ewhightower

Starter Kit

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2013 at 9:25 am

We’ve lived here since 2005. We moved in on February 17, right in between some massive rainstorms that utterly saturated the earth outside our portion of the house so that two things happened simultaneously: the basement flooded as the foyer and kitchen were infested with ants. It’s been a pitched battle ever since.

The ants I took care of with powdered cinnamon and a direct, albeit one-sided, conversation with their deva. The bargain is this: stay out of my home and I will not kill your people. You have the rest of the yard, as long as your activities in no way harm the roses or my herbs and vegetables. Thus far, they have honored their side of the bargain.

[Disclaimer: our landlord is a hard working man who does almost all maintenance on this house himself. What I write about is this house, not him. ] The flooding of the basement is another matter entirely. The flooding only happens about once a year, and unlike the incident in 2005, everything since then has been sewage. Not direct, chunks-of-poop sewage, but sewage that has seeped into our basement through the walls, filtered by all the dirt between whichever pipe is newly broken or leaking or backed up or whatever. Step one of reverse osmosis, only thanks but no thanks, I don’t need a sip. Once, in about 2010, I walked outside after taking a dump to see the very turds I had just flushed away flowing smoothly across our front patio.

A marvel of 1913 plumbing, this house has also leaked sewage from the very bricks of our fireplace. There is still a vast, gaping hole in the left side of the fireplace where the landlord — a thoroughly amiable fellow — tore away the lath and plaster to get at the massive, ancient, cast-iron pipe which had rusted through and had flooded our living room with sewage sometime after 1:00 am, November 1, 2009. It soaked our rug and continued to fill the room, until we had a very attractive scale model of Ikea Persian Lake Merritt. To be honest, because we are so polite with our inquiries re., flooding and leaks and such, our first concerns were not taken terribly seriously. It took repeated floodings, and finally an incident where sewage and soapy bathwater were soaking through the ceiling of the basement ballroom during one of their kids’ birthday parties — it shares a chimney with our fireplace, the very fireplace from whose bricks the soapy poo-water was flowing like some kind of kinkster German horror film — for the problem to become clear. If the ceiling over the ballroom fireplace hadn’t begun to leak, there is no telling what monstrosities we would have had to battle when the wall was finally broken open.

It’s an old house. These are the problems of an old house. As of this writing, 9/30/2013, this house is 100 years old. The ceiling in the kitchen is bowed down, about six months pregnant, from the leaking toilet in the master bath above. There is a fig tree growing from under the corner of the house wherein our bedroom is located. The landlord loves to chop that fig tree back. But it is the only thing keeping our bedroom cool in the summer months, as it somehow insulates against the baking Livermore heat in the first half of the day. I hear tell that’s what plants do. I’m not that kind of scientist.

Somehow, in the last three years, our apartment, which takes up one corner of the ground floor of this glorious mission-revival mansion, has become a vast drift of useful objects which have fallen to the floor under the weight of their sheer numbers. Part of the problem is that people keep giving us things. I think we have three dollhouses given to us by my mother. One of them is large enough that, hollowed out, it could conceal the cadaver of a healthy American male. The basement looks uncomfortably like a murderous curio shop, our bedroom is a strip of visible floor between two drifts of clothing and the bed, with a dresser and Ikea armoire in there somewhere. I have multiple vintage typewriters squirreled away throughout the apartment (most of which are functional and only one of which I use for writing). Getting any amount of cleaning done is an Herculean task which requires several hours of organizing one section of the apartment, only to have to re-do that section when the drifts of useful objects once again collapse because the splendid inner architecture of our home lends itself perfectly to independent film projects. (Lend being the key word, as so few of these projects have any money that I suspect they cast or hired me merely to have the use of my living room for one or more scenes. The last project to film here promised me $100.00 in compensation for my work; I’ve finally got access to the completed (?) film, but I’ve never seen cent one of that Franklin.)

Things were generally tidy at first. This is because we both had employment and we give splendid parties. So, one party per quarter generally kept the place pretty tidy. Then a couple of things happened in rapid succession, with an increasingly detrimental effect upon the tidiness of our home.

The first thing that happened was my selection as Director for an indie feature called “Santa’s Dog.” My hiring meant that they got a base of operations for shooting in Livermore, they got four locations for free (my living room appears twice in the film, half as Santa’s Den and half as a nun’s office). Add to that the fact that they only paid me $3,000.00 to direct and they got a fucking bargain. (The film is pure genius, watch it on Netflix today.) The effect on our home was complete topsy-turvydom: entire rooms moved, rearranged, emptied, redecorated, or filled with little people and the costume / makeup crew. So much stuff was moved from the living room to the bedroom that, though the film began shooting in December of 2010 and wrapped in June of 2011, our bedroom looked like the San Jose Flea Market until early 2013. Imagine this effect everywhere, and you will understand the overall state of this lovely space.

The other big thing that happened was the miscarriage. This was a vast, indescribable form of personal hell for each of us. I intentionally withhold details, saying only this: if the women in the Pleasanton ValleyCare Emergency Room had been nice to Veronica when we first arrived there, we would not have had to experience the horror and blood while driving back there much later in the day.

On New Year’s Eve, 2011.

The day after we’d announced her pregnancy to my family, at my father’s birthday party.

As it is, because she had not reached some pain threshold which would please their fiendish ancient gods, Veronica was condemned to Urgent Care in Livermore, who, confronted with a lake of blood and a woman sobbing in agony, were very much put out and wanted to know why we hadn’t gone to the ER. All in all, a glorious start to 2012 and an utterly splendid representation of the treatment of Hispanics by the ValleyCare Medical System in Pleasanton and Livermore, California. (I should note that, once their sadistic cravings had been sated, they treated her very well indeed. But only then, and I think only because they saw that my eyes are blue.)

We should have gotten some kind of counseling after the miscarriage. It fucked us up, and we’re still fucked up in many ways. One day, much later in 2012 — August, I think — we were returning from my parents’ cabin and I took a detour I love: Sheep Ranch Road, in Murphys. We were listening to Norah Jones’ first album, which is very much the music of our first two years together. ‘Seven Years’ came on, and I sang along. As I sang, I remembered a dream Veronica had told me about, back in 2002, when I had convinced her to move into my parents’ house with me. In the dream, she and myself and our little girl were in a field together. We were dressed nicely. I was wearing a linen suit, I believe. When she described this, I saw it. So clearly. It shook me. That shaking returned as we drove, engaged but as yet un-procreative, down Sheep Ranch Road a decade later, right around, “And she’ll sing her song / To anyone who comes along …” By the time we got to, “Crooked little smile on her face / Tells a tale of Grace / That’s all her own,” I began to sob. I couldn’t see for tears, and had to brake to avoid an accident. I sat there, gasping and sobbing, feeling all the pain and loss I had masked since New Year’s eve come welling up in me like a dormant volcano of pain unleashed on a raw and weeping ring of fire. I realized, I need this; we haven’t cried yet, not really; I’ve been holding this tight inside me —

Veronica stopped the music.

It was like having a sneeze interrupted or a yawn popped.

She was enraged with me, and didn’t want to discuss it. She just wanted, “… to move forward. Why dwell on it? There’s no reason to go back there. We just need to move on. And you need a job. That pays. More than your current job.”

At the time, I was making about $50.00 per hour, but only working two hours and change per week. And her favorite subject, the constant mental mantra of her days, is how we don’t have enough money [with the hidden end of that sentence being, ‘…because you insist on living your creative dream and you cannot stand the corporate cubicle maze which puts the majority of food on our table and puts you on my health insurance even though we’re not married.’]

So it’s an easy gear to shift into, an easy place to direct the pain and loss of a much-hoped-for child that never got beyond ‘products of conception’ phase. We still haven’t talked about it, not really. It is one of several elephants in the room.

Maybe that’s why our house is so cluttered. All those fucking elephants, they need things to amuse them. Half-built dollhouses and my unfinished novels or scripts which have become mysteriously hidden away by something called “cleaning,” but scripts which, if finished, could easily do some amazing things for our income. So the elephants love my scripts, but they can’t write or speak. They are reclining in a haze of marijuana and unspoken regret and reproach, idly masturbating their days away and planning to get to the dishes tomorrow. We are slowly becoming the elephants in the room, and while we never forget, we also don’t quite remember in time.

The result of all of this is that our home now looks like nothing more than the world’s best and most attractive Hoarding Starter Kit.

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