April 18th, 2018
Dear Daddy –
I still have a house, too. I’ve talked so much about yours, you might have forgotten that I don’t live in your house. I’m just there a lot. And it’s not your house anymore, in a legal sense, is it? Legally, it’s Mother’s. Spiritually, you gave up on it long ago, and I’m renewing it now. So I guess there are two houses in my life—our house, yours, Mother’s, the family’s and mine, and my house, mine and Renee’s, anyway.
My house is 148 years old this year. It was 126 when I bought it. You were our home inspector. You checked the foundation, the structure, the wiring, the plumbing. Ethan was three years old. Christian wasn’t born and wouldn’t be for three years. Renee and I weren’t intending to buy a house that day before Christmas Eve in 1995, but there it was. I was on my way to a meeting at the Elkridge Library (now just renovated and re-opened, then just four years old) and I decided to take the back way to get there. I passed this beautiful old house on a hill. Renee was working in real estate, so I called her and said I’d like to see it. She set up an appointment. We went by on the way to the grocery store to buy Christmas supplies. There was snow on the ground.
April 11th, 2018
Dear Daddy –
I resolved one bathroom ago that I was never going to use all the tile you bought. You had planned what are now called “vintage” bathrooms, in many of which the soap dishes, toothbrush holders, toilet paper dispensers and towel racks were permanently mounted with, and made of the same color porcelain as, all the other fixtures. The pink bathroom will go in as you planned it. It’s a pink bathroom. It can’t be anything but what it is.
April 4th, 2018
Dear Daddy –
A year ago today, you came home from your last visit to the hospital. You came in an ambulance, because you were too weak to even get in and out of a car. You had a foley catheter, because you couldn’t tend to your own needs in that area any longer. Gilchrist Hospice Services had brought you a hospital bed and a portable toilet. You refused to use that. You also refused to use a wheelchair, even though your doctor had told you it was shortening your life to walk unassisted. You liked the hospital bed—for a few days. Then you got bored with it and wanted your old, broken couch back. Susan and I had carried that out to the garage the day before you came home.
As we began staying nights with you, I began working on the house in earnest. A lot of cleanup had happened before you were confined to a bed in the family room, and it continued. But I put up the dining room door facings that you had been “working on” for about three years. I straightened the French doors that you have never been able to level, because you could no longer concentrate on a problem for more than ten or fifteen minutes. I started finishing Charles’s old bedroom. From your bed, you gave me tips on hanging the closet doors—how to cut hinge seats was something the YouTube videos claimed was easy, but it was not, until you told me the easy way to do it.
I admit it, I love the original version of The Omen. I loved the sequel as well–Damien: Omen II. From the moment Damien appears, seen walking with fire before him, until Lee Grant shrieks his name devotedly as she dies at his hand, the story of the literal son of Satan hooks me.
But I’m not going to talk about that. I’m going to talk about a Kickstarter I’m running that’s stuck at the number of the beast, the number of a man, the number Damien has tatooed on his scalp…
Six-Hundred and Sixty Six dollars.
March 27th, 2018
Dear Daddy –
Aside from doing the joints and painting the walls, the blue bathroom is finished. All the plumbing and electrical are in place and working. I had a little snag this weekend, as I finished the electrical work. I once again had it rubbed in my face to check line voltage before putting in drywall. I think I get it now. Hopefully I won’t have to be reminded a third time.
You had left two wires dangling down from the attic, inside the wall on which the sinks were to be installed. I knew one was for the light fixture which you had already purchased way back in the day. What was the other? I assumed it was for an outlet.
Of course, as I think I’ve mentioned before, there was no room for an outlet over the sinks. You had purchased a mirror that literally took up the entire wall over the counter, from just below the 16” allowance for the light fixture, all the way down to the 32” standard height of the countertop. I guessed that you had been planning to shift the outlet either into the shower wall (sounds dangerous!) or over the toilet (not much better.)
I should have known you better. In fact, I do know you better.
I’ve written about Lost Horizon before. The 1937 film is one of my favorite movies. Recently, more than one person has commented to me that they love the film too, and then they’ve ruminated on how adorably dashing Michael York was in the 1970s.
Well, agreed, Michael York was adorably dashing in the 1970s. But Michael York, who was born in 1942, was understandably not involved in the 1937 Frank Capra adaptation of James Hilton’s bestseller, Lost Horizon. A lot of people my age were first exposed to the story as a result of Ross Hunter’s lamentable remake in 1973. That version of the film was a musical, which songs by the legendary Burt Bacharach. This film contributed little to his legend. Interestingly, though, the people my age who saw it—most likely its mid-70s TV airing on NBC’s The Big Event—seem to share the experience of not only thinking they saw the original, but of utterly (and thankfully) forgetting that the picture was a musical. I include myself in that number. I had no idea I had not seen Capra’s version until I saw Capra’s version. To be fair, the 1973 film is virtually a shot-by-shot remake of the original until the kidnapped party’s plane crashed in the Himalayas. No one sings until the party arrives at Shangri La, the lamasery in the hidden Valley of the Blue Moon, where the snows never fall, the chill mountain winds do not blow, and human beings live centuries without aging. (If you are a fan of the musical, take heart in the fact that I not only own the soundtrack album, I’ve actually listened to it.)
Sometime while I was in college, I believe, the dreaded metal cabinets arrived. These were, of course, surplus. They’re a blue-gray in color, with light gray doors and dusty orange shelves. Only they’re not shelves, they’re cross-bars designed so that wire brackets could be fastened into them, sitting upright. The cabinets were designed to hold reels of magnetic tape and were used for data storage in IBM Mainframe computers in days gone by. We have a few dozen of them, and I’m pretty sure we also have every. single. roll. of magnetic tape. that ever went in them. Well, we did. I’ve sent a lot of them to recycling now. But there are still hundreds in the basement.
March 7, 2018
Dear Daddy —
Two weeks ago, I wrote about The Thing out in the yard by the basement door. Last week I actually had hazmat experts come out and test it. I had asked a couple of people—our eCyclers, my friend Bob who runs a computer museum, the CEO of the National Electronics Musuem—what The Thing might be. They didn’t believe Phillips’s claim that it was a condenser that only held water. They were pretty sure it contained PCBs. Some of us also vaguely remembered that the reason you kept The Thing outside, sitting on its own special pallet which you had constructed, was that you feared it contained PCBs.
Turns out it’s a 50-gallon energy drink. Seriously. The lab results came back, and the fluid within is composed of saccharine, caffeine, lactose and water. So, basically, it’s a giant steel Starbuck’s beverage. Why the fluid is bright green when it freezes and oozes out is anybody’s guess. But I’ve been told I can cart it to the landfill and tell them it’s not a hazardous material.
David had pillowed his head against Saavik’s shoulder and now snored gently in sleep. Saavik had never heard snoring before—she had slept in close proximity only to Vulcans, who did not seem to suffer from the strange affliction.
It made her smile to see him so defenseless—and happy. They had both thoroughly enjoyed their nights together. She reached out to stroke his face gently, taking an irrational pleasure in the coolness of his body… “like lying in the shade on a hot summer’s day.”
She wondered again what Spock would think of the path she had chosen. He had said he might not approve of her decisions, but would he have approved of this one? Would he have been pleased that she had… fallen in love? And that she had done so with the son of a man Spock had so respected? She would like to think so. She would like to have thought that her happiness was important to him.
February 28, 2018
Dear Daddy —
It’s going to take years to reclaim the property around this house! Unless I come into a huge, lump sum of money all of a sudden. The back property has as many fallen and broken trees as it has healthy ones. The property around the house is littered with clumps of briars and honeysuckle, with tree stumps or metal debris at their core, making them tricky to take down. You started it years ago, by placing outside the few pieces of equipment too big, too heavy, or in too-bad shape to go inside.
For years, you at least kept the briars and vines trimmed away from these. You gave up sometime after your 70th birthday. Then you “hired” some person who said he would take down trees and haul away brush. He cut dozens of trees off at 30 inches, left their stumps, and dumped the trimmings all over the yard—fostering the growth of more brambles. And you had an absolute allergy to ever cutting down any tree, even if it was growing up amidst the branches of another one. We have a lot of work to do.
This week I had the door put back up between the kitchen and the family room. Yes, the same door, doorjambs and hinges you had used all those years ago. I used a new doorknob from the shelf of door hardware in the metal building. You bought a lot of door hardware! The old doorknob, one with a keyed lock, is here in a box. Probably its original box, if I know you. But it’s in such bad shape that I didn’t want to try and use it. Plus, “it’s here,” only means that I’ve seen it in the last three years. It would probably take me hours to find it. I’m still going through the contents of the living room and the metal building to find tools and building supplies.