the moving chronicles, part 2: home disrepair

I moved back home — and for the past eighteen years, Philadelphia really has been home — a little more than 12 weeks ago. With me came a small percentage of my book collection, boxes of data (artifacts, drawings, CDs, DVDs, transcripts that have been hand coded, and more), and an inordinate amount of clothing and accessories. Apparently, despite hours, days, and weeks of purging, what appears to me to be an excessive amount of items still exists. And thus the purging continues, transformed now into paring and making decisions driven not by sentimentality — aw, remember when so-and-so who I haven’t talked to in years gave me this? — but instead by an adherence to practicality and minimalism: does it fit (in this house, on my person, within this newly cultivated sense of being?) and if not, out it goes. Brutal, yes. Necessary, oh yes.

In the 3 month period since journeying home, I have also been traveling or otherwise away from home for a little over half of that time. While this schedule certainly fulfills the wanderlust inclinations with which I began this sabbatical adventure, Purging and Decluttering have sat and waited patiently for me to return my attention them. “We thought we were making some progress,” they imply with longing as I walk into my bedroom and see the still-unpacked green suitcase. “Don’t forget about us,” they implore; “If you ignore us, it’ll only get worse,” they threaten.

In the midst of this indoor dust settling and unsettling, the outside of our house has begun to whine in the only ways it knows how: leaky windows, a rusted through gutter seam, and paint that bubbles and peels down the front of the house like crocodile tears. More than a decade of little things has grown into a laundry list of Todos — that reminds me: clean laundry area.

Today the painters have come to resolve at least one of these issues. And I type these thoughts on my laptop in my living room, I am unable to enjoy any repose that may come with lounging on a sofa as unyielding tensions has settled into my shoulders in response to the scraping, Scraping, SCRAPING of paint just outside. The hairs on my neck are at attention, unaware as to how exactly to react as the cacophonous rhythm of metal against stucco is infused with intermittent comments made by the three men working on this relatively small job, that do little to assuage an already-nervous homeowner’s nerves:

  • “We’re gonna have a problem with that.”
  • “Just use a crowbar and hammer.”
  • “I have no idea — just see what you can do with that.”

To provide a small amount of context, allow me to describe this house which is called a trinity. According to the Philadelphia Rowhouse Manual, there are only a relative handful  in a few neighborhoods in Philadelphia and we live in section of town that is bestowed with the less than useful designation of being included in the historic register. Built in the 1870s, this is one of twelve trinities in this block of homes and I had to explain this a few times to various people on the phone who wanted to know which of the exterior walls I wanted to painted or which windows I needed replaced. There is only one exterior wall and no, we don’t have an outdoor water supply. A trinity, in brief, is a home with three floors above ground that are built in as one room stacked on top of one another, all connected by a spiral staircase in one corner of the house. In most, the basement is where the kitchen is located. These elements — multiple floors, spiral stairs, working fireplace — were romantic to the kids who bought this place eleven years ago. The adults who inhabit the structure now are wondering where that youthful enthusiasm and fearless went…!

The comedy of the situation is begging to be realized, but at the moment I am near-paralyzed as ladders, dropcloths, hoses, and sandpaper consume the entirety of the narrow walkway space between our house and the brick wall that separates us from the courtyard and parking area of the houses across from us. We have become the people blocking the walkway, another designation I’d rather live without.

“Are you gonna be here all day?” Mike the painter asked me earlier today without the usual rise in voice that accompanies a question and more akin to an instruction a teacher gives her class. I nodded, but he already knew that I was going nowhere. The clouds that make up the overcast skies seem to be standing still, as if to taunt while taking in the humorous scene unfolding below: gal on sabbatical held hostage inside the very home she is trying to rejuvenate, while it torments her with noises that she must sit through in order for the disrepair to lift. The paint color? I think I just agreed to a muted blue. Paralysis.

Oh daytime TV, you may be my only solace. Thank goodness for Ugly Betty repeats…

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