself wiping my eyes. Criminy, but both teens were unbelievably aware and realistic about their chances of being good parents at the age of 16. Quite bravely, they chose to give up their daughter for adoption, despite the active opposition of their crap-ass parents (so helpful of Tyler’s father to get a weekend out of jail so he could come home and lecture Tyler about how every kid needs a father). It was immensely good for me to feel such respect and awe at two 16-year-old kids who somehow achieved a preternatural maturity. My tears were exclusively reserved, though, for the birthing scene; I will always and forever be a sobber at the moment of witnessing a birth. In fact, if you are in labor right now, as you read this post, just know I’m crying at the wonder and beauty of what you’re doing. Except maybe don’t touch the keyboard until you’ve washed up, honey.

Several fine commenters also suggested I watch P.S., I Love You, a film based on Cecelia Ahern’s book (which I’d read but forgotten). For the most part, this effort was less successful. Partially, the film never became “transparent” for me; I kept thinking, “Wow, the costume designers sure are dressing Hilary Swank in black and white a lot. Hmm, where’d they get those boots? I like those boots. I want those boots.” At that point, I tried to work up a good cry over the fact that I’d never get those boots, but then I remembered there are other boots in the world, and some of them know my address, and then I started smiling rather too broadly. Throughout the film, I was also distracted by how Gerard Butler’s self-confidence borders on arrogance; I was immune to his very studied, near-gloating cock-eyed charm. Mostly, though, the problem was that the couple of times I managed to get to the brink of tearshed, the DVD froze up. By the end of the film, the thing had frozen more than 20 times. It took me almost three hours to watch that two hour movie. However, the next day, when I returned the film to our neighborhood movie store (and bike shop!), I mentioned the freezing issue to the owner, Tony. In return, he gave me two DVD rentals free of charge that day, at which point I got a little weepy over how cool people can be. So, ultimately, I did get about 32 tears out of P.S., I Love You. You’re a great guy, Tony. Oh, crud. Here I go again. Pass me a tissue, Tito.

In truth, the cathartic release I’d been craving came at me sideways, catching me unawares. Its lack of orchestration made it perfectly gratifying. There we were, His Groomishness and me, watching the final season of The Shield on DVD. Damn, but I love it when a good show goes out in a way that enhances all the seasons that came before it. Specifically, the finale pulled together every tendril, every thread, of all the characters’ actions all along—and, thusly, catapulted the show to a higher level of quality than I’d expected. Without spoiling anything for anyone, I’ll just say there is one particular scene in the finale that revolves around a profoundly tragic gesture of love. The whole thing cracked my heart in two. When I finished sobbing and keening and blowing my nose and eventually just wiping my whole disgusting mess of a face on the couch upholstery, I turned to mein Groom and noted, “We’re going to need a new couch now,” and he agreed, assessing the quality of my breakdown, “Yea, that was a particularly good one. You’re going to be feeling good tomorrow.”

As ever, he was right.

Next up in my Calculated Stress Relief Through Sobbing plan: watching Love, Actually--which, again, I've seen but forgotten, as is my wont--just to see the “I’ve Looked at Love From Both Sides Now” scene with Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman.

Groom says I have to sit on the floor during it and not go near the furniture. With the kitchen remodel and all, we can’t afford the continuing cost of my tears.

Monday, August 03, 2009

"Obligatory Kitchen Remodel Update, To Satisfy My Sister, If No One Else"

The notion of remodeling our kitchen first took root five years ago (namely, the day we moved in to our current house and recoiled in horror at the dark, run-downedness of that room...which, strangely, implies moving-day was the first time I ever spied the kitchen--as though I hadn't known the previous owners, eaten dinner there, done several walk-throughs, had the place inspected, and then, finally, moved in. Watershed moment on this blog: I'm a big liar through implication), and, since then, we've hung in there through dying appliances and floor tiles peeling up under our feet. Finally, though, finally, about six months ago, we saw the light at the end of a financial windfall (incidentally, it occurs to me at this juncture that not only do I love to mix metaphors; I also wish I'd had twins and named them Watershed and Windfall), and started moving ahead with plans to change up that sad drag of a room, the space where, nevertheless, we spent most of our time.

Here's another "incidentally": that last sentence has 72 words in it, so if you need to take a break right now and go pour a shot of vodka, I totally understand.

Waiting. Humming. Tapping.

Oh, you back now? Wipe your mouth with the back of your hand, and then we'll continue. You get a little sloppy when you drink, you know.

All right, then...

In a future post, I'll summarize how the funding for this venture came to us, but for now, let me summarize the process of the remodel:

About a year and a half ago, we interviewed possible companies/architects. Nothing felt perfect. Good news: we had no money anyways, so hahahahahahahaha on the whole idea.

About six months ago, we saw first glimmer of a financial payout that would allow the remodel to happen. At that point, we met with an architect and project manager from a local cooperative company named Builders' Commonwealth. When we hedged a quiet, "We were hoping for kind of an Arts & Crafts kitchen that's also modernized," and the project manager jumped in, gesturing to the architect, with, "But that's Hugh's speciality!" we were hooked. Because this company is a cooperative, there is no hierarchy, and the administrative positions rotate throughout the workers. This year, a furniture builder named Thad is president. He has an earring. The vice-president is a Lead Construction guy named Barry who, like me, is profoundly not a morning person, who appreciates quality coffee, and who laughed heartily at my quip about the laundry sink I grew up with when I reminisced, "Oh, man, I gave myself many a bad home perm in that thing."

The thing about this company is that each guy is personally invested, and each guy is wayyyyy into craftsmanship. We know our cabinetmaker by name. He is Jason. He is revered by his co-workers, who wish and hope that he would mess up a little, so they could score some of his "unusable" work. In fact, one of our construction guys, Sam, still can't believe he once scored some cabinet fronts made by Jason--the stain was too dark to suit the clients, so someone had to take them. And then hug them tightly for years afterwards. And maybe occasionally lick them.

Anyhow, I rather dreaded the influx of workers into our house, but they have made it easy. I would have any one of them over to dinner. At that dinner, I would insist they have dessert. It would be an espresso granita, with whipped cream. I would give them two dollops.

So we have had gracious, invested, talented people in our house since June 9th. Despite how much I love them, they could be done already. It's our kitchen, after all and fer crissakes. I'm ready no to wash dishes in the bath tub or over and neighbors' houses. I'm ready to bake Snickerdoodles. I'm ready to be able to find the molasses and my really big mug that can hold a well-iced latte.

Things were going along swimmingly...up until Builders' Commonwealth got The Call.

From ABC.

About an upcoming episode of Extreme Home Makeover.

Which they had been selected to help orchestrate--you know, as the builders.

Our fellas had not put in a bid for this, actually. The network just knew what region the show would be visiting, had a list of five potential families, and then read up on contractors in the area. They, rightly, thought Builders' was the best choice. Honored, excited, flabbergasted, Builders' agreed to do the job.

The details that have emerged since then are:

The home build for a needy local family will start August 3rd (smack dab in the middle of our ongoing project, naturally).

The ABC home build is done completely with volunteer labor, including the manhours from the entire company of Builders' Commonwealth

The local contractors have to hit up their vendors for materials, too; the network provides only liasion work and logistics. Oh, and Ty Pennington's highlights.

As loyal, paying clients of Builders', we may be getting VIP, um...the street of the home build? Or to the tent that has danishes? Or, best yet, to the moment the bus rolls away from the front of the new house?

Because this is such an intense project, lasting 120 hours from pouring the slab to rolling away the bus, all the contractors have had to pull back from their loyal, paying clients' projects over the last few weeks, just to pre-build things for the Extreme Home Makeover show.

Despite having split focus, the fine fellows at Builders' have done their best to leave us in relatively good shape for the next week, when our work site will fall silent.

To their credit, the place is coming together nicely:

This is what the kitchen looked like a couple of weeks ago, after the insulation went it. Turns out we had NO insulation before. You know we're true Northerners since we never noticed the draft.

Does a part of you wish we'd decided to keep the walls sky blue?

An extraneous door into the kitchen was sealed off, and the bottom stairs that turned into that now-non-existent door were straightened. Remodel domino effect #1: we get to pull up the old runner, paint the stairs, and get a new runner.

A hint of the color we did choose...clearly not sky blue. Look how hungry Groom gets when he paints and uses all those man muscles.

Don't you love the plywood "back door" we've been living with?

What with putting in new windows, all the beadboard on the back porch had to come down, and new is being put in. Remodel domino effect #2: we get to repaint the back porch. Oh, and since the carpet on the porch has been trashed, we have the opportunity to get new carpet.

This is where we usually sit and read books and eat lunch. Not this summer.

Remodel domino effect #3: this is upstairs, showing the wall that had to be cut open to reveal "The Stack"--whatever the hell that is...something to do with plumbing. Remodel domino effect #4: we also have the opportunity to repaint the hallway.

And then, this past week, it all started to come together. Cabinet installation began. We got a sink. We got a dishwasher. The oven works. It's convection. We have no earthly idea how to use it.

The tall door there is a pantry and also holds recycling bins that pull out.

You understand why someone might want to lick that wood, don't you?

Or just lay on it, all night long, whispering sweet nothings into its iron pyramid knobs?

Look how much lights don't suck!

When I look at these, I feel like I'm starring in a one-hour drama that depicts an idealized version of my life.

Yum all over.

Did I forget to mention the half-bath? Sweet Johnny Willywacker, but it's a whole new world of urination.

Yesterday...Saturday...two days before they start working full-time on the Extreme Home Makeover, a couple of the guys came over and installed our new back door. No more plywood. Even better, the door has a keypad that holds up to 19 entry codes, so we have gone Full International Spy 007. Paco had to meditate long and hard before coming up with his code of choice; the process involved his retiring to the couch with a tin of Yu-Gi-Oh trading cards for 15 minutes and studying all the monsters' various attack powers. My process involved babbling, "Um, I dunno what I'll be able to remember. How old am I again? Could we use that? A lot? Over and over?"

As you can tell, if we do score VIP passes to be in the crowd scene when the bus pulls away and that lucky family's new home is revealed to them, I won't be hard to spot. Look for the really bewildered woman who seems not to know her own age or where the molasses are.