• dreams,  house,  new york

    The Romance Begins

    Since the day that Baba started day care, I’ve taken to driving to the train station.  It is less than a mile from our house, but since I’m driving her anyway, it seems silly to go back home just to park the car.  It is just as silly to drive to the station, but it means getting home 10 minutes earlier – and those 10 minutes are precious, because they are my only chance to play with Baba for a few minutes before she goes to bed.

    They aren’t always the best part of my day, but I spend my afternoons looking forward to them.  When the train is late and she’s melting for bed by the time I get home, I’m always hugely disappointed.

    My street is near the center of town, which means that parking is often at a premium at six in the evening.  And on the bad parking days, I get frustrated, because those extra minutes matter.  But now that we’ve had an offer accepted on a house in a less congested part of town, that frustration has turned into daily rants, even though I once enjoyed living on such a community-minded street.  It has been this way with all the little things in our house, which I loved in the way that you can only love the first place you live that’s really your own.  Now, it’s maddening that the upstairs toilet takes an extra half-second to flush, because I didn’t make the chain short enough the last time I replaced it.  There’s a scuff near our skylight that I used to be able to ignore, but now can’t wait to never see again.  Walking down two flights of stairs to do my laundry is just impossibly aggravating, because this maybe-ours house has no basement.

    Soon this won’t be a problem, I tell myself every time I encounter some new aggravation that never bothered me before.  Soon this will be all behind us when we are at our new house.

    We’ve been trying to be careful not to call this new house ours.  Our offer was accepted so quickly that we’ve been wondering when we’ll find out some dark secret that will make the deal fall apart.  It’s a lovely house, with a grand demeanor and oversized rooms with a delightful snob appeal.  The front porch is welcoming and warm; it just begs for a swing and pitchers of iced tea on summer afternoons.  The interior is finished enough that you’d only have to do projects that you wanted, which is a fine change from our current century-old plasterwork house.  It’s on a quiet street just three blocks from the train station.  The lot is oversized…and yet we can afford it.

    Something seems badly wrong here.  Is this still New York?

    So we started stalking the house.  We sneak up on it, checking to see what it’s doing at different times of the day.  Does it disappear during the night?  Are there ghostly lights?  Was it perhaps part of the growing heroin problem in our county? It feels like it must be something, so we’re trying to dig up all the information we can.  Stalking the house helps, because it gave us the opportunity to introduce ourselves to the one neighbor that we’ve seen anywhere near the house (and thank goodness for dogs and their walks).  He tells us that no one has lived there since before Hurricane Sandy.

    Oh, I see, we said, while congratulating ourselves on our cleverness in having already ordered our mold test.  We knew the house had flooded, like most of our town.  But no one living in it to pick up the mess?  That’s a terrifying thought.  Most of the homes in that situation now sport special red signs on them, with big warnings that it’s not safe to go inside.  Almost four years later, the neighborhood wears them like pimples.

    We were supposed to have our structural inspection done this week, but the owner cancelled on us last minute, which gave us all sorts of fuel for speculation.  Yesterday my Beloved drove by the house and caught the owner cheating on us showing the house to someone else, which makes it pretty clear what the delay was about.

    Still, a showing is not an offer.  Any new offer may not be better than ours; we went in high, because we understood that we wouldn’t be the only ones to notice that this house seems like a steal.  So it may end up being our house yet, without contest.  But I admit that it feels very much like the beginning of a romance, when the stakes are just getting high.  We feel very vulnerable as we wait, wait, wait and hope and dream that this might be The One.

  • books,  dreams,  family,  introspection,  writing

    The Top Shelf

    This post was written for the Cherished Blogfest, which invites the writer to write a short post about a cherished object.  See the other participants and discover some new blogs!

    Some of my Grandmother's books.
    Some of my Grandmother’s books.

    My mother arrived outside my Queens apartment, the trunk of her aqua Hyundai Accent packed to the brim with books. But these were not ordinary books.  These were the classics, in cheap hardback covers, that my grandmother had ordered through the mail, one at a time as she could afford them. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Steinbeck and Twain formed the bulk of the horde, with one-off novels from other authors like Dickens and Mitchell and Charlotte Bronte.   I’d stared at their gilted bindings most of my childhood, just waiting for the day when I would be able to read and truly appreciate them, instead of having to stop every paragraph or two to look up words I didn’t yet know.  (Grapes of Wrath…my twelve-year-old self is still intimidated by you.)  And now, my mother was giving them to me.

    I grew up in the kind of place where people left their stolen shopping carts on the sidewalk and radios blared staticky commercials late into the night.  The first apartment that we lived in when we moved back to the States had to be abandoned when used syringes were found at the playground and prostitutes were discovered working out of the basement storage units, a few short feet from where I did our family’s laundry.  When we moved out, our apartment was taken over by the local neighborhood watch as a command station.  Whenever I think of that place, I still imagine their intent faces peering out the same square window that once was my entire view of the world.

    The neighborhood that we moved to was better.  It was another long street of apartment complexes, but  the top of the street bled off into an estate of modest houses.  At the time, I thought the people that lived up there were rich beyond measure, because they had private walls and a yard, and I used to roam those streets for hours at a time, dreaming of what it must be like to live in such opulent wealth.  At Christmas time and Hallowe’en, I would jealously dream while I admired the beauty of their decorations.  I imagined refinement and culture behind those closed doors, then returned home to the sticky shared entrances of the apartment buildings where we lived and to the neighborhood children that responded quickly and viciously to any sign of studiousness.

    And yet, books were my favorite thing.

    I couldn’t escape my thrift-shop clothes or the skin that couldn’t fit in, but in the pages of books, I could learn to be anyone.  I studied them hungrily, looking for a the clues on how to behave to get myself to a place where I could walk down the street without the harassment of men twice my age.  My grandmother’s books seemed like the key to a future of wealth and culture, an entree into neighborhoods that were beautiful and safe. Somehow, I knew that the people that lived in those houses had all read Hemingway.

    I never found the key to the secrets that I was looking for, but all that reading paid off; I landed in a high school program that put me in the same classroom as the sons and daughters of doctors and lawyers.  It was what I had always wanted, wasn’t it?  And yet, I discovered that I didn’t feel at home there, among so much casual wealth.  While their parents took them to private lessons and bought them cars for SAT performance, I juggled an extraordinary academic load with my after-school and weekend jobs. One of my first boyfriends belonged to a family that kept horses, who I met in the same year that our cat died after falling off our 9th floor balcony. When it became obvious that my new school friends were afraid to go to my house, I avoided theirs, because I felt like I was selling out my childhood friends.

    I still feel bad about this.  Can anyone recommend someone to fix this?
    I still feel bad about this. Can anyone recommend someone to fix this?
    I no longer belonged at home or at school, and the consolation was fiction.  I tried again with my grandmother’s books, but when I broke the binding of Gone with the Wind as I neared the final pages, I became too afraid to touch any of the other books in the collection.  They were too delicate for my teenaged hands, so I waited until my mother gave them to me as an adult to try reading them again.  Now I carefully carry them in my commuter bag, cherishing them for the family history that they hold.  In a world where books are increasingly less tangible, they are a luxury, a treasure that can be touched and smelled and held.

    Published in the 50s and 60s, their typeface and binding instantly throws me back in time, to a place before cell phones and cable TV and Internet speed.  I envision my family — a well-educated and argumentative bunch — reading these books as they sprawled over couches and floors.  I imagine my mother as a young woman, inscribing her name inside the cover of each book with a blue ballpoint pen. She wrote the date — 1977.  Now that they are mine, I wonder if I should write my name too.

    Some Reviews from The Top Shelf:

    Dracula
    A Moveable Feast
    For Whom the Bell Tolls

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