Out, Damned Pots

After a while I just start throwing stuff into boxes. A week ago, maybe even yesterday, it mattered that things be packed carefully. Now I no longer care. The movers can break all this kitchen crap and I won’t blink. They’re coming tomorrow and I am not ready, nor, most probably, will I be by the end of the day. So screw the Le Creuset pots that William-Sonoma sells for $370, and the Japanese sushi knife I never learned to use, and the Pasta Tub. Yes, I have—I had—something called a Pasta Tub, an oval plastic piece of junk that promised peerless linguini, except the manufacturer lied. It either burned the spaghetti or left it as stiff as chopsticks.

I have discarded cans of food almost a decade old, and four frying pans and two dozen coffee mugs and the end is not in sight. What to do with the bone china my mother left me? There are dedicated asparagus plates with little recesses for sauce, and steak knives from Besançon, and linen from Nimes and twenty-five tiny fondue forks. I loathe fondue.IMG_1435

I am trying to locate the space where my anger dwells. I am pissed at myself for having so many useless possessions, and pissed at others for not helping with this onerous moving task. I am no longer able to make rational choices on what to keep and what to trash. I need advice; I really, really do. Just as my editor trims my work to make it better, now I need a you-don’t-need-this-special-lima-beans-colander editor.

This doesn’t make sense, but no matter. I want to throw things, so I do. A contraption to grill fish goes into the garbage can alongside commemorative plates commemorating events not worthy of commemoration. Little tiny bowls used for, what? Damned if I know. Oooh, a special mustard dispenser from Dijon! Really, I should keep—no. Into the trash it goes.

I have been up since four. Now I am going back to the bed that I will have to take apart later today. Thanks for listening.

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Once More, with Feelings

The scavenging for boxes, the selecting, packing and stacking of my belongings,  are almost done. My bedroom’s five bookshelves are empty. I haven’t gone through the chest of drawers, but I figure that should be easy. Clothing will go into two deep boxes, and shoes will all be dumped into a large garbage bag. I’ve already transported a few dozen boxes and a lot of the more fragile items to the new place.

I can say unequivocally that the last two weeks have been among the loneliest I can remember. I’m not certain why, though I keep recalling the packing of my parents’ apartment in Paris after my mother’s death. As now, I did it largely by myself. My father was incapable of helping, too stunned by the demise of his spouse of forty-five years. One sister had fled Paris, the other was unavailable. I bought a hundred and fifty boxes, tissue paper, tape and a large marker. I paid the woman at the corner news kiosk a small fortune for all her unsold day-old newspapers. I spent six days wrapping and boxing. There were a lot of tears and a lot of croque-monsieurs sandwiches, which was all my father wanted to eat. I cooked them on the tiny Parisian gas stove and he ate them with relish, asking every ten minutes or so why my mother wasn’t there. He had set a plate for her in the dining room and complained that she was always late for a meal.

A lot of the stuff I have disposed of for this move was related to my parents, and I have come to the conclusion that one should not do this sort of stuff alone.

It’s not good for the soul.

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The New Place

The new place is indeed very posh and as secure as a fortress. It is in a very hip neighborhood. Do people still say ‘hip’? I signed the 50-page electronic lease promising I would never break it. If I do, even by dying, I will owe the building management the equivalent of two fairly new Toyotas.

I moved in a few things today (thank you Marilyn) and spent a half-hour trying to program the thermostat, without success. I’ll have to solve this problem since the thing is set to lower the temperature to 63º in the middle of the night.

I learned I can only have one key, an electromagnetic thingy I will undoubtedly lose within a week. The key controls the building’s front door, my door, the elevator, my entire life as a renter.

I may decide to sleep in the walk-in closet and make the bedroom my working space.

The kitchen has a sink and faucet worthy of a four-star restaurant, and a lot of storage space. I discovered that the Energy Lounge is actually a very well-ahalstead-square-vienna-va-primary-photoppointed gym, and that there is a virtual driving range, so I may have to take up golf, just to get my money’s worth. Also, bowling, since there’s a bowling alley, and shuffleboard. I am told there is a movie room but I have not found it, and somewhere on the roof is a bunch of grills should I ever decide to cook out. There is also a small swimming pool, and a bocce court.

Arielle suggested the building because she knew I’d like the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in the foyer, and she was right. I checked; the books are real, and not the fake leather-bound volumes favored by rich people who don’t read. I plan to sneak in the books I wrote, even though the concierge said that, in her two-year employment there, she had yet to see anyone pull a book out.

The real movers come Monday and will handle the big stuff: The Napoleon III couch, the bed, the cases of books, the computers and bookshelves and the antique chest of drawers and desk. In the morning I’ll drive the musical instruments and amps over, and a few more boxes of fragile stuff.

Today I made my first apartment-related purchases, a shower curtain and liner, and four rolls of toilet paper.

Moving is a bittersweet experience. There’s a sense of failure at letting go of my home, and a fear that I may have made the wrong decision, moving into a place where the renters are all attractive, and generally under 30.

I am told by people whose wisdom I respect that this will be an adventure,

I hope I don’t lose the key.

 

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A Moment

I am sitting at a long communal table in a new and crowded Near Eastern eatery. I am  enjoying a messy pita sandwich that has leaked feta cheese onto my lap. I am next to three teen-aged boys who are laughing too loudly and surreptitiously passing an iPhone to one another. One goes, “ooh.” Another guffaws and makes masturbation motions with his right hand. Two middle-aged women sitting nearby frown and look away. The third boy, the one holding the phone, plunks it in front of me. I look down. On the screen is a photo of a teen-aged girl smiling into the camera. She is topless. The boy allows me a one-second glimpse and snatches the phone back. All three laugh.
Hm. I’m already largely flummoxed by Millenial etiquette attending to email, texting, voice mail, the entire panoply of modern instant communications. The habits of this even newer generation are a mystery.  Have I just committed a horrible gaffe by (a) looking at the photo, (b) not commenting on the photo or (c) not summoning someone who knows better than me what reactions are considered correct in such situations? I sip at my coke.
The boys get up to leave. The one with the phone slaps me lightly on the back and says, “Have a wonderful day!” He takes his phone out and waves it slowly in front of me. Same girl, different pose. Now she’s totally nude but her smile is exactly the same.
There’s nothing new about pictures of naked people. Museums are full of them, so there’s a certain hypocrisy to appearing shocked by the boy’s display. What bothers me is the girl’s apparent age. True, she may be over eighteen but truthfully, she looks at least three years younger. I don’t know if the boy is her boyfriend, or if she suspects that he has found it amusing to share her revealing photo with a total stranger.
Outside, the three are passing the phone around.
I get a box for my half-eaten sandwich. I am glad I do not have a daughter. Outside, the boy with the phone turns and faces me as I dump the remnants of my meal into the recycling can. He winks and waves goodbye as if we’ve shared an important moment.
Have we? The entire event has taken less than ninety seconds.

 

 

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Songs

My world has been defined by the written word. Newspapers, magazines, radio, television, documentary films, speechwriting a time or two, novels, plays, short stories, flash fiction, non-fiction books, and songs, lots and lots of songs. song I write in French and I write in English, and a few songs I’ve written have featured both languages.

I’ve been writing songs since I was a kid. I write them for people I love and people who’ve left. I write to tell stories that can’t be told in any other way. Sometimes my own songs make me cry. I often sing them myself when we record even though I don’t have much of a voice, and I depend on friends who can indeed sing to make me sound better. Years ago I played the open mic circuit. I may start again one of these days.

I first picked up a guitar when I was sixteen, but I never developed any real skills, so that in spite of years spent with the instrument, I’m not a good player. I can bang out a rhythm and pick out a simple melody, but that’s about it. I’ve messed around with twelve-strings, dulcimers, autoharps, bass, mandolins, kotos, harmonicas, Melobars, and even a concertina. My favorite instrument now is the pedal steel guitar, a devilish contraption that incorporates twenty strings, levers, pedals, finger picks, and a metal slide. I’m not very good at the steel either, though I’ve been told I do an interesting version of Little Wing and a passable Wicked Games.

For me, the beautiful part of creating a song is working with others. I come up with a hint of a tune, or a phrase that catches my interest (latest one, “I would sail on a ship in a bottle”), and eventually I pick up my guitar—a beaten up 1946 Montgomery Ward acoustic—and I work out a simple series of chords. I fit the words to the music and the music to the words. There’s a fascinating and complex geometry to this, and it takes time. I’ll know the song is worth doing if I find myself humming it, if the words please me enough that I’ll carry them on a folded sheet of paper in my back pocket. I’ll add and delete words and phrases for days and weeks and sometimes months.

Working with others on a song is a transporting experience. The end product never comes out as expected—it’s always infinitely better than anything I could ever imagine or manage alone. The first hint of a musical phrase comes unbidden in my head. My friends and co-creators find interweaving melodies, percussions, harmonies and rhythms. Tempos change and images are altered; a simple musical phrasing might repeat itself like a mantra. The words and notes become a flowing entity.

Whenever a song is finished, there is a vast and deep satisfaction as we recognize we’ve constructed something never before heard. There’s a bit of sadness as well. It always astounds me to remember that Western music comprises only thirteen notes. The permutations of these are almost infinite.

I’ve had the privilege over the years of associating with people far more talented than I am who saw fit to spend hours of their lives working with me to craft something we hope will be memorable.

I’m thinking of all this because last night in the little sound studio housed in my basement, I had the privilege of recording with my long-time friend Mike, and a new friend, Cyndi, and together we put the finishing vocals on the most recent tune I’ve written. Now Mike will work his magic, mixing, limiting and equalizing, blending sounds seamlessly. He will spends days refining our efforts, and soon, we will have a new song.

Mike and I and a collection of occasional singers have been meeting on Thursday evenings for six or seven years. Yesterday was our last time making music here as I am selling my house.

After they left, I began unplugging the computer, the MOTU sound card, the speakers and synthesizer, the amp, and the microphones. It struck me that an awful lot of music has come out of that room, and an amazing wealth of talent played there. There were drummers who threw sticks at me, and guitarists who could never quite master the break in Brown-Eyed Girl. Singers burst into tears, voices were raised, not always in song. People quit, some never to be seen again, others to reappear somewhat shamefaced a short time later. All who came here gave of themselves.

Thank you Mike, Cary Lee, Jessica, Crystal, Jerry, Rich, Jim, Nate, Lee, Bob, Tiffany, Becky, Audrey, Gary, Cyndi, Peter, Kim, Caroline, Al, Kelly, and the dozens of others who came to my house to make music.

It was a blast, wasn’t it?

 

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Today I mowed my lawn for the last time.

Wait, that sounds wistful, and I am anything but wistful. I have always hated mowing the lawn and spent countless hourwildlifes digging up sod to put in trees, bushes, a pond, a slate walkway that meanders to said pond, a couple of boulders, and a largish vegetable garden behind the garage. I have never understood the concept of lawn, though I suspect it implies an unhealthy wish to dominate nature. I am dismayed by neighbors with small yards who spend hours mowing their grass aboard tiny, noisy tractors, and do so in intricate patterns that copy those of major league baseball fields.

One man two doors down earned my respect during the last millennium by taking a Bobcat to his lawn, tearing out the grass, and then letting weeds and wildflowers bloom. The neighbors on his right, an uptight couple with His and Hers Mercedes,  were unhappy. They spent a lot of money and took him to court to prove his yard was an eyesore, and he defeated their attempts to regulate his vegetation by displaying photos he’d taken of the wildlife living there.

I emulated him and there is an area of my yard that I have let run free. It is no more than 100 square feet. Wild grapes, nettles, shrubbery of unknown origins, and even poison ivy have settled there. A few years ago, I applied and got a Certified Wildlife Habitat status for this tiny plot because it offered “food, water, cover, and a place to raise young.” I am inordinately proud of my minute attempt at returning the land to its original state. I know for a fact that a blue jay family has nested there, and I’m pretty certain there’s a rabbit burrow as well.

I will throw out my lawn-mowing shoes, a pair of sneakers so foul they are not allowed into the house. I plan to sell my lawnmower this week. I will not miss it.

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The Move (Again)

saleI am selling my house to a young couple with a daughter. They look very young, certainly not even thirty, and this will be the second house they buy, having flipped one a few years ago. I am amazed at—and somewhat envious of—their lack of age and their ability to afford a home in one of the more expensive part of the country. When I was in my late twenties, my then-wife and I bought a dilapidated townhouse in Washington, DC, and it needed everything. We paid the equivalent of $30,000, and back then it was all the money in the world, and then some.
The buyers think my house has potentials. They plan to tear out the kitchen and possibly the bathrooms, repartition the upstairs, and then repaint the rooms in pastels. Two decades ago, I did the exact opposite, taking walls down and opting to cover the bland eggshell paint with bold burgundies, blues and greens.
It’s all very odd.
I am gratified that the place won’t be torn down by a developer. I worried about the fish in the backyard pond, the fox that I see every few days, and the trees and shrubs I planted over the years to commemorate people I loved who’d died.
I’m under no illusion that the house will stand forever, though. It’s a typical, small suburban home of no architectural value. It was built as median-income housing in the 70s and originally sold for $49,000. In recent years many of the neighboring houses have been torn down so builders could erect McMansions with handkerchief yards, and these now command seven-figure prices. Mine does not, but it stands on almost a half-acre of land and sometime in the very near future, someone will realize that four or five townhomes could be built on the plot. I am within walking distance of Metro, three minutes by car to 66, and five minutes from 495. I give my house three or four years, tops, before it is levelled and replaced.
We held a yard sale, and I am grateful to Arielle, Gina, Stacey and Ellen for helping. All in all, we sold almost $450 of varied items. The most interesting moment came on Sunday, when a gentleman who’d been there the day before and bought a two-dollar pair of pliers, returned. He wandered about the driveway, then rearranged the tools on one table so that saws were aligned and wrenches faced the same direction. He squared the assorted screwdrivers and sorted the hammers according to size. Then he smiled, nodded, and left without buying anything.

 

 

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