What a Difference Three Years Makes and Pictures #16 to 19

The last two days have been spent in a training room, learning all about the marvels of the new marketing automation platform we’ve bought, when I got a message from my assistant that she had invoices and contracts for me to sign.

“Bring them to me,” I wrote back, “along with a blue or black pen.”

Signing the papers I noticed the date, January 16, and realized that I have been in Alabama for three years.  Later, I doubted this was possible and used my fingers to check my mental calculations.  Three years.  Confirmed.

In just under 1,100 days, a lot has happened.  Two thousand-mile road trips, a house sold, three babies born in our extended family, two moves for the Abandoned One, retirement and a significant birthday for Mr.NYer , a new house purchased, a new job settled into, new doctors lined up.  And Lifelongnewyorker has flown enough to earn Gold Medallion status on Delta for two years now. I guess things have worked out.

Three years ago, I wasn’t so sure.  Mr.NYer and I drove down in my Honda and arrived on the 16th. We hauled my stuff into the furnished apartment I would stay in for three months.  And Mr.NYer was returning to Staten Island on the 18th.  Panic set in as the enormity of what I’d set in motion became clear.  This is what I wrote that day:

We arrived in Montgomery yesterday shortly after noon, in moderately heavy rain.  

As we were checking into the apartment, Soon-to-be-Abandoned (or maybe he’s offically abandoned now) called to say the dishwasher was not working.  About this time, the leasing agent was filling me in on the pest control schedule.  My heart began to sink.

I don’t have an Internet connection in the apartment yet; I’m posting from Starbucks.  So this will be a short post. 

At some point in an early post I observed that I wasn’t feeling particularly worried or emotional about the move, but suspected at some point I’d feel like I was hit by an anvil.  The anvil has struck.  As I contemplated the lovely but impersonal apartment and realized that Mr.NYer would be leaving me there by myself soon, I panicked.  All I could think was that I wanted to go home, and the next thought of course, is that I’m selling my home. 

I miss my son, my cats, my house and my familiar life right now. 

Some deep breathing and lots of talking have helped.  I was also reassured by the presence of artichokes at the Winn-Dixie.  But I feel a bit untethered and hope that getting to work on Tuesday will help. 

And I miss my friends.

And here are some pictures from that weekend:

The drive through Virginia still felt like vacation.

The drive through Virginia still felt like vacation.

As we drove further south, the weather turned grey.

As we drove further south, the weather turned grey.

Feeling real now.

Feeling real now.

All the charm of a highway motel.

All the charm of a highway motel.



In the new house

Tonight we will sleep in our bed, on our own mattress.  We are so looking forward to it.

It took three guys about 8 hours to pack all of our stuff.  It will take us a lot longer to unpack.  The boxes and furniture arrived on Tuesday.  We spent the next two evenings and all of today, Thursday, unpacking.  The kitchen.  Yes, we’re just finishing with the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen we realized this house was built for extremely tall people.  Mr. NYer thinks the developers were perhaps trying to lure a professional basketball team to Montgomery.  The ceilings are 10 feet high, which results in nicely proportioned rooms.  But with high ceilings come high cabinets.  Neither of us can reach the third shelf on any of the above-the-counter cabinets.  I have to stand on tip-toes to reach the knob on the cabinet above the refrigerator.

We are also befuddled by the array of  electrical switches options.  Our last house was 90 years old.  When we moved in, we discovered that a single circuit served all the bedrooms, the bathroom, the attic and looped in an additional outlet on the way past the living room.   We had ceiling lights with pull-chains, the dining room and all the bedrooms each had a single outlet, and if you wanted the upstairs hall light on, you had to walk upstairs in the dark and turn it on.

This house, in stark contrast, is extravagantly lighted and wired. Wall switches come in sets of three, and it seems that no light is controlled by only one switch.  You can turn the living room lights on as you enter the room, and hit another switch as you leave to turn them off.  And such a rich combination of lighting options.  In the kitchen, we can opt for the main recessed lights, or add in the over-the-sink recessed light, the under-the-cabinet lights, and the microwave light.

We’ve never had a garage before, and the automatic garage doors also befuddle us.  We’ve yet to figure out if there’s a way to open them from inside without the clicker in your hand.  There must be, of course, but we haven’t found it.

The new front-loading washer amazes us with its intermittent and seemingly deliberative dispensing of water and on-and-off agitation. The fact that the washer and dryer sit directly next to each other, just steps from the master bedroom and closet, is a near miracle.

We haven’t tried the jetted tub yet.

Unpacking has been a kind of magical mystery trip.  Remember, we didn’t do the packing.  The three guys labeled them each by room, but beyond that it’s anyone’s guess what’s inside.  One of the first boxes yielded a favorite tea-pot, but no lid.  Eight or nine boxes later, the lid emerged.  What we’re guaranteed to find is paper, a small forest of it.  Not only is every object wrapped in layers of newsprint (sans ink), but wads of paper fill every spare inch of every box.  It’s really good packing — the only breakage so far has been from us.  We’ve devised a way to cram as much paper as possible into contractor’s bags.  We compress by hand, fill, and periodically I sit atop the open bag to compress the contents some more.  Eight filled to the brim bags sit on our driveway now awaiting pick-up tomorrow.

We hope the garbage men find us.  Mr. NYer went to the Montgomery Water Works last Friday to register for water and trash service.  They told us they’d drop off one of those nice big garbage cans on wheels, but we haven’t seen it yet.  Our house is new, as is our street, and we’re having trouble convincing some people it exists.  The street, for instance, isn’t on our GPS.  And according to Netflix, our address doesn’t exist.

The cable company — the one that has a monopoly in this development — isn’t sure about us either.  We called yesterday to set up service.  They couldn’t take the order, or make an appointment, because they had to check to see if they covered our address.  Today Leah, the cable customer service person, called just to let us know that no one has come out to check that our house really is here, but that they would, soon.

So we’re sitting here in our well-lit living room, connected to the world via air card and blackberry tether.  The cats have been in their new home for about two hours, and they are restless.  The normally easy-going Mush is yowling, as if to say, “Enough is enough.  First those hotels, then two days in a cage, then the apartment.  When will this end?” The Lunatic, who we sedated in order to capture and cage him, is prowling about in a state of hyper-vigilance.

Lifelongnewyorker knows this post is begging for art.  Not to worry — she took photos.  Watch this space.

Living in Limbo

These days, Lifelongnewyorker finds herself remembering when she was 10 months pregnant and convinced that the Abandoned One would never abandon her.

He eventually did decamp from the womb, but only after his mother (Lifelongnewyorker) stopped believing it would happen.  She languished, languidly, on a chaise lounge in the warm June days, reading novels and pulling herself up from the chair only to answer the phone. (The Abandoned One predated cell phones).  The phone rang,  every 15 minutes, and merely by saying hello Lifelongnewyorker satisfied the caller’s curiosity.  “Oh, you’re still there,” one of my friends or relatives would say. 

“Yes,” I answered.  At which point we’d exhausted the conversation, and I would haul my enormous body and unyielding child back out to the waiting chair.

Why the memory?  Because Lifelongnewyorker is waiting once again, this time for a closing date, and has begun to feel as if she will never again sleep in her own bed or be reunited with her earthly goods.  Mr. NYer visits them from time to time–they’re in a storage facility just south of town, where he is now on a first-name basis with the manager, Dair.  Today he rescued our toolbox so he could affix the new Alabama license plate (singular, rear plate only) to the back of my Honda.  

The other car will wait, possibly for an eternity, until we ransom the boxes that hold our files and find the title.  Meanwhile, it proudly displays New York plates.  On both ends.

Spring has arrived in Montgomery; at least judging by the forsynthia, the trees, and the daffodils. Fortunately, the temperatures are cooler than normal.  This is good, since all of Lifelongnewyorker’s spring clothes and sandals are with Dair.

Since tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, Lifelongnewyorker thought about baking some Irish soda bread, using the Dynamo’s family recipe, to bring to work.  Alas, the baking pans, and the recipe, are also in Dair’s hands.

The new house is ready.  We are–or were– ready, too.  We chose mirrors for the bathroom, and lights.  We purchased insurance.  We know the model of washer, dryer and refrigerator we intend to buy.  But, fearful of jinxing the deal further, we haven’t ordered them.  

Lifelongnewyorker has entered that fugue state where she no longer believes that anything will ever change.  We will be sleeping on this appallingly bad mattress in this sterile apartment forever.  Music will never play from our stereo.  We will forever wonder what happened on the season finale of Big Love.

The obstacle is the mortgage.  Ever since we put our Staten Island home on the market, every realtor we’ve encountered has muttered darkly about appraisals, and grimly warned us of the huge hurdles lying in our path.  New rules, we were told, were coming in effect after January 1.  Banks needed two appraisals.  From independent sources who had never met each other, the realtor, the banker or the buyer, and whose contact with fellow humans was limited to one interaction per day.  If the appraisal wasn’t solid, the loan wouldn’t go through.  Banks want no risk.

We breathed a sigh of relief when the appraisal for our Staten Island house was accepted and our buyers’ received their mortgage.  Since we were taking the proceeds from that sale and plunking them into the new house as a down-payment, we figured the appraisal was less important since the bank’s risk was no where near the house value.   And, to top it off, I’d checked our credit rating.  You can just call us “super prime.”  Which is what happens after a lifetime of wrapping coins. 

In other words, we’re about as low-risk as borrowers can get.  But the underwriters balked at the appraisal, which not only came in above the selling price, but which thoroughly and exhaustively examined the comps, one of which is the house that shares a wall with ours.  They wanted to know, “Weren’t there more recent comps?”

Well, no, not in this market.  And if it’s this hard for us to get a mortgage, there never will be.  No wonder we’re having a hard time crawling out of the Great Recession.

We’re in daily contact with Steve and Bill and Richard, our mortgage guy, realtor and builder, respectively.  Like us, they have a stake in the closing, too.  We’re told the appraiser got the underwriter’s questions, answered them, and provided more comps.  We suspect the paperwork is in the hands of a faceless corporate bureaucrat whose responsibility ends at checking off the appraisal boxes and has no idea about the down payment, the prime creditworthiness of the borrowers, or just how incredibly cute, and desperate, we are.

Meanwhile, we’re thinking of asking Dair for our own set of keys.

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.


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?