Friday, December 28, 2007

Soaked in Nostalgia: When Brooklyn Looks Cheap, it's Time to Go Home

(Photos: My Bklyn apt -- clearly far nicer than my house.)

I was homesick already, but it took a $200/mo tax hike to really hit the point home--all the way back to NYC.

Don't get me wrong--I still love New Mexico. I'm enchanted and entrapped, ensnared in its sunny clutches. But, oh, do I pine for NYC. Ache for it. Get nostalgic at the sight of the NYT, or the mere mention of the Mole people. (I miss the Metro section! We can't get that out here.) I'd even give up my washer and dryer. My car. My charmed, simple life. Happily. In a second.

My apartment in NYC (which, by the way, is charming, affordable, and huge--probably a teensy bit smaller than my house, but only by a few sq ft-- by Brooklyn standards) costs LESS per month than my ghetto shack here in the barrio of Burque. Like, significantly less. WTF?! Yeah, it doesn't make any sense to me, either. (And let's not even discuss the kind of cash I'm pouring into this place to make it bearable. Bare minimum bearable. And my salary? Less than half of what it once was. Not that I'm complaining about that. I'm grateful.)

I miss my Saturday morning bagels w/ lox and schmear; the Sunday paper in the park with Pip chasing after the pigeons; walking two blocks to the train to get virtually anywhere; my Metrocard; walking across Prospect Park to Park Slope for evening beers with my best friend. I miss my friends most of all, hands down. No contest. (New Yorkers are extraordinary. There aren't any like 'em in the desert.) I miss going out until 4 a.m., the open-all-night diners (i.e. scarfing a greasy 3-egg veggie omelette after a good party), fast service (with a hairnet, a "whaddaya want, honey," and a Coney Island accent), cupcakes and coffee from Magnolia after a good meal at Cornelia St.; the F train at Smith-9th street at night, lights gleaming across the river; bookstores one can happily get lost in--8 miles of them--and $1 carts stocked with ancient hardcovers; garden bistros in Carroll Gardens in summer; coffee on every corner; the sweet smell of roasted nuts in Union Square; anything you could ever want, even the most obscure, absurd item, within a one-mile radius; not owning a car; walking everywhere; surfing the subway; parquet floors; city cache; communion w/ Woody Allen; the hush that falls when it snows, and how clean the city suddenly looks, and how quiet it gets; dinner parties for no good reason; the Georgia O'Keefe painting of the Brooklyn Bridge at the Bklyn Museum; the simultaneous class, charm, and brash behavior of no-nonsense New Yorkers... So much more. And that's exactly what I'm missing: I know there's more than this. I want it again.

Two years, or less -- and I'm back. (I know, I'm always teasing. But, in time, I know where I'll end up.) God, two years sounds like an eternity...

I talked to a woman tonight (to whom I'm subletting my apt) and she said that NM wouldn't be any fun unless you were married w/ kids, tied down, with sandbags and chains, as are most 20-somethings around here. . It's definitely a settle-down kind of place. Yet settling down sounds thoroughly unappealing. Always has. NYC is my great love, maybe. Two years and I still can't get over it. I'm still as mad for the city as I was in childhood; love it despite its many, ugly flaws.

I realized, recently, why I miss the city so dreadfully: In Burque, I'm bored. Terribly, pitifully, old-lady-in-my-bathrobe bored. Out of my East coast mind. There's no denying that life here is good--and, by comparison, easy. But I'm too young for such sleepy living. At least, that's how I feel, like I'm wasting good years getting enough sleep and staying in on Friday nights. If I hadn't ever lived in NYC, it's possible I'd feel differently. I wouldn't know what I was missing. I don't want to return fully to my party days, but I don't want to die without ever seeing the sun come up from a subway car ever again, or seeing an incredible reading, or having a NYC moment.

In New Mexico, I feel free. In New York, I feel like I'm home. Both places, no doubt, are magical. I can't seem to let go of love for either.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Through the roof

Maybe it's just a bad day, or I really did make a bad decision in buying this house. Some bureacrats voted on a HUGE tax increase, so my payment is now MORE THAN MY RENT IN NYC. Now, that's just nuts. I'm sorry. For this dump? In this 'hood? (Someone stole my fucking flowerpots--flowers and all--while I was away on vacation.) I'm often tempted to move back to NYC (I know, I know, how I tease!), and this is just one more kick in the hotpants. I can't afford to live in a crappy, ghetto shack in a supposedly cheap, relatively unsophisticated city, but I can afford rent in Brooklyn? Fuggghedaboudit.

There's a real catch-22 situation here: I can't afford my new mortgage payment (based solely on tax increases), which I could afford (it would be better, at least), if I didn't have to pay a PMI every month, but I can't wipe that off until I finish the renovation -- which, of course, takes money. If I sold now, no doubt, I'd lose money. Maybe I should fix it up, rent it out to college kids or a couple, and set up shop somewhere else? (Oh, but everything else here, just about, is so good...)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Smashing Pumpkins: 5k addiction continues

It seems I've temporarily ditched my sledgehammer for sneakers . I ran another 5k this morning, dubbed the "Pumpkin Chase." Some of my competitors were dressed cutely in costume. Me? I was decked out, from head to toe, in Spandies. Ready to run. Ready to smash some pumpkin ass. Forget the face paint and "for the fun of it" Halloween garb. (Who wants to run in a pirate's eye patch and beard, anyhow? Never mind a peg leg!) No, my friends. Not for me. I was there to kick booty and take names, bringin' the A game. I was determined to break last weekend's 27 min time in the Duke City, which was my first 5k ever.

Today's course was more hilly, so I didn't bust as hard as I probably could have, but I was less nonchalant than last week. And I shaved two minutes from my time. Two minutes, bitches. In a week. With no training. Not even a jog around the block. Boo-freakin'-yah. I crossed the finish line at 25 (almost exactly) min. Next time? I'm going for 23. Eat my dust, pumpkins!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

First 5K. Psyched!

Ow, momma! I just finished my first 5K and feel freakin' psyched! I had to get up at the ass crack of dawn after a fitful sleep, but as soon as I toed the starting line (not exactly...I took a friend's advice to drop back to help pace myself, then pass the heaving, galumphing suckers later on) in the freezing cold, I was totally excited. And I was faster than I thought! Worst case, I imagined I'd finish in 30 min. My goal was to finish in 28 or under. Happily, I'm slightly faster than I thought.

I don't own a watch, never time myself, seldom do sprints, and often stop to wrangle Rex from the Rio Grande during my training runs (which were once just for fun and, really, still are). So, when I finished in 27 min (almost even...27:12, I think? Final results aren't posted yet, but I saw it on the clock), I was freakin' psyched! I didn't run fast--imagine if I had! I don't usually run continually bc I'm always having to stop--for Rex, for traffic, to tie my shoe, to change the tune on my iPod (which I raced w/o), bc I want to...I have myriad excuses. So, I wasn't sure how I'd feel without the brief walking break. (Granted, when I do run, I usually go much farther than 5k; usually 6-8 miles.) I have asthma, and sometimes, feel like I really need a walking break to catch my breath. I didn't want to bust out full-speed and have to walk to the finish like a tired, old fatty. But I wasn't short of breath, tired, or sore. Not at all. I took it pretty slow, actually, and stayed at the back of the front pack. I wish I'd sprinted the 1.5 back to the finish line, time. I could have done it!

I've always been more about my brain than my body, and never very competitive about sports. But I do relish an honest challenge, especially when it means competing with myself...pushing myself beyond what I believe is my limit. (This is why I love the yoga. So hardcore, no competition, except with my own mind. Om, baby. Om.)

I find it pretty incredible that I ran a race at all...for fun. Wasn't I the kid who would sneak behind the bleachers during gym class to smoke Marlboros with my best friend? The girl who used her inhaler to get through the dreaded gym class mile? The asthmatic chick who subsisted on smokes and martinis, and hang-over cures for seven years? So kick-ass. The only part of me that's still pretty rough is my lungs (though I wasn't wheezing or hacking, as were many of my peers...who I left in my imaginary dust).

I liked the 5K because its runners ran the gamut...literally. They ranged from gangly kids (one of whom looked just like me, and finished at almost the same time) to super-ripped, bionic studs with calf muscles like mallets. (I passed my favorite hottie in the third mile.) I knew I wouldn't be up there with the pro-guys, but that I'd at least do better than the chubby moms who whined that they hadn't trained in three weeks, if at all. That gave me a surge of confidence, and helped me to take the whole thing less seriously. Nevertheless, wicked fun times! Bring it on, again! (I should also say that my kid sister is like our own little Kenyan. She ran her first 5k earlier this fall and, w/ virtually no training, finished in 22 minutes. I'll have what she's having.)

Results (I'm a division winner. Pretty cool!):

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Scrub a 'Dub 'Dub

Remember what the bathroom used to look like? I wouldn't even touch the shower handles. Now, they're all new and shiny. It's not completely done, but there's a totally new floor (new sub, topped with saltillo tile), all new hardware in the shower, and a new sink and mirror. Here's what it looks like now (much better, though the photos don't do it justice...for a quick comparison, check out pics in old posts). Also, some extra pics, too:

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Lots going on, but, for now, I'll let pictures speak louder than words. I finally got some furniture, which has made the house feel more cozy. It's coming along!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Me n' Mattie, during his visit

My little brother, Matt, stayed with me for much of the summer. Here's a shot of us, just after I let him sip my beer.

A Curse Upon Your House!

Quickly, because I can't resist, though it's well past my bed-time...

I've made the decision to go full-time freelance. It's a big one, for several reasons, not the least of which is this: that's why I moved here. Over the weekend, while on a press trip to Seattle, I realized it. I was reading the NYT with my feet propped on a pillow, in a terry robe, drinking an '04 vintage pinot noir and popping hand-made chocolates into my mouth, thinking, this is work? All of it was free (all expenses paid) -- and I was paid to do (and, of course write about) it. Despite my gross overindulgence in little-known luxuries (like organic brut champagne, oysters, a ninety minute massage...), the trip shook me awake, and screamed for me to quit my job. (Quite literally, a new found friend, a NYT reporter, did, too.) So, after two days of playing hooky while on my working "vacation," I did. The morning I returned, I handed my boss the letter. I gave them thirty days. That said, I'm at once thrilled and terrified. In the long-term, I think I'll make three times as much as I've made as a teacher. But in the beginning, turning a profit may prove trying. I'm trying to be both optimistic and realistic, so I've been searching for a roommate. In short, it's been a saga:

In May, I met a woman who wanted to move in, but not until July. She seemed cool, so I held out for her until then. She signed the lease, gave me her deposit, then bailed because her house, down the block, had been burglarized. The neighborhood, obviously not Beverly Hills, sent her running -- to Rio Rancho. For those of you unfamiliar with RR, imagine a desert town where there is nothing but big-box stores and little box houses. Cooking-fucking-cutter.

The next guy, who I have a weird, roundabout connection to (which, for the time, will go unexplained), signed the lease and gave me his deposit last night. He called me this afternoon to say he can't move in. I'm presuming his current landlord won't release him -- which he should have frikkin' checked before singing my lease.

I interviewed another guy this afternoon, who was cool until he revealed himself to be a Bush-loving racist. I threw the redneck fucker off the front porch and told him never to come back. (I actually cried afterward, partly because I've never experienced racism the way I have in NM. Because I'm blond, those ignorant fuckers always expect me to agree.)

Tonight, I got a call from a cool-sounding college girl who was riding her bike in the rain. She said she was on her way over. The rain was torrential, so I prep'd a towel and sweatshirt for her and put on the kettle for tea. About an hour later, after I'd been fretting b/c she was so late (did she crash? lose her way in the dark? get accosted by a lusty drug dealer?!?), her friend called me from the emergency room of Presbyterian Hospital to tell me that the girl had been hit by a truck on her way over. My knees buckled as she said the words. By some great mercy, the girl is just fine, her friend reported. Thank god. I was practically weeping by the end of our conversation. I feel partly responsible, like I should have offered to pick her up. Getting in a car with a crazy-driving stranger (me) would probably have been safer.

Ugh. In New York, finding a roommate was never this hard! And I really need to find someone -- soon -- so I don't completely lose my mind fretting over finances. I need a roommie to float my income, at least for the time being.

Anyhow, apologies for being a deadbeat blogger. Finally, I'm back in action.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The high price of crack

Miguel is, by far, the best person I've had working for me. He just rode up on his bicycle one day, while I was yanking the enormous weeds from the front yard with both hands, and asked if he could help. He was wearing one of those orange, reflective vests, even though it was the middle of the afternoon. "I can help you with los weed-ays," he said, tearing one from the ground with one bare hand. "I strong. I fast. I can help you!" He pointed to me emphatically, then to the wagon he had tied to the back of his bicycle, which was full of rakes, shovels, picks, and other tools stuffed into a plastic trash can and tied down with rope.

Miguel wasn't the first person to stop by looking for work. The meth addicts and the crackheads (my neighbors) have all wanted a piece of the action since the beginning. But Miguel, I could tell, was different. He didn't gasp for air or struggle to look me in the eye. His eyes weren't bloodshot, nor did they bug out of his head like fried oysters, wet and crusty. He looked clean, and had all of his teeth, except for one, which had been replaced by a square of gold. He was off of his bike, pulling weed-ays from the ground like a machine, whipping them out by the roots. "I can do los weed-ays?" he asked. "Very good work for you!" I told him that I was sure he was a good worker, but that I couldn't afford to pay someone to weed my yard; I could do that myself. (I confess, however, that I've learned I'm much more inclined to pay someone to do something I don't particularly care to do. When it comes to fixing up the house, I'm into outsourcing. If I had the cash, this place would be done. Sure, I claim to be a do-it-yourselfer. But, really, I much prefer to be a pay-you-to-do-it-er. So much easier that way! It's like running a little corporation.)

I told Miguel I wouldn't pay him for the weeds, but that he could put up the wooden fence I'd bought months ago. Could he do that? Miguel did the fence and the weed-ays, cleaned my hideous backyard (littered with a decade's worth of dog shit, plastic action figures, crushed beer cans, and soggy cigarettes), and has been continually happy throughout. "Look, look!" he tells me, waving me over to show off his work. He takes the plastic level from his pocket, which is probably no longer than a foot, and holds it to the fence at every angle. "Look! It's level! I do good work for you! I work very, very fast." And it's true. I tell Miguel, in my broken Spanish (he, in turn, speaks to me in broken English), that he did a buen trabajo, muy rapido, y tienes mucho cuidado. "Siiiiiii," he groans, nodding his head. "Very good. Very careful. Good work for you!" I tell him that I am muy feliz, por que no puedo see the crackheads across the street any longer, now that the fence is up. "They used to stare at me whenever I washed the dishes," I told him. "They could see right through the kitchen window." I give Miguel the thumbs up, and a muchas gracias for his buen trabajo. "No more drogas," I tell him, and he winks. I've already pointed out most of my neighborhood drug dealers to Miguel, just so he's privy. They're always asking me for work, and, after hiring one of them months ago (when I'd first bought the house and didn't have any wits), I know their game. I don't even want them looking at my house, never mind welcome them onto my property and give them work. Miguel understands. "Ay, siii! I see them, ah, smoking the pipe! Pipe over there on the ground." He points to the neighbors driveway. "Si," I say. "Como se dice, ah, how do you say, smoking crack?" Miguel opens his mouth in shock. "Smoke-ah the crack?" He shakes his head. "Noooo." He clucks his tongue, tsk, tsk, and says, "Ah, that is horr-eeb-lay!" I agree, and Miguel goes back to busting the hideous concrete wall around my front yard.

Miguel noticed three Elm trees on the side of my house, where I've been keeping Pip, the ever-pooping puppy, that need to be cut down -- stat. They'd already grown into the roof when I bought the house, shoving their way through the gutter and to the sky, and the inspector told me that I should have them cut immediately. Likewise, Miguel warned that the roots would grow beneath my house, strangling pipes and bursting them with wrestling-strength grip. I agreed to pay Miguel extra to cut down the trees to prevent total disaster (they're growing right outside of my bathroom), and he proceeded to look for help to do it. It's a serious job, as the trees are big, and growing over my and my neighbor's houses. Disaster, although not imminent, isn't easily avoided: shattered windows, broken fences, dinged stucco, dead dogs... If one branch makes one false move, it could all be over.

Miguel interviewed a few people for the job, including the ice cream man who pushes his cart up and down the block, ringing a bell and screaming, "heladoooooooos!" at the top of his lungs. Everyone was asking too much ($600 to $3,000, to all of which Miguel said, "riduculo!"), except for the crackhead junkie who agreed to do it for $200. He and his woman knocked on my door the day prior, asking me if I wanted to buy paint that they'd clearly stolen from somewhere else. I told them I had plenty, before slamming the door. These are not neighbors you want to befriend. Actually, they're homeless, but their primary dealer lives in the house behind me (with his fucking mother, who walks to church every Sunday and offers a dainty wave as she strolls by, arm-in-arm with her elderly boyfriend). Miguel didn't ask me before he hooked up the deal, and although I was upset that he'd selected a strung-out crackhead and his whore (seriously) for help, I figured things would be cool. Miguel is a good guy and, as I understood it, they'd be helping him -- not doing the work themselves.

When I left that night for dinner with a friend, Miguel rushed over to the car with a last-minute thought: "No pay them," he said, pointing to me. "No give them money, you. I give them money. Okay?" I told him I wouldn't, that I understood their arrangement. After a lovely dinner, I returned home in darkness to find four crackheads in my yard: the two guys manning a chainsaw and spotlight, while their bitches smoked joints in my front yard. The dog wasn't even barking. What the fuck was going on?!

"Oh, hiii," the ladies said, as if we were old friends, as if I was about to invite them in for a frikkin' nightcap. The guy beckoned me over to the side yard to show me the trees. "See? No damage! No damage!" he practically screamed, pointing to the trees (which weren't completely cut down -- not even close). In the darkness, I heard another man beside me. It was my drug dealer neighbor, with a chainsaw in his hand. Suddenly, I was sandwiched between two crackhead, in the dark, and one of them was holding a chainsaw. This is not a situation I hoped to be in, ever, and especially after leaving NYC. It was like a wetta sandwich, on two slickes of crackhead. (Sounds delicious.) I couldn't see shit in the dark, so whether or not there was any damage, I couldn't tell. It was already after nine, and I told them they'd have to leave by nine thirty. "It'll only take five minutes," they said. "No problem."

My brother, who's been staying with me (thank god), told me that Roger was helping so he could get a deal that night -- the crackheads would get paid for the job, pay Roger, and get their fix. And to all, a good night. Crackheads, happily ever after. I recalled Miguel's warning not to pay them (which I had no intention of doing -- they're not working for me, but Miguel) and approached the two ladies who had made themselves at home on my front lawn. They were chain-smoking joints and cigarettes (who knows what else) and wearing heavy make-up, despite the summer heat. "I uh, I just want to make sure...I didn't want to interrupt the guys while they'r working, so I thought I'd tell you..." They stared at me, smiling too hard, as I tried to get the words out. They were pretty short, but I bet they were nasty fighters. "I want to make it clear that Miguel is going to pay you, not me. That was the deal, as I understand it." They nodded. "Oh, yeah. Of course," they said. "Sure." My brother had said they'd wanted me to call Miguel -- but he doesn't have a phone. I told them so. "He'll pay you tomorrow," I said. "That's the deal."

I left home for the movies, after I'd tossed them out of the yard at nine thirty, a little shaken up, but thinking they'd return in the morning, as promised. My brother called, not twenty minutes after I'd left, to report that they were back, begging for money, screeching for pity on my front porch. I asked him if I should call the cops, but he said he had it under control. Rex was being a big pussy, meanwhile. My brother called again later in the night (twice, I think?), saying they were back, begging, looking for me. He said I should stay away for the night. I was FUMING! The third time, I called the cops, who sent three squad cars (according to bro), and, if nothing else, the homeless, beggar crackheads noticed and left us alone for the night -- until this morning. They literally just showed up again, and I gave them a sweet piece of hell for disturbing our peace all night. "But we just wanna get paid for the work we did," they whined. I told them it wasn't finished -- not even close -- and that they're working for Miguel, not for me, and to take it up with him.

Seriously, this shit is going to make me want to start smoking crack. I don't want to escape reality, just the clutches of being a wetta in the ghetto. I'm renting/selling stat. I'm always asking myself if this endeavor is worth it's price. Sometimes, it feels too high.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Since my last post, when I was dreaming of hacking off my hair and swinging from jungle vines like some Amazonian Jane, I've switched to fantasizing about moving back East. I've been thinking about this prospect for a few months, but hesitated to divulge b/c I don't want all y'all to get too excited, or make promises I can't keep. I've had a not-so-secret plan all along, though, which is to buy my NYC apt. with the money I make from the sale of my house. So, now the secret is out! Start spreadin' it.

I'm also realizing that I may be more of a renter than an owner. In an apt., I don't have to remember trash day or install a new water heater. I call the super (and, sometimes, the slum lord) and insist he get his reefer-smoking heine to my door, stat. It's simple. Owning a home has all kinds of caveats I'm unaccustomed to -- and that I dislike! Hell, I don't even like to clean. There was some writer...I forget who it was...who said that her house is always messy, and that's what she sacrifices to get her writing done. Amen, sister. I can't even see my desk, for all the dust and debris! I'm so disinclined to clean, in fact, that I actually leave the house to do my writing. (Which, lately, hasn't been working out, due to several unattractive coffee shop stalkers. See? In NYC, everyone minds their own blessed business! Unfriendliness isn't always bad.)

My brother is in town for a few weeks, so I'm trying to milk him for slave labor. He's reluctant, and likes to sleep 'til noon, but I'm persistent about putting the paintbrush in his capable hand. I want to get this place done this summer so that I can get closer to selling, even if that's a year (or more) away. More importantly, I'm intent on fixing it up to decrease the stress of it!

Tomorrow marks the start of summer vacation, but I'm already having nightmares about teaching next year. (Crazy? You fucking betcha. AK, I know, I know. I give you full permission to sock me across the noggin, right where it hurts. Knock some sense into me!) But the line-up sounds kinda fun: I'll be teaching TV production (about which I know absolutely nothing), speech and debate/mock trial, and newspaper/journalism. I'll still have duties as an evil administrator (split part-time w/ part-time teaching...which probably equals overtime), which I'm dreading. How did I get from the dark side to the even darker? (Wool! Over my eyes!)

In the meantime, before the madness begins, I'm making a concerted effort to enjoy my two months of sweet summa-time. I can't wait to drink beer and bbq veg-style in the backyard, once I've cordoned it off from the crackheads! When I do, you're all invited to the party. (And, yes, I must post pics!)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Life with the Yetis

I’m entertaining fantasies of chopping off my hair and living in a yurt, somewhere in the forest. No credit cards, no mortgage, no checkbook, no paper work, no driving, no crackhead neighbors. Just me and the dogs and the trees.

I hate my fucking job.


Friday, April 13, 2007

C'mon, you know you missed me.

It’s four o’clock in the morning and my mind is restless, but all my body wants to do is curl into the sheets and go back to sleep. Rex is hogging most of the bed. Pip is snoring. Just thought of going down the street to the all-night diner for some green chile-smothered eggs; sitting with the sketch-balls who frequent the place, which looks like it’s straight out of a smoke-filled 1960’s flick starring blonde waitresses donning bouffant hair-dos, long cigarettes dripping from their mouths into the food.

I’ve been on hiatus for too long. But I’ve got serious excuses. Before I get to those, I’ll tell you what happened last night.

I was on my way out, getting into my car, when one of the most prominent drug dealers in the neighborhood (the one who’s always wearing a track suit that looks like my grandma’s pajamas) approached.
“Hey, girl,” he said, crossing the street towards me with a beer. “Whatchoo doin? Where you goin’ this late?”
“Nowhere,” I said. “Just to pick something up, then I’m coming right back.” Translation: not enough time for you to break into my house.
“Whatchoo doin’ with that there window?” he pointed to the nine-foot slider I have propped against the fence. I shrugged.
“Not sure yet,” I told him.
“What kinda music you listen to?” I knew then that this exchange was headed in a very bad direction.
“Um, a little bit of everything, I guess.” It’s best to be non-specific, I think, when you want to show disinterest.
“Damn right!” he said, taking a swig of his beer. “I walked by yo’ house one day and you was listenin’ to rap! Damn, girl, I was trippin’!”
I told him I was from Brooklyn…which is sort of true. Kind of.
“Is that guy you who comes ‘round here, is he yo’ man?” He meant the contractor, who I banished from the house about a month ago (story to follow).
“What guy?” I asked.
“That dude. With that big black dog? He always gettin’ dropped off by some fat chick?”
“No,” I said. “He’s not.”
“So you ever dated a black man before?”
“Several,” I said.
“You like it?” As in, do you like big, black cock, little white girl?
“They were nice men,” I said, getting the shivers. The truth is, they weren’t very nice men; their character wasn’t as firm as their members. Here, the drug dealer proceeded to drape his six-foot-four body, reeking of Tecate, over mine, and whisper,
“You’s a very fine female, you know.”
Um, thanks? “You’s gots a man?” I almost told him I was a lesbian, but I didn’t want to cause undue excitement. So, I lied and said, yes, I do. And he has a gun and a dog and has killed a man with his bare hands in my honor. So, pretty please, go back to your boys and your beer. Don’t get your ‘do rag in a twist.

So, what’s happened? Where have I been? Why did I banish the contractor? I’ll try to make this saga short.

I’d been feeling frustrated by the contractor for a long time. I felt as though he wasn’t doing shit around my house – at least, no more than making idle messes and leaving them for me to pick up. He’d start something, but never finish it. There were semi-demolished structures throughout the house, which I worried jeopardized the building’s integrity and put me at risk for a citation by the health dept. I worried the house would be condemned if the wrong person were to find out I was living in it. I felt like I was being taken advantage of, and that my concerns, which I voiced very reasonably (time after time), were falling on deaf (and possibly retarded…definitely very stoned) ears. When I’d raise a concern, he’d condescend to me like I was a stupid girl-child who didn’t know shit about construction. And maybe I don’t, but I do have common sense. The guy was a serious stoner, which I didn’t have a major issue with, except for the fact that we live a mere block away from an elementary school. It’s not the kind of neighborhood where anyone’s likely to get busted for pot, but it was still a liability. Moreover, he was clumsy and disrespectful, and constantly complaining. Totatlly irresponsible (i.e. setting off the alarm and sending the cops to my house; losing his keys on a daily basis; leaving his enormous, aggressive dog alone in his room w/o food or water for days at a time; asking me to baby sit his nieces when he’d already agreed to do it; dumping refuse from another job in my yard; breaking shit all the time…)

Worse, he had my future planned for the next ten to twenty years: we were going to go into business together, fix up houses, and get rich. Now, that idea’s all well and good, except for a few key points: 1) He has nothing to bring to the business (his work is sloppy, he’s unmotivated, and totally broke), and 2) I didn’t move here to become a real estate mogul or strike it rich. I came here to write and live simply. To be happy. That’s all. His incessant jive about “when we do our next house,” and on and on, set my jaw off-kilter and stirred panic in my chest. He made me feel claustrophobic.

During what may have been one of the hardest weeks of my life (esp. work-wise), and while I was sick (suffering bronchitis, which morphed into pneumonia), the contractor’s dog nearly killed Rex. He’d left the dog in his bedroom (sans sustenance, of course) for about three days. I’d been taking care of it, as always: I fed the dog (with MY dog food, because he never bought any and would just use mine when and if he did feed the dog), let it outside, and gave it water and affection. The dog had been really aggressive with Rex in the past, and had attacked him on several occasions. I’d told the contractor that this couldn’t happen any more – that the next time, something awful could happen. And it did.

My neighbors, three Mexican men and the nice guy from next door, had to beat the dog off of Rex with a shovel. Trying to break up a dog fight – two snarling, biting, growling beasts trying to kill one another with their gleaming teeth and hundred-pound bodies – is a terrifying thing. Before the guys came running (and thank GOD they did), I was screaming like a wretch and trying to kick the dogs apart with my foot (as I’d seen the contractor do previously, after he’d encouraged the dogs to fight by giving all of his attention to Rex…the idiot). His dog didn’t suffer a scratch. Rex, however, could barely walk. The contractor came home for no more than a minute to pick something up (and steal some of my tools) and told me I was making a big deal out of nothing (meanwhile, Rex unable to move, bleeding profusely from multiple puncture wounds, clearly in very, very bad shape…and me, with a painful puncture wound on my ankle, from where his dog had bitten me…I was in bad pain from just one bite, and couldn’t imagine how much pain Rex was feeling). The fucking asshole took off and disappeared for three days. I tried calling him, but to no avail.

Rex’s vet bill cost over $600. My medical care was expensive, too, and both of us were on serious drugs for a few weeks. That weekend, I got pneumonia. I lost my voice. Fever of 102. Neither one of us could walk. At the hospital, I had to report the bite. At the vet, I had to report the attack. The dog, I’m sure, doesn’t have its rabies vacc, nor is it neutered or licensed (all against the law). For the contractor, this spells deep doggie doo-doo.

The contractor remained MIA. I didn’t see or hear from him for five days.

I deliberated: was this situation working out? No. Was it more trouble than it was worth? Absolutely. On the unanimous advice of numerous friends, I threw the bastard out. I put all of his shit in the yard and called his mom, because I knew where she worked, and she was the only one I could get a hold of. The contractor stole expensive tools from me. I cursed him out on the phone, letting loose my inner banshee. I don’t remember the last time I screamed like that. Maybe since I was a girl.

The guy is seriously delusional. He lives in a world where everything’s all right, all the time. He’s the kind of guy who gets a bill and shrugs, throws it in the fire and sparks up a joint. (In retrospect, I wonder now if he was schizo. Seriously.) I don’t know who was more dangerous, the guy or his dog.

More drama: While I was bed-ridden with pneumonia, there were constant visits to the house by gruff police officers, looking for the contractor and his dog. One of them threatened me, and accused me of covering for the guy. I told him, as politely as possible with my squeaky pneumonia voice, that if he didn’t rescind his threat and apologize, that he could get the fuck off of my porch. The next police officer was ever the gentleman. He took a picture of the puncture wound on my obscenely hairy leg, and despite the fact that I looked like a white trash wretch out of COPS, called several times to check up on me – and asked me out. I was so caught off guard, I actually agreed. Me? And a COP? Suffice it to say, my intuition, as ever, was dead-on: like most of the police officers I’ve ever met (and, mind you, I’m always on the straight-and-narrow), he was a total, absolute jackass. Skeeve. Major, major skeeve. Now, he’s stalking me. I’ve seen him drive by my house a bunch of times, despite his telling me, over drinks, that he’s “never in the neighborhood” I live in. He tried to impress me with his megabucks, which he makes investing in real estate. “I’m not just a dogcatcher, baby,” he said. And he actually fucking winked. I had to stifle the urge to run. No, I should have said. But you ARE a TOTAL dickhead.

I found a new contractor right away, who I’m paying hourly (more than twice the money I make) and who doesn’t live in my house (amen!). He loves to bitch and moan, and he’s definitely an odd duck, but he does good work, and I kinda like the guy for his quirks. Most people, I’m guessing, wouldn’t put up with his oddities, but his work is so meticulous – and I really don’t mind. He’s always complaining about shit that the old contractor did sloppily. So, it wasn’t just my ignorant suspicion: the guy was a hack. He made more work, and cost me more money, than hiring someone would have. At least, if I had, things would have gotten done.

Finally, my house is REALLY coming together. The new front door and all of the windows are installed. Most are trimmed in that beautiful poplar. My cabinets arrived just a few hours ago: 37 different pieces for me to assemble. I have all new kitchen appliances; just using the ‘fridge for now. More drywall up, and hired another stoner (ugh, so many out here) to fix the stucco on the outside of the house. I promise to post pictures very soon. The house is actually beginning to look pretty cute. I’ve got flowers in the front yard, a Chinese lantern on the porch, and bushes with purple blossoms flowering like mad. Lilacs, I think, and the scent wafts into the house with the breeze.

Still don’t know what I’m going to do with this place, or what I’m going to do once the summer’s up. Trying not to get too far ahead of myself with plans, but my intention over the summer is to finish the book, for chrissake, and test my full-time freelancing career, which I hope to kick-off SOON. Like, as in, next school year. This is me: Also, scored another assignment for the women’s glossy (hooray!), as my editor was pleased with my last assignment. More of my stuff for the local rag I love so much at

The drama has a happy ending: I got a great reason to kick the contractor to the curb, which I’d been lusting to do, and Rex and I are both breathing and walking and sturdy again. At last, the house is shaping up. It’s also made me ask a big question of myself: is it worth it? As for this house, I don’t know yet. It’s all a great, big gamble.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

photo extravaganzaaaaaaaah!

addendum to scoring

Scoring Crack in Iraq

Just as I began to twitch with worry, my application for a fixed, super-low rate home equity loan was approved. I celebrated with a swig of cheap, Mexican beer and fell promptly asleep. All that’s left to do is sign on the dotted line. The bank didn’t even do an appraisal! I’m psyched. Now I can stop fretting and, finally, buy a new ‘fridge. The old one is freezing my veggies, and that’s where I draw the line. I love me some veggies, damnit.

I was hesitant to follow through with the loan application, because I’m frightened by the prospect of paying so much interest – almost as much money as I’m borrowing. But, the truth is, I won’t need twenty years to pay it off (and I made certain there’s no penalty for early payment). If I make a decent profit on this place, it won’t be an issue. I consulted my dad, a money mastermind, for advice, and he said that homeowner’s debt is “good” debt, and that I should go ahead. Getting approval from the man who wouldn’t let us order drinks with our dinners out (tap water for everyone, waiter!) because it was “too expensive” is very assuring.

Neighborhood activity has been stirring with the warmth of spring. In winter, the crackheads hibernate like grizzly bears. Or like vampires, hiding from the light. On warmer nights, they’re out in packs, pulling up to dealers’ houses, blaring horns and Spanish pop music, and, sometimes, dancing in their front yards.

My favorite crackhead, L., who is also the tiniest, most toothless woman I’ve ever known, gave me news that she’s leaving the ‘hood for “something better”: Iraq.

Something better? I kept my thoughts to myself, gave her a hug, and wished her well. She said she’d send postcards. This woman is, like, fifty-something years old – and a bipolar crackhead. She just got out of the psych ward after being picked up at home in an ambulance and locked up in a rubber room. And our country’s sending her to WAR?! WTF?! Wrong on so many levels. Later, I wondered, ‘How’s she going to score crack in Iraq?’ I wonder if she’s worried, too. (Scary: she was EXCITED; can’t wait to go.)

Here’s an old post that I started writing, but never published:

I woke this morning (late, after a debaucherous evening of sledging, beer, and some herbal remedies) to discover that the contractor had demolished that horrible wall between the kitchen and the laundry/back entry room. It looks SO much better – no longer like it’s home to hobbits who use 4-foot high doorways and have the shoulder span of Ooompa Loompas. Now, it’s big and open and modern (but with those old-school charms intact). Also, got my windows delivered for a deal price (they look sweet, but still have to install ‘em). More drywall up in the kitchen. Finally bought a shop-vac to suck up the dust. So much better!

I went to town wielding the contractor’s nail gun…and I’m starting to dig firearms! In this neighborhood, I figure it won’t hurt if people think I’m armed.

Photos (descriptions in no particular order):

Late-night construction, w/ beer in-hand. (Perfect combo: booze and power tools. When else do I get to drink on the job?)

A newspaper clipping (photo of bride) we found behind some old trim. In kitchen, discovered 1961 Beatles trading card…which we later discovered is absolutely worthless.

In kitchen/dining rooms: See the walls we knocked out? And the old exterior wood? Yeah, my house had a wood exterior, back in the day. Screw the stucco! (I hate stucco!)

A few photos of me w/ the sledgehammer…and the nail gun. I confess: power tools make me feel, well, powerful! (Idea: maybe I could make a calendar of these photos, “Powertool Princess 2008?” And make some bank to pay off the loan?! But, I am NOT wearing a bikini.)

Also, the saving grace: our shop vac!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Two seconds later...

...I found an apprentice to work with my contractor. Kickass!

Bitch Sesh

I admit to feeling anxiety over all of this remodeling. Living in a construction zone is really starting to get under my skin -- but ony because we have an agreed-upon deadline, and because the contractor is ever-optimistic about finishing, but doesn't actually finish. (A classic contractor tale, no?) I know it will get done eventually, but what's really driving me nuts is that I don't have a kitchen. Everything's still hooked up, but I'm truly sick of preparing my food amidst such squalor. And meeting that March first deadline? Show me a miracle. I guess I'm also frustrated b/c there's so little of this stuff that I can do on my own. It's not that I wouldn't -- I can't. It's physically impossible, or I don't know how. I know I have to either let go my frustration or hire someone to help (I'm looking). Moreover, I hate feeling so whiny. The good news is that my house is worth almost $160K now. Schweeeet!


Bullet holes through the stop sign on the corner, at sunset (see the loft in the background! making progress); dark view into my very messy office/desk; nearby church; Rex at park w/ a crazy look in his eye; painting the lv. room...which is STILL not finished, for f's sake.