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.


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?

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!

We Choose a House

The last time Lifelongnewyorker and Mr. NYer bought a house, the decision process wasn’t all that complicated.  We looked at a bunch of houses, no more than eight.  We found one we liked that was really really close to where I worked, and up the block from Mr. NYer’s oldest friend.  We were looking in January, 1983, when the average mortgage rate was hovering around 14 percent.  This house came with an assumable VA mortgage at 9 percent.

And that pretty much sums up the calculus that went into the decision to buy our house.  We saw it, we made an offer, they countered and we accepted.  Three months later we moved in and discovered, among other surprises, that the removal of pipes during a kitchen expansion resulted in the bathroom having no heat, and that the oven worked only if you draped an extension cord over the sink and plugged it into an outlet on the other side of the kitchen.

This time, put in charge of the search, I marshalled my considerable analytic and Internet skills to thoroughly vet the choices.  No way I was taking the heat for a bad choice, so Mr. NYer, despite being one thousand miles away, was going to get involved whether he enjoyed it or not.

Much of my spare time in December and January was spent reviewing the MLS listings on our realtor’s website.  I particularly liked the map feature that showed not merely location but also street-level and birds’ eye views.  After about 40 days of house-surfing, I sent a list of about a twenty candidates to the realtor.

We logged in a full 8-hour day one Sunday visiting those houses, with me taking pictures and scribbling notes.  That night, I whittled the list down to about five or six contenders and spent hours developing a spreadsheet to help Mr. NYer compare them.

Column A listed the categories I thought would help us both weigh the choices, from structure to yard/garden to good for entertainment.  I used paired cells to rate each on a scale of P (poor) to EX (excellent) and to enter short descriptions and pithy analyses like these:

  • Cosmetics: “Needs paint, removal of lots of wallpaper.”
  • Kitchen: “Redone tastefully; up-to-date; granite.”
  • Dining Room: “Would our furniture work?”
  • Bathrooms: “One fab, two good.”
  • Bedrooms: “Three.  One is upholstered; one is outside.”
  • Parking: “In back; porte cochere on side.”
  • Windows: “Painted shut.”

Off the excel went to Mr. NYer, along with MLS numbers so he could see the pictures.  In a series of phone calls over two or three days, we went through the six homes.  When we were done, I asked, “So, what do you think?”

“I don’t know what to think.”

Right, then.  This led  to the second round of house visits, more photos and worksheet number two for four  houses.  This time I added numbers — asking price, likely selling price, days on market, price per square foot, estimated monthly mortgage, insurance, utilities and taxes.  I included a section listing possible future improvements and the likely cost.  For the analyses/comments, I created about 65 categories and divided them into eight large groupings, from Exterior to Master Suite, to Cats.

From this we got down to three houses.  I revisited again, and produced worksheet number three.  Another round and I added color-coding and numerical ratings for worksheet  number four.

By this time, Mr. NYer was numbed by my considerable analytic skills and begged me to just pick a house.  Well, not quite, but we narrowed it down to three and then eliminated one.  Unfortunately we eliminated a different one each time we talked.

All in all, the process  lasted nearly three weeks, about 21 times  as much time and effort as went into our decision to buy our house on Staten Island.  But we finally agreed and last Wednesday I called the realtor and made an offer.

So, dear readers, we have chosen our new home in Montgomery.

It’s not the 1925 with lots of charm–proximity to a busy road, high utilities, and upholstered bedroom from which we’d have to banish the cats overcame our attraction to the piazza and the lovely french doors.

Nor is it the 1945 with the fabulous addition of open kitchen, great room, master suite and tranquil back deck.  The meth house next door, coupled with the perpetually soggy yard and the owner’s records of substantial foundation work scared us.  Montgomery is known for something called “gumbo soil.”  My engineer niece consulted  with a geo-guy in her firm and he said it’s nasty stuff.

Patio and Living Room Door/windows

Inside living room

The winner is the new construction, with drilled-pier foundation, two-car garage, huge kitchen, jacuzzi bath in the master, two guest bedrooms, each with its own bath, and–the coup de grace–an elevator.  I’d rather have closets instead, but what are you gonna do?

Lifelongnewyorker is feeling a bit rattled, knowing how fast/slow and final the next few weeks will be.  We’ve got a  lot to do:  choose fixtures and appliances; set a date with the movers; fly north (me); close on the Staten Island house; load the car and cage the cats; drive a thousand miles and hope the mid-Atlantic doesn’t get another colossal snow storm; close on the house in Montgomery; wait for the movers; settle in.  Uncage the cats.

And I ask myself just this one question:  How did we make decisions before spreadsheets?

A lot faster.

New house entrance

The entrance to the new house is on the right.

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.

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.