Too Much Drama

Over dinner and a bottle of wine at the lovely restaurant attached to the Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn, Mr. NYer and I reminisced about the last 26 years and 11 months we spent in one house.  We smiled, laughed and got teary remembering the ghastly decor when we moved in, the collection of neighbors, the contractors, the happy occasions and, mostly, the memories of raising our son in this house.

It was a good ending to an exhausting and unnecessarily dramatic week.

Let’s go back to late last Friday afternoon, around 4 pm, when Mr. NYer hears from our old friend and attorney, Mr. J, that the buyer wants to close on February 25 — six days hence.  The alternative is to wait until Mr. J gets back from his St. Croix vacation, and close on March 9.  Oh, and by the way, the buyer wants a credit for “thousands of dollars” for the attic, which they fear is not legal.

A side note on our attic:  It’s about 300 square feet of floor space, has full-size windows on three sides, and a conventional stairway leading to it.  It’s got high ceilings with some dormers.  We refinished the attic over ten years ago, replacing hideous cheap paneling with sheet rock.  When we pulled the paneling down, we could see the lath marks on the studs for the plaster walls that had preceded the paneling.  In other words, this attic had been a finished living space since dinosaurs walked the earth.

A Staten Island attorney would not have given the finished attic a second thought, but our buyers turned to an attorney who practices in Nassau County and is young enough to be Lifelongnewyorker’s daughter.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  This attorney, a sorority sister of the female half of the buyers, is used to dealing with tiny Long Island towns, and couldn’t understand why there was no C of O (our house was built in 1919, and houses in NYC  built back then don’t have them); she worried that the attic was “illegal.”

On Friday, Mr. J told us that the buyers wanted a substantial credit to make the attic legal, and also wanted to close as early as possible, so they could move in this weekend.  Figuring that the demand for a credit was leverage for the early closing date, and tired of being apart, Mr. NYer and I decided to try to accommodate the date.

What this entailed:  moving heaven and earth to get the mover lined up to pack on Tuesday and load on Wednesday; finding and arranging for storage of all our earthly goods in Montgomery; booking air travel from Atlanta, where Lifelongnewyork was on business, home to NY within 24 hours; hustling from a session that ended at 5 pm in Atlanta to get to the airport in time for a 6:40 flight.  And instructing Mr. J to accept the early closing date but refuse to negotiate the contracted price.

Two hours after getting the call, all that had been arranged.

Home on Staten Island, Mr. NYer and I worked for two days to empty the house, sort the belongings, and get ready for the movers.  Lifelongnewyorker kept the computer connected and the Blackberry attached so she could also attend to business.  At the end of each night, we fell into bed exhausted.  Exhausted in a way that people in their 50s should just not have to feel.

Tuesday the packers show up and the house is tossed into orderly chaos.  Lifelongnewyorker is the ultimate authority on what stays, what goes, and is consulted at every turn–for some reason, Mr. NYer seems to dread making a decision without her.  Meanwhile, she has at least one conference call scheduled, which she takes in the empty attic, accompanied only by the cats who have been sent there in exile.  Only one item is broken during the packing.

Towards the end of the day Tuesday our attorney calls with the news that the buyers’ attorney wants to postpone the closing, pending inspection of the space by an architect.  We will not dwell here on the theories put forth by the various parties, but we briefly despaired.  Our attorney suggested they bring the architect along for the walk-through, scheduled for Wednesday evening.  We breathed a tentative sigh of relief.

Wednesday the movers come again, this time to load the truck.  Oh, did I mention the truck and the parking dilemma.  Few homes on our block have off-street parking. Many residents take their cars to work, but the spaces are filled almost immediately by the teachers who work at the middle school down the block.  So, on Monday, Lifelongnewyorker printed neighborly notes on neon-colored paper asking folks to refrain from parking on about 110 feet of prime street real estate on both Tuesday and Wednesday.  She carefully tucked these under wipers and into mailboxes.  Mr. NYer, believing more direct means were necessary, conspired with our neighbors to park three cars in such a way as to use up five spaces,  placed garbage cans strategically, and stood watch during the half hour before school started.

The movers load the truck.  Lifelongnewyorker takes another conference call while huddled in the attic.  By 3 pm, when the movers leave, we are again exhausted, but we have more work to do.  Sweep and vacuum.  Because we are who we are, we also clean the bathroom and the kitchen.  Lifelongnewyorker gets on her hands and knees and cleans the hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms because the movers have been tracking wet feet in and out for two days.  We fill up move garbage bags.  And then we have to sedate the cats, capture them, and put them into their accommodations for the next four days, a lovely cage.  Eventually we do get the cats.  We carry them, cage and all, down to the car.

Barely able to focus, we drive to the aforementioned lovely Hilton Garden Inn and check in.  Lifelongnewyorker takes a much-needed hot shower.  While Mr. NYer is in the shower, the phone rings.  It’s Mr. J with the news that the buyer’s attorney has cancelled the next day’s closing.  Yes, cancelled.  Told the bank’s attorneys to forget about it.  After all, she tells Mr. J, it will take several days for the architect to file his report.

Frankly it feels like extortion to us, and Mr. NYer and I are competing to see who is angrier.  It’s 5 pm, and we have the walk-through in about an hour.  Our legal counsel advises us to be nice, which is going to be really hard.

But then we remember that we are actors.  We rehearse our lines and come up with our strategy.

We arrive early at the house and rush in to grab the 20 pounds of cat food we left, and remove the bottle of prosecco we left in the refrigerator.  We deliberately leave the bottle of champagne.  We turn on all the lights and make sure the house is cozy.  We run our lines.

First onstage is our realtor, who is also fit to be tied and enters under a dark cloud, convinced the closing will never happen.  Next are the buyers with a young man who alleges to be an architect.  I ask for his card and, well, he has one.  Before going upstairs we set the scene:  “We’re confused,” I explain.  “We moved heaven and earth to make this closing happen and you cancel it–we just don’t understand.”

These guys are first-time homebuyers and they’re terrified by the word “illegal,” which has been thrown around in reference to the attic a lot, first by their attorney and secondly by — get this — the house inspector.  This is the personage, loyal readers might remember, who brazenly poked at my sills, extolled the house, and never bothered to measure a single thing.  Turns out when questioned, he reported that the attic did not have the height or space to “ever be made legal.”  Even though it was large enough to hold his hot air for a good half hour one evening.

The heart-to-heart out of the way, we head upstairs to the attic, so the architect can have a look-see.  He looks.  He sees that this is a very large and airy attic.  He explains that the minimum floor space for a bedroom is 85 square feet — the attic has nearly three times that.  He observes that the ceiling is over 8 feet tall, and that two of the windows alone meet the air and light requirement.  He ends by saying, “This attic is fine — there’s no problem with it.”

At which point, Mr. NYer and I act out our the dual strategy.  I proceed to show the buyers all the wonderful things they’ve bought, talking about their new closets, their air conditioning and, in the kitchen, the bottle of champagne we hope they will be enjoying as new homeowners tomorrow night.  Mr. NYer tells them, “Our lawyer is ready to close tomorrow.  So are we.  If yours is willing, let’s do it.”  It’s late, but phone calls are made.  We’re all willing, but the big question remains:  Is the bank?  They’ve been told to cancel — can that be undone?

We return to the hotel feeling that, at least, the deal will close sometime, if not tomorrow.  It hasn’t fallen through.  The cats — remember them? — are freaked out, but haven’t clawed their way out of the cage or chewed off their own feet.  We go to bed, awakening every 15 minutes or so wondering what the next day will bring.

More drama.  It’s snowing.  Hard.  And the forecast is for anywhere from 8 to 16 inches.  And remember, the sorority sister attorney has to drive in from Nassau County.

We eat breakfast and return to the room just in time to hear from Mr. J — the closing is on at high noon.  Mr. NYer, who has a soft side for the cats and a charming belief in illusions, erects a barricade of pillows around the bottom of the bed and allows the cats out of their cage.  The Lunatic takes about 5 minutes to dash beneath the king bed and park himself in the middle of the floor under the mattress.

We spend the next 40 minutes or so enticing him with yarn, with catnip, with toys and with food.  None of this works.  We move the bed; he moves with it.  We plead.  I find birdsong on the Web and play cardinals, bluejays and finches.  None of these entice him.  Finally, I flop on top of the bed, he rushes out, and we capture him.

We are the first to arrive at the office, but eventually the other parties arrive.  And, lo and behold, after Way Too Much Drama, we close the deal.

We’ve  been far too busy the last four days to dwell on sentiment, but while the buyers were signing their documents (many more than ours) images of my son growing up in the house played in my mind: playing ball in the backyard, climbing the stairs before he could walk, blowing out birthday candles at the kitchen table.  I teared up, briefly.

Tonight at dinner, I asked Mr. NYer: “Shall we talk about our memories in the house, or about the future?”

“The house,” he said.

And we did, laughing mostly.  It was good.

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Untethering

Where is my tether?

I’m referring, of course, to the cord that attaches my Blackberry to my computer and allows me to have Internet access anywhere.  Once we turn in the cable boxes, we’ll need it.  I can’t find it.

This is probably the 10th or 15th item I couldn’t find today.  On the phone, our lawyer asks for the account number of our mortgage and a copy of our latest water bill.  No problem — I put both of these in a package of materials not to be packed.  All of the things not to be packed are on the bed.  Alas, the legal-size manilla envelopes with these papers never made it to the bed.  Mr. NYer remembered that they’d been left on the shelves in the computer room, which were … already packed.

But the moving guys obliged.  One remembered the envelope and gamely proved the rule that it’s always in the last box.

Slowly but surely, other needed items have disappeared. The sugar bowl, the boxes of tea, the lamps.  The movers believe in minimalism, and we will live that way tonight.  They plan to leave us with one lamp, a floor lamp that we can carry around like a candlestick on steroids.

How did I get here?

On a plane, on Saturday night, of course.  The cab driver, in a first for New York City’s fleetest, carried my bag up the twenty-three steps to my front door.  It almost made me sad to be leaving.  I rang the bell to let Mr. NYer know I was home, then opened the door only to have him grab me and, basically, not let go.  “Thank God you’re home,” he said aloud.

To himself, I think he added, “There’s a lot of work to do.”

And work we did.  Sunday and Monday we made arrangements, wrote lists, and cleared out the rest of the stuff that wasn’t coming with us.  You know how the things you least want to do are the ones you put off until the end?  Well, the end has arrived.

Case in point:  Thirty five years ago, I did a college art history project on the architectural history of Staten Island.  My professor encouraged me to try to get a grant to continue the work, and recommended I work with another student who was a photographer.  That student, who subsequently became a boyfriend, borrowed a valuable book on the small houses of Ernest Flagg, a Staten Island architect, from the secretary of the Art Department.  Fast forward a couple of years, and ex-boyfriend, following the lead of his hero John Denver, decides he needs to live in the Rocky Mountains, buys a used VW bus, puts a camera mount on the roof (I hate to think about what that did to his camera lens), and dropped the book off with me to return to its rightful owner.  I think I made one attempt, but she wasn’t at the college when I stopped by.  And then, life happened.  The book has traveled with me out of my parents house and into two apartments and a house.  I had a child.  The woman died and I read her obit in the Advance.

You might think I should just add the book to my own collection, but I couldn’t.  I stored it in the basement (I know), rather than risk thinking of it as mine.  As many of you know, Staten Island is a small world, so I was not entirely surprised when one of the elementary school classmates of the Abandoned One turned out to be the grandson of the woman who owned the book.  I intended to return the book to them, but it was hardly top of mind, nor was it within handy reach.

Until Sunday, when the Men with Truck came to clean out the basement, and I wound up with the book in my hands.  Did I have the heirs’ phone number?  Of course not; nor were they listed.  But Mr. NYer remembered that Mrs. Heir was on Facebook, and I sent a message.  Monday night she called and, like a repentant sinner, I told her the story of the book that had once belonged to her mother-in-law.  This morning I wrapped it in shrink wrap and Mr. NYer left it at their house.

One item off the list.

Originally, we hoped to have another two or three weeks before the closing, and had carefully gauged our consumption of cleaning liquids, wine and other spirits accordingly.  By Monday, though, we needed to deal with the bottles of ammonia, nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, soy sauce, white, cider and rice vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and enough seltzer to start a soda shop.  We counted up nine bottles of champagne or prosecco.  And not bad stuff.  Then there were the odd bottles of hard liquor that we rarely drank but that had somehow accumulated over the years:  vermouth, flavored vodka, rum, Harvey’s Bristol Cream …

None of this can go in the car.  We need room for the cat cage, Mr. NYer’s clothes, and other necessities. These are all contraband items for interstate moves.  We’d already filled dozens of contractors or recycling bags, and were trying hard to lighten the load.  The trusty plumbing system beckoned.  And so I began pouring.   Shortly after the first elixirs from the medicine cabinet went down the tube, I looked out the window to see a large DEP truck stopping on the street.  Seems the sewer was backing up into the houses across the street.  Great.  Imagine not only finding that you’re getting a sewer backing up, but wondering why it smells like ammonia.

In about an hour the DEP let us know that the system was running fine, and we could resume use.  Little did they know …

Two days of final cleaning down.  Day One of the move itself down: the house is 90% packed.  Only one item — a globe from a small Ikea lamp–broken.  Tomorrow is Move Day Two: the Loading of the Truck, then the furious cleaning, and tomorrow night the walk-through.  Thursday the closing.  Friday Mr. NYers retirement party.  And then Saturday, we’re on the road.  Just us and the two cats.

Did we remember to keep the cat sedative unpacked?

Getting a Move On …

Yikes — Lifelongnewyorker and Mr. NYer are moving this week!

We’ve been trying to nail down a closing date all week and late yesterday–a Friday–we got the word that it’s either this Thursday or in three weeks.  For various reasons we decided that sooner is better than later.

But.  Lifelongnewyorker is in Atlanta on business.  Mr. NYer just had his last day at work on Friday, and still has to get the Guy With Truck to clean out the basement.  The Abandoned One has moved into his digs in Brooklyn, but has yet to clear out his childhood stuff.  Oh, and how about getting long distance movers lined up on a Friday afternoon when you need them to show up to pack on Tuesday?

Over the phone last night we went into rapid decision mode.  Rather than return to Montgomery, Lifelongnewyorker would book a flight directly out of Atlanta.  Did she have enough clothes?  Yes.  Were appropriate shoes waiting for her in Staten Island?  Check.   Booked the flight for immediately after the final conference session she has to attend today.  This morning realized she only has enough of a prescription to last until tomorrow and will either be without for a week or will need to get a temporary supply.  Called doctor’s office and left incoherent message.

Calls back and forth between Lifelongnewyorker and the relocation folks at work; between them and mover; and between mover and Mr. NYer.  Resolution: mover will be there to pack on Tuesday, load on Wednesday.

Question: What about change of address?  New house doesn’t have a C of O yet, let alone a mailbox.  Call to realtor in Montgomery who advises calling Post Office.  Lifelongnewyorker considers leaving set of prepaid priority mailers with new owners.

Mr. NYer and cats will be returning with her to apartment in Montgomery next week.  Management will need to be advised of pets.

Also, Lifelongnewyorker is remembering that there’s a chicken carcass wrapped up in foil in the trash back at the apartment and really wishes she had brought said trash to the compactor before she left.  Big difference between three-day old chicken carcass and 10-day old chicken carcass.

Then there’s work.  Lifelongnewyorker has phone meetings and projects to work on next week.  Luckily, she has not one but two laptops with her and a blackberry to which either can be tethered.  She also has an air card, but that needs to get back to her office on Monday.  Must remember to send with colleague.

Two laptops?  That should be fun at airport security.

Oh, no — those blackberries?  (Two of them as well).  They were fully charged on Thursday, so Lifelongnewyorker didn’t take the chargers.  Looks like there will be a trip to both AT&T and Verizon on the to-do lists.  Put post-it note on drivers’ license to be reminded at security and look for these at airport.

Set to arrive at LGA about 9:40 tonight.  That gives us two days, one of which is a Sunday, to eliminate everything from the house that isn’t coming with us, pick up all the dry cleaning, prescriptions and whatnot, start at least making lists for change of address, go to the post office, turn off utilities, return cable boxes, clean out the refrigerator, decide what to do with the gas grill (anyone need one?), and finish off any wine or liquor in the house.

Friends may be needed to help with the last item.  Consider Sunday and Monday open house days and stop by!

You Can Go Home Again

In a few short hours, Lifelongnewyorker leaves for the airport to go … home?   Well, back to Alabama.

During the visit to the real home — defined as any place where Mr. NYer, the two cats, and the Abandoned One live — she has had to hold her tongue a few times and refrain from referring to the apartment in Alabama as “home.”  It’s a bit disorienting.

Thankfully, Staten Island missed the “Snowmageddon 2010” storm that hit Washington, Baltimore and up into New Jersey.  Perhaps two or three inches fell here, while just to the south friends in New Jersey got a good deal more.  It still felt like winter, though, with the temperature a lively 18 degrees this morning.  A peek at Montgomery showed 52.  Ahh.

Being home, even for just two nights, had its rewards.  Cats.  Cats in lap, cats padding chest, cats nosing the hand, wanting to be petted, 16-pound cat sound asleep on back during the night.  Food.  Mr. NYer prepared one of my favorite meals on Friday and whipped up two of his signature eggplant omelets this weekend.  Sleep.  In my own bed, with my husband. 

Lifelongnewyorker felt a rush of pleasure walking through the door to a clean and more spare house than she’d left.  The moving sale didn’t move many of the big items, but it helped the guys to pare down the possessions.  Mr. NYer packed up pictures and small items; the Abandoned One has made significant headway, too. 

We descended to the basement to confirm what was to happen to the stuff hunkered down there.  Much to my relief, much of it was easily decided:  some would go with the Abandoned One to his new apartment, some to the Salvation Army, some to the trash, and precious little with us.  Only two boxes, with old files, had eluded judgement:  we lugged them upstairs for review.

And that’s how I came to spend much of Saturday afternoon reading through every paper I ever wrote, beginning in 7th grade.   Some, from Mr. Roach’s classes in high school, revealed that my worldview and politics haven’t changed much:  in 1971  I wrote about the need to replace fossil fuels and cut down on energy consumption.  In another paper, I examined mass transit policies that would replace cars in cities.  There were two major papers on John Vliet Lindsay, one looking at his candidacy for the Presidency.  (After all, he’d  already been mayor of NY, which as his campaign button proclaimed, was “The 2nd hardest job in America.”)

Then I came upon the college papers and realized just how much I’ve  forgotten.  I came upon a blue book from a philosophy course — I was a philosophy major — and read, with some astonishment, an essay distinguishing synthethic from analytic statements, replete with the phrases “a priori” and “a posteriori” scattered throughout.  I’d once known this stuff?   Other papers discussed Kant, Descartes, Leibnitz, Wittenstein and Vonnegut.  Apparently I once had thoughts on phenomenology.  Not only did I not remember most of this — although I like to believe that I’ve integrated it into my thinking on a very deep level — I couldn’t even remember some of the courses.  Dr. Reuben Abel?  The name sounded familiar, but the face could not be summoned.  Nor could any details of the classroom or any of my fellow students. 

The grad papers, mainly in history but some in education, occupied more familiar ground.  Yes, I did know a lot about 19th century reform movements, the Burned Over District, and the growth of cities.  Most of that stuck, and I still find it fascinating.  Just ask me. 

Fascinating or not, the piles of onion-skin erasable paper went into the trash bin of history.  If I have contributed to human knowledge, it’s been through my teaching more than my scholarship.  Except for Prohibition Park and NDA itself, but those are each another story …

The Abandoned One looked through a trove of art and writings from his prehistory.  On special occasions he would record his thoughts by dictating them to me.  I wrote these down in large printed script.  Thus we read his reports on the  Pink Badge and Green Badge parties from the Great Kills Swim Club, the trip to Sesame Place, and summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.  Mostly he wrote about food.  The art ranged from crayon scribbles to gilded macaroni.  He chose the best and will send it to Alabama with us. 

The Abandoned One found an apartment this weekend, and is happily planning his move.  Together with two Oberlin friends, he’s moving to a parlor floor in a Crown Heights brownstone.  It has a new bathroom, a full-size refrigerator in an actual kitchen, and is, he reports, full of light.  Even his bedroom, which has no windows.  It’s right on Eastern Parkway, a few blocks from where my sisters went to high school 45 years ago.  He’ll have window seats at the Caribbean Day Parade. 

Eager to have somewhere to put our stuff when it gets to Alabama, Mr. NYer and I tried to decide on which house to buy.   We’ve got three strong choices, each with some wonderful features, and all of which we think we’d be comfortable in.  Of course, each also has a major trade-off. 

Should we buy the updated 1925 house with lots of character, a huge veranda, a screened-in room and lots of light?  It’s also the one where the 2nd bedroom’s wall are  upholstered–literally–in French silk,  putting the room off-limits to the cats, and where the 3rd bedroom with bath is outside in a separate building. 

Or  perhaps we’ll take the 1952-era home with the wonderful addition on the back that features an open-plan kitchen/great room, a master suite with its  own study, and a guest wing that can be closed off from the rest of the house when not in use?  The downside here?  The house next door should be condemned and looks  like a meth house.  Oh, and there’s no covered parking, something that you want to have in the South.

Finally, there’s the new construction, a single-family cottage in a new development that’s in the older part of town.  It’s got quality finishes, a separate bath for each bedroom, a two-car garage, and a park-like community with pool, tennis courts and fitness room.  Oh, it also has an elevator.  Down side?  Not much private outdoor space, no separate study/den, and top of our budget. 

We alternate on which we like the best, then we rule one out only to rule it back in again the next time we consider the possibilities.  Right now, we’re back down to two, but it wasn’t the same two we were down to two hours ago.

Stay tuned. 

 PS — Dear Reader, if you like to read this blog but depend on new posts via FB, Lifelongnewyorker would appreciate it if you’d subscribe to the blog.  This means you’ll get an email with new posts, and I won’t have to post them on FB.  Thanks!

The Better Half … of the Bargain

Review time, everyone:  Lifelongnewyorker headed south to start her job two weeks ago and is living all by herself in a sterile apartment complex.  Mr. NYer is about six weeks behind, having stayed on Staten Island to wait for the closing on the house and generally wrap things up.  In the meantime, he’s still working, continuing to clear out our stuff, monitoring his father’s progress in rehab, and dealing with household stuff both usual (putting out the trash) and unusual (replacing the dishwasher).  

Lifelongnewyorker knows she got the better part of the deal.

She’s beginning to feel guilty.  Speaking to Mr. NYer each night, she can hear that he’s hovering somewhere between tired and overwhelmed.  His day begins early.  How  early she doesn’t exactly know, because she’s never actually been awake before he’s left the house.  He goes to work, where he is trying, I suppose, to hand off a lot of responsibilities to other people as he prepares to retire in about three weeks.  He’s running back and forth to the nursing home where his dad is slowly going through rehab.  There’s all the household chores — laundry, shopping, cleaning, taking care of the cats.  The dishwasher, which had a breakdown the weekend we came south, was going to cost more to repair than to replace.  So he bought a new one, only to have the installers refuse to put it in until a plumber modified the connection.  That one nearly pushed him over the edge.  And I hear it’s bitterly cold in New York.

And then he’s been getting ready for the Moving Sale, which started today and continues tomorrow.  He and the Abandoned One have set it up, following My Hero’s instructions.  (My Hero is the friend who offered to run the sale) Not being there, I can’t be exactly sure what preparing for the sale has entailed, but I gather there’s been cleaning, emptying, protecting non-sale items from prying eyes, and moving furniture.

Last night my phone beeped with a text from the Abandoned One.  “Behemoth shelves down!”  Over thirty years ago, we had two sets of shelves built to hold our vinyl record collection, our stereo equipment and our TV.  We found a woodwork shop that would build them to our specifications so that they filled a thirteen-foot wall in our living room.  Each stood about the height of a kitchen counter, was sixteen inches deep, and over six feet long.

We gnashed our teeth when they arrived and we realized we’d measured the wall at waist height and not at the floor, where the baseboard moulding made it impossible to put the two shelves end-to-end as we planned.  Cleverly using one as a room divider, we managed.  In our next apartment they did run along a single living room wall.  We knew they’d never both fit into the house when we bought it, so we sold one through a classified ad.  

The remaining shelf held the Abandoned One’s basketball and Little League  trophies, board games, books and various collections of stuff.  His keyboard sat on top near Sarge, a large stuffed tiger who has had a hard life.  I vaguely remember carrying the rigid and bulky shelves up to the attic; they barely fit through the doorway to the narrow stairs.  I’m glad — there, I said it! — that I didn’t have to help carry them down.  Nor the dresser that had been in the attic storage area, the dark dark room.  Or the boxes of books and LPs.

I’m also glad that my last sight of Sarge was sitting atop the shelves.  

Sarge came to us via a fundraiser.  Nearly twenty years ago, my homeroom sold more magazine subscriptions than any other.  Our prize was permanent possession of the magazine drive mascot, a large striped tiger, who had previously been awarded to whichever homeroom was ahead for the day.  He settled on a bookcase in the back of the room, next to a map of the Middle East, and watched with his green glass eyes over my lessons in a kind of drowsy but wise way.  At the end of the school year, while cleaning my classroom, I offered the tiger to the Abandoned One, who was perhaps five or six years old.  He named him Sarge.  It only occurred to me recently that it was because of the stripes.

Sarge endured a great deal of love from the Abandoned One, and supported a large collection of stuffed friends who would pile themselves atop him every night somehow.  Sarge was big enough to climb on and, judging from the state of his back, I suspect he stolidly bore the weight of the  Abandoned One often.

Scarred for life when my mother took it upon herself to discard a large white polar bear I had as a child (it was, in her words, “a dust collector”), I respected the bond between Abandoned and Sarge and let him be.  He sat in the room through four years of college and remained when Abandoned moved to Brooklyn.  Gravity took its toll, shifting much of Sarge’s internal mass down to his belly and nether parts.  He could no longer hold up his head, which hung down nearly to his tiger knees.  The cats gave him wide berth.   

Even during the great clean up, I tried not to press the issue of Sarge.  As Abandoned emptied the shelves, he must have come to the point, finally, where he felt he could let go.  Yesterday morning, before the shelves came downstairs, he sent me an email.  “Sarge went out with today’s trash,” he wrote,  ” … was a bit sad to see his stooped frame peeking out from the top of the garbage can.”

I’ll bet it was, and the words  alone nearly made me weep.  That’s when I realized that I am lucky.  I’m not saying goodbye for such a long time to so many memories.

I’m in a kind of emotional grace space.  I feel like I’m on an extended business trip, one that’s going well.  During the day, my work keeps me busy and interested.  I try to eat a big meal at lunch so I can get by with soup and salad at night, both of which are easy to whip up in about three minutes — just open the can and the bag of greens.  After I eat, I settle down to Facebook or to write a blog post.  Perhaps I watch a little television or read a book.  I drink a glass of wine, go to bed early and sleep well.  Aside from doing laundry and running the dishwasher once a week when I’ve used up all the dishes, I have no real chores.  I stop at  one of many markets to pick up a couple of items on my way home and had to remember to put gas in the car once.  It’s not exactly stressful. 

Hey, Mr. NYer — I appreciate what you’re doing.  Tell you what — I’ll pick out a house.  I’m going out again tomorrow.

The Dynamo Descends

I am packed and ready to roll tomorrow once we jam all this stuff into the car.

That I’d be ready today wasn’t a sure thing yesterday afternoon.  My plan for the last two days was to go through all my clothes on one day and pack ’em up on the next.

By 2 pm I had succeeded only in sorting through my underwear, socks, stockings and gym wear.  Shoes and three seriously overcrowded closets remained.  Meanwhile, Mr. NYer and I had to dash out to pick up the crate the cats will inhabit for their trip south and also stop at our lawyer’s for our mutual exchange of powers of attorney.   I didn’t plan on being back to resume the wardrobe weeding until 4 or later.

In fact, the wardrobe weeding began about 5 and was done by 7 pm.  How did she do it? you ask.  With the help of The Dynamo.

The Dynamo and I met on the first day of high school, the result of alphabetical happenstance. We wound up sitting next to each other in home room and have pretty much stuck by each other’s sides from then on.

We share several things in common, although I’m not sure that’s because we were temperamentally matched from the get-go or we grew on each other over time and developed along similar paths.  She became a legal secretary when I went off to college, but at some point when I was teaching history, she returned to school and got a degree in … history.  A short time later I helped her get a job teaching at the same school I did, and we became colleagues as well as friends.

But the main thing we have always had in common was taste.  We both have what some friends (of mine, at least) have described as “house beautiful” homes.  That’s really not so, but we like aesthetically pleasing surroundings.  More to the point, we like the same  clothes.

You couldn’t tell this during high school, though, because we wore uniforms.  During the school day we wore grey blazers and skirts.  After school we switched to our casual uniform of bell bottoms and peasant blouses.  Over the years we probably looked like models from the same clothing line, from the summer of flimsy halter tops to the winter of maxi-coats. 

The first serious matching purchase after high school (and there were many) was a gorgeous heathery brown great-coat with a 12-foot long leather belt that emerged through slits  from inside the coat to wrap around the front and back to finally be tied in the front in a knot.  The coat had a deep stand-up collar, long cuffed sleeves, and evoked a Russian winter.  It was elegant.  The Dynamo bought it first but didn’t seem to mind when I went out and bought its twin.  She was taller and, in those days especially, very thin, and could carry off that coat better than I, but we both loved it.   

Since the Dynamo worked in Manhattan AND had a brother who was a fashion designer, she seemed to have the jump on stylish duds.  Plus she shopped more than I.  But she always thought of me while she shopped, especially since, despite our different heights and body shapes, we wore the same size.

She and I often shopped together, buying outfits that, if they didnt’ match exactly, looked good side by side.  Often enough they were the same and we’d agree to coördinate appearances so as not to show up at work in the same clothes.  Once, having gotten a hot tip from her brother about a fabulous sale at a store that was going out of business, she simply picked up two of everything and showed up at my door with two sets of wonderful tweedy linen pants for me with two matching jackets.  She had the same ones, and we agreed to call ahead if we were planning to wear them. 

After The Dynamo began teaching at my school, we were both invited to present workshops at a teachers conference in Baltimore.  We drove down together and checked into the hotel, where we were sharing a room.  After dinner, one of us went into the bathroom to get ready for bed and the other one, also dead tired, took a moment to change into her nightgown in the room.  The bathroom door opens and we find ourselves, face to face wearing the same nightgowns. 

So the Dynamo, who lives in Pennsylvania these days and still teaches, said she’d come on out after school and help sort my clothes.  She arrived around five o’clock, walked in the door and said, “Before we start on the clothes, I need a cup of tea.”

Once fortified we went upstairs and created a whirlwind into which Mr. NYer knew better than to enter.  First the stacks of sweaters and tops from the closet shelves:  The Dynamo, after noting that everything I owned was inside-out, proceeded to turn each item rightside-out and in a seamless motion evaluated its value.  We looked at the heavy sweaters.  “You need one heavy sweater like this for your annual trip to Vermont,” she pronounced.  “You don’t need three.”  I chose one.

Next, she noticed my other predilection:  if I like something I bought it over and over again.  She told me I didn’t need four white button-down shirts, and proceeded to dispatch the ones she thought “too boxy,” and “too old.”

It sounds as if some sort of dictator came to rummage through my closet but that wasn’t the case at all.  Instead we had one of those synergistic moments when we had the same energy, agreed on what worked and what didn’t, and definitely had the same pace.  Warp speed.  Perhaps, more than anything else, we realized it was a rare chance to spend the kind of time together that we used to have more of. 

We laughed our way through the two hours.  We lamented about the styles we endured during our 30s, when even though our figures were the best they’d ever be we kept them under wraps.  Thirty-year olds today get to show off their curves; we hid under architectural shoulder pads, jackets that descended below our hips, and dresses that dropped to just a few inches about our ankles. 

At the end, we’d created huge piles of clothes to give away, a smaller pile of items The Dynamo was taking for herself, and had honed my baggage down considerably.  The evening was not without its humor.  Once we left my main closet for the ones in which I store out-of-season (and often, out-of-decade) clothing, I found myself explaining garments before I withdrew them from the rod.

“I loved this dress,” I apologized in advance, “it’s an April Cornell and the fabric is wonderful, but I really wouldn’t wear it now …”  The dress in question was one of those airy sacks that had its moment.  It had been a lovely summertime dress — when i wore shapeless, loose garments that floated just above the floor.  I’ve seen burkhas that are more daring. 

“I have something just like that,” The Dynamo reported.  “What it’s good for is to throw on over your bathing suit when you have to run to the store for milk.”  OK, then.  I had a reason for keeping it, and I kept it.  Of course I’m going to have a pool in Alabama, and of course I’ll need to run to the store for … milk.

Two closets down; we went upstairs to the attic.   The Dynamo gasped when I pulled out the tweedy linen pants, over twenty-five years old, and not too much the worse for wear.  A lot of wear.  These pants were a  mainstay of my teaching days and then turned into the perfect costume for a number of plays.  I even lent them to a fellow actor who played the lead in 84 Charing Cross Road.  Pleated and baggy, in an Annie Hall kind of way, they perfectly evoked an earlier period. 

We passed the pants back and forth and recalled the day The Dynamo showed up with the bags, telling me, “I’ve bought these for you because they were ridiculously cheap, but if you don’t want them I’ll just keep them and have doubles.”  The Dynamo admitted that she still had one of the jackets.

The very last item I pulled out had us on the floor.  It was a Laura Ashley number I picked up in London in 1983.  Made of a fine cotton print in white, pink and green, it featured a girlish flouncy skirt with delicate lace bands and elastic waist that helped give it fullness. The matching blouse was a fitted number with a Peter Pan collar, also trimmed in the narrow cotton lace.  It was girlish; a garden party sort of outfit.  Peasant meets Pollyanna.  It did not have a 27-year shelf life, but it sure had a lot of sentimental memories.

The Dynamo pointed out that the elastic was shot (she pulled it wide to demonstrate — it stayed that way).  Ever helpful, she said, “You could make a very nice tea cozy out of this.”

“I have one already,” I answered.  I picked up a lot of Laura Ashley that year, including the tea cozy.  Later, Soon-to-be-Abandoned discovered the cozy and loved to wear it on his head.  I still have the tea cozy.

The Dynamo and I both loved Laura Ashley.  When I returned to London in 1985, and the British pound was at an all time low versus the dollar (nearly equal in value), The Dynamo asked me to pick up a blazing red print dress for which she pined.  The dress didn’t really work that well, so she returned it to the Laura Ashley in New York, where they gave her a credit equal to the American price.  In one fell swoop, she doubled her investment — we joked that she arbitraged the dress — and got a comforter instead.

“I still have that comforter,” she said.

Of course.  There are some things you hold on to.

D-day minus two

Serious chaos in the house today.

There are 18 bags of trash at the curb. 

Stuff designated for the Moving Sale occupies one-quarter of the basement.  In the cellar, we chose which basic tools we plan to take and consolidated them into one toolbox and one toolbag.  We don’t plan to buy a house that needs moulding installed, so we didn’t pack the coping saw; we plan to buy a house with excellent wiring, so the fishtape got put aside; our new house will not require major plumbing work, so the ancestral wrenches were given away.

Okay, we may in fact buy a house that needs some or all these things, but we’ll cross those bridges when we get to them.  What’s important is that there’s  not much from our basement that is coming with us; unfortunately, much of it is still down  there.  But we both know what’s staying, what’s going and what’s for sale.  

Ditto on the first and second floor of the house.  We’ve weeded out every room.  One room serves as the repository for the moving sale; the rest of the house may look like it’s been in a category 4 hurricane, but there’s order in that disorder.  Really.

We almost lost all sense of order cleaning out the computer room.  I opened the file cabinet sometime yesterday afternoon and began culling.  What’s the rule on income taxes?  Keep the records for five years?  Then I guess I really don’t need the complete files, with receipts, from 1994 on.  Probably don’t need the papers detailing our medical insurance claims from previous years either.  Or the bank statements, 401K statements, maintenance records from autos we no longer owned, or vet records dating back to the turn of the century.   I pulled the files apart, setting aside those papers that needed shredding.  By dinner, that pile rose about a foot and a half.

After dinner, Mr. NYer began shredding as I continued culling.  After some time, I noticed that he could no longer turn his neck, so I offered to step in and shred.  It’s a tedious job, and it brings with it a degree of back ache.  Not to mention the dust, the confetti, and, of course, the increasing static charge with each emptying of the bin.

At some point I broke the shredder.  I would like to go on record and say that I believe the damage began during his stint, when a jam produced obvious strain on the motor along with a distinct odor of seething machinery.  As luck  would have it, I successfully cleared that jam and then produced a fine mess of my own.   Going at it with needle-nosed pliers and letter opener, I cleared the jam, but the cutting disks no longer turned, and a strange clicking noise signaled that the shredder was kaput.

Today we got a new shredder and dispatched the rest of the confidential papers.    A bit more weeding, and I decided enough was enough.

Tomorrow I begin my packing.  I’ll go through my dresser and closet and divide into three categories:  take now; leave for the movers; give away.  Maybe a fourth: throw away. 

I’m not really at ease about the house.  I had wanted to leave it so that Mr. NYer didn’t have to do anything else.  He’s got his hands full still working, runnning back and forth to the nursing home to which his Dad recently moved, and worrying about where Soon-to-Be-Abandoned will end up.  He’s going to have to take  care of the last minute stuff like filing changes of address, stopping newspapers subscriptions, ending memberships and returning the cable boxes. 

Ideally, I wanted to leave things so that when the movers came, the only things in the house would be what we want to take with us.  They would pack it all and load it on the truck.  And when our stuff arrived in Alabama, we would find that each item was one we wanted, and not a single thing was something we’d just as soon have left behind.

Instead, Mr. NYer will have to manage the Moving Sale, and then manage disposing of whatever doesn’t move during the sale.  He’ll still need to call the Salvation Army for some of it, wrangle still more down to the curb, and call one of those “men with truck” to come haul away the basement detritus.  We both avert our eyes when we see the remaining cans of paint, paint thinner, carpet cleaner, garden pesticides and assorted other household poisons that can’t come with us but which are not very easy to throw away.  The marketer in me thinks we can collect the various fertilizers, bug sprays and anti-fungal dusts in a lovely box, throw in a trowel and a pair of gardening gloves, and call it a “goodie box for someone with a green thumb.”  Mr. NYer thinks I’m crazy.

The point is that this is the kind of stuff we usually do together.  All of our major enterprises have been done together.  In fact in the last 33 years, there’s damn little we haven’t been side by side for.  Sickness and health, good times and bad, putting in a garden, buying a car, remodeling the kitchen, nursing sick kid and taking care of aged parents … when one of us got weary, the other wasn’t far away.  True, we’ve specialized and divided the labor, but we always have each other to lean on.  I don’t like the idea of being 1,000 miles away while he has too much on his plate and all I can offer is long-distance advice.

More than anything, that’s the new part of this adventure.