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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The Move (Cont. 2)

There are forty pounds of ice, seventy-two little bottles of water, and more than three-hundred tagged items ranging in price from $25,000 to $1.50. The big ticket item is my 1989 Avanti Convertible. I don’t really expect to sell my car since, among other things, few people have that much cash around the house (this is a cash-only event), but I figure it may bring curious customers in to peruse the cheaper items. One may even buy a bicycle, at $40 the second most expensive item after the Avanti.

I’ve been putting this sale together for more than a week. Friends have helped tag the items. There will be five tables of stuff, monitored by two, three or four helpers, depending on how many show up on what may be the hottest day of the year so far. I have put signs up, and gotten a bunch of one dollar bills, a not-so-easy task since Apple and NASA Credit Unions refused to honor my request to exchange forty singles for my two twenties, since I am not a member of their organization. The people I spoke to there could not explain why the rule was in place, or how it served anyone well. They were apologetic but adamant.

What amazes me, having assembled this cornucopia of largely surplus items, is how I got them in the first place. It no longer matters. Tomorrow morning, hopefully, hordes of sharp-eyed shoppers will pick through my unwanted treasures and buy things and I am ready.

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The Move (Cont.)

Yesterday I found two of my mother’s paintings. I’ve been searching for them since April and was concerned I’d perhaps accidentally thrown them out during one of my leap-year cleaning frenzies. They were in the back of a closet, rolled up in a mailing tube and wrapped in a signed poster of the Rolling Stones. Why my mom’s naïf renditions of a time gone by kept such strange company, I have no idea.

This is has been pretty much the only moment of real joy in this move; the process, otherwise, has been overwhelming and at time plainly sad.painting

There is a contract on my house, contingent on the young couple who are buying it obtaining financing. My real estate agent is confident there should be no problems. Now that this is sale is almost a reality, the attendant actualities loom large. The place has to be empty within a month.

The French have a verb, débarrasser, which means ‘getting rid of,’ but also has overtones of satisfaction at a job well done. You might débarrasser yourself of old clothing that no longer fit, of a waffle iron that has ceased working, or a set of mismatched dishes. There’s a certain contentment attached to the disposal. You have made room for replacements that will bring a measure of happiness. You’re doing something useful.

 I can’t say I have felt this as I slog through decades of faded belongings, mementos and paperwork. The last can be measured in pounds: the legal depositions that accompany divorce and death, the contested wills, the letters and cards from friends noting my father’s passing. His accidental death made the papers, and I found clippings of the stories that appeared in The Post. I remember that the morning after he died, I fled the house through the back door to avoid a television crew. I don’t remember clipping the stories.

In a moment of lucidity some weeks before the accident, he had told me he wanted to be cremated, and that I was to take his ashes to France and scatter them next to my mother’s in the Pere Lachaise cemetery. My father was a man who hated fusses and bureaucracies. I know he never would have made this request had he known the unbelievable number of forms that required filling.

The state of Virginia, the Federal government, the airlines, the French and American customs authorities, the Mairie de Paris and the cemetery all required documents in triplicates signed by the proper authority. The French demanded notarized translations of American official papers. The Americans demanded his passport, his Social Security card, and a copy of the cremation certificate. I kept copies of all these documents and yesterday, guiltily, I discarded them. There was no relief involved.

Today the débarrassement was more banal. I purged my DVDs, keeping only such masterpieces as Amélie, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and La Vie en Rose, as well as Mondo Cane and Strictly Ballroom. That was much easier.

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Moving On, Part II

There is a beret.
I am French, so I suppose if only to uphold stereotypes, I should own a beret, but I haven’t worn one since I was a seven-year-old in Paris with the Louveteaux, the French Cub Scouts. The only French person I know living in the US who has a beret also wears a long dirty trench coat. He looks like a demented Clouzot and scares people.
I am not sure where my beret comes from. There is no label, and it does not have the feel of a genuine beret Basque. Then I remember; it was a prop for a play I was writing about existentialism, because, really, you simply cannot be an existentialist without a beret. The beret goes into the Salvation Army bag.
What to do with the box of slides and eight millimeter film shot by my father some sixty years ago? I am moving to a place where space will be at a premium. Throw away or keep? beret
In the back of a commodious closet, I find a brand new case for a Fender electric guitar. My Fender Strat already has a case, so once again, a mystery. I can probably sell the case for a fifth of what I paid for it I don’t remember when.
Mon Dieu (sorry, reverting to type). Here is my great uncle’s Légion D’Honneur certificate, dated 1928. He was a minor official and served with the French colonial government in Rabat. Behind the certificate is a beautifully framed Sharpshooter Award bestowed in 1887 to a soldier simply named Guélin. How and when did I acquire this?
The house I am soon leaving has too many closets and too many treasures. For twenty-five years, I have been shoving the stuff I don’t want to deal with into closets, which explains why I have two ironing boards, a suede fringe jacket from the Sixties, a stringless 12-string guitar missing its bridge (sold! It will be picked up later today), a concertina, a home-made mandolin, and enough microphone stands for a Stones concert. I also have about eighty of those small plastic toys that hop or slither or crawl. Most were give-aways from the fast food places where I ate when I was very broke some decades ago.
Oh. In a drawer I find a seven-inch plastic articulated Albino Bowler, which was rated one of the Top Ten Weirdest Action Figure Ever by a collectors’ website.
Don’t ask. I’m keeping it.


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I haven’t written a lot lately. Events both personal and not-so-personal have left me wondering if communicating is a worthwhile pursuit. The language is betraying me. I feel as if at my best, I am making gurgling, unintelligible sounds. Things are changing rapidly and I’m on the verge of being overwhelmed.

If the stars align right, I’ll be moving within a couple of months. The prospect is daunting. It’s not so much the act of physically carrying items from one place to another—I’ll hire movers for the first time in my life—as it is going through the selection process of what is to be kept and what is to be discarded.

I’ve been in this home more than a quarter-century and when I came here from the city, I did so in a Chevy van that held all my belongings. I lived here with a wife and two step-children. It didn’t work out.

After my divorce I made this small house my own by landscaping, and putting in a small fishpond; it became a neighborhood sushi bar for great blue herons and raccoons. I uprooted greenery and planted trees to honor family and friends who passed away. I tore down walls on one floor and added walls on another. I retiled and rewired and regrouted and sanded floorboards and repainted.

Over the years, I acquired a monumental amount of stuff—much of it useless—and I suddenly realize that I’ve been outdistanced by technology. What does one do with media now considered passé? There are six hundred VHS movies and almost 800 CDs. There are DVDs and DVD players; X-Boxes; amplifiers; cassette players; large Cerwin Vega speakers once worth their weight in gold but now hardly better than firewood. I own six computers including a portable Kaypro from the 80’s. It weighs as much as a Singer sewing machine and years ago when I traveled a lot, the flight attendants gave it its own seat in business class.

I have sold a dozen musical instruments, mostly guitars of every ilk, and donated more than 1,000 books to local rehabs and libraries. Fifteen garbage bags of clothing and shoes went to the Salvation Army and Goodwill.

I have offered stuff on various electronic markets ranging from eBay to Amazon, which somehow crashed my seller account, is now unavailable to me, and I’ve found that selling stuff on Facebook isn’t very efficient. I have given away tools and artworks and linen and an electric bass and silverware.

I have thrown away things.

Over the course of the weekend, I put bookshelves, kitchen items, chairs, gardening tools, a turkey slow-cooker, tablecloths and assorted napkins, on the street in front of the house. I’m gratified that every single item was picked up. Freecycling makes me feel like a responsible citizen.

I hesitate to lower the trapdoor to my attic. There’s stuff there too, including, maybe, a full drum set. I’m not quite ready to deal with that yet. In the large walk-in closet in the basement is a variety of sporting equipment including, for reasons unknown, hockey sticks. I have never played hockey. Ever.

The work has been hampered by the fact that I don’t feel very good. The last round of chemo seems to have unleashed a batch of unpleasant side-effects as well as a sort of chemical sadness. I bleed haphazardly and cramp up. I am not as confident as I used to be that my health will improve. This in turn has engendered a why-the-hell-bother resignation I need to resist.

I am therefor working on my newly-found danshari. I am going for minimalism because, as we all know, less is better. I will be gloriously clutter-free, with only valued and required items in my possession.

I am considering buying a Chevy van.



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Voting, French Melons, Big-headed Aliens, Noxious Chemicals, and Real Estate

Bright and early this morning, I went to Lemon Road Elementary School and voted in the Virginia primaries. There were very few people there and this worried me. I believe in voting; I think the low voter turn-out in this country is a national sin. I think election days should be holidays so people don’t have to take time off to vote. I also believe there should be a constitutional amendment stating that citizens must go to the polls. If they don’t want to vote, they should check a I Don’t Want To Vote box on the ballot.

I got the little round voter sticker and promptly lost it.

After voting I drove to the clinic for the fourth course of chemo.

In the waiting area, I watched an infomercial about a French doctor who had discovered that a type of melon grown in the south of France has amazing rejuvenating properties if used by already attractive women under forty. Time-lapse photos taken over ten days seemed to confirm that this particular fruit remained youthful and tight-skinned, while an ordinary melon devolved into something resembling a Jivaro shrunken head. A number of young female actresses testified that the doctor’s claims were true. One claimed that she was, gasp, 39-years-old! She didn’t look a day older than 38.

The chemo nurse is a voluble young man and the discussion this morning centered upon aliens; real, outer-space aliens, not people—like myself—from other countries. The nurse put on a surgical gown, latex gloves, a mask and goggles because the stuff he shoots me up with is nasty and could cause tuberculosis. As he suited up, he told me he believed there was an ongoing massive government cover-up regarding big-headed inter-galactic aliens and Roswell, and that the media was involved. I responded that years ago I had written a novel titled The IFO Report that dealt with exactly this subject, and that he could probably buy the book, used, for a penny plus shipping from Amazon. He promised to do so and read it.

I made a little kid whimper noise when the chemical cocktail entered my body. The nurse apologized. I said it wasn’t his fault; he actually had a pretty good touch compared to other medical personnel I’ve dealt with.

When it was done, I went home, fixed a cup of coffee, and puked. I will do this three or four times today.

My realtor sent me a text message asking if it’s okay for people to come and look at my house later this afternoon. I said no. For the next fifteen-or-so-hours, I will feel as if barbed wire is being dragged through my body, so I am not leaving my house.

Let me explain. My home is on the market, so for the past couple of months, I have become the Wandering Jew. Every time a potential buyer comes, I have to leave, as there appears to be an unwritten rule governing home sales. The seller (me) should not be anywhere near the property for sale (my house) lest he encounter the visitors (the potential buyers.) I am not sure why this is, though I can come up with a couple of scenarios.

  1. The seller is so repulsive he might frighten the buyers off.
  2. The seller might divulge some truly horrendous information about the property.
  3. The seller and the buyer might collude and come to an agreement that freezes out the real estate agent.

I don’t want to see anyone today. I will spend some time writing, and some time reclining, and some time rereading a good book. I may watch America’s Got Talent later. I plan to make a big sign that reads AUDITIONS HERE, because tomorrow we will be auditioning actors for two plays I wrote and that Arielle is directing.

Today will not be a busy day.


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The Dump

I went to the I-66 Transfer Station in Fairfax County today. It’s easier to call it the county dump, a huge expense where you can rid yourself of pretty much anything from old lawnowers to doors to hazardous materials. It’s not a dump, however; it’s more of a place where you can divest yourself of the perfectly functional, when you’ve decided to buy the perfectly new.img_1163.jpg

I was amazed, troubled, and, in the end, close to disgusted. I shouldn’t be the latter, since Fairfax County is spectacularly rich and residents are among the wealthiest in the nation, but still… The idea of throwing out working flat-screen televisions (they aren’t smart enough), computers, cables, screens, tools, refrigerators, ranges, microwave ovens, washing machines and water heaters, many in excellent operating order, well, it took me aback.

My friend Paul and his spouse Susan are moving to Wisconsin in a couple of weeks. They’ve been my friends for decades, and I know Paul has a suspicious fondness for ridding himself of stuff. So I took him up on his offer to get rid of some household items at the dump, slightly amazed that what he was divesting himself of looked and possibly operated better than a lot of similar stuff I have at home.

We drove to an immense flat area just miles from Washington, DC, and pulled up to a station where one could unload both operating and non-operating electronics. There was a large box full of working televisions—not the big 100-pound clunkers of generations past, but sleek, thin flat screens with multiple inputs, like the Panasonic I bought just two years ago… The one Paul was getting rid of was bigger than mine, so I was tempted to ask him to simply give it to me. I resisted the impulse. We struggled to unload the thing and slid it into a large box with others of its kind.

Then we drove a hundred yards to trash the chest of drawers. It was a nice, if not great, piece of furniture, the kind of blocky thing that, if I’d found it twenty years ago by the side of the road, I would have picked up and refinished. It was real wood stained a dark oak color, better than Ikea and Marlo, but perhaps not quite as good as top-level Haynes.

We took out a couple of the drawers and tossed them over a horizontal barrier and into a dumpster. Then we threw in the chest. I had a pang of guilt. I hoped it might shatter into pieces, thereby justifying getting rid of it, but it didn’t. It lay on its back, and if chests could speak, it would have asked, “Why?”

One the way out I commented that years ago I’d traveled to West Africa and seen entire villages built from flattened paint cans. Here we were in a place that defied my imagination. Perfectly good stuff being destroyed because it wasn’t pretty enough, modern enough, or worth taking to a second-hand store that might refuse it.

Not that long ago, dumps like the Fairfax Transfer Station were where one might go to pick up an odd chair or two for a temporary apartment. You’d find discarded exercise machines, bicycles without chains, cabinetry, bathroom and kitchen sinks, and light fictures. Today, such cherry-picking is illegal

Almost everything at the Fairfax dump will be recycled, I know. Televisions and computers and other electronics will be torn apart for micrograms of semi-precious metal. The dangerous stuff—oil, car batteries, leftover paints and other hazardous material will be disposed of safely, and this is good. The chest of drawers, though, it’s staying with me. I can almost hear it yell.

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