Friday, February 20, 2009

Fark This Old House

Our neighborhood is the kind where parents don't make playdates by phone--the kids just go up and knock on the door and ask if little so-and-so can come out to play. When they play, it's often in the street, and that's okay, because cars barely come by. And when they do they almost sail down the street, slowly, as if the great houses are white cliffs and the wind coming down from their eaves pushes the cars, imperceptibly, into a leisurely crawl. Windows roll down and everything goes into slow motion; the kids playing ball shift aside up upon the grassy lawns and wait. Spinnakers, deploy! Everything goes silent for a small moment.

The car sails by, and they all rush into motion again, bikes careening over the old bluestone slates.

If location is everything, then we are at the apex. Seven minutes walk to the train. Eight to town. Fifteen to the beach. Big space on a big block wide enough for the sky.

Our yard is big enough for a chicken coop, a nice tuft of fruits and veggies, and a goat. It might even sustain a cow and a couple of heirloom hogs. (The gun turret to shoot the foreclosure agents will go on the roof.)

But make no mistake: Our house is a real dump. Once, we imagine, it had charm. Built in the 1890s, it still deigns to call itself a Victorian. When I saw the hideous listing pictures, I fairly salivated at what treasures would lie beneath the vile, wall-to-wall shag carpet (putrid green) and the 1970s wood paneling. What beauties might hide behind the "Yellow Wallpaper"-style paneling in the master bedroom--the paneling riddled with weird fungi and creepy gnomelike faces (squinting and mad fevers not required)? Other people--those with no imagination--would not see the potential that WE saw.

Make no mistake, once again. There is nothing original in our house, at least not on the first floor. In the 60s, someone decided that she liked "modern stuff" and away went the crown moldings, original stairs, banister, doors, windows, and whatever else stank of the old days. Up went NU ECONO BRIK on the walls of the kitchen. (If I could catch her I would wring her size 4 neck. I have her dresses, left behind here, so I know she was about a size 4, the lil' harpy.)

Almost every night, though, we puzzle over the mysteries of the house. For every question, there is no answer. "Why would the front door be here?" "Why are there no doors on the master bedroom?" "Why is there no access from the front bedroom to the upstairs bathroom?" "What did the old granny who lived in the attic use to poop into?"

For a few weeks, we carried a prising tool with us so that we could tear up paneling whenever the mood struck us. One night, I goaded my husband into kicking a massive hole into the crawlspace under the front stairs. C.H.U.D. now lives down there, but it was worth the price of admission.

Ah, I am wrong about the lack of original features! There is lead paint in the joint. It's fairly lousy with lead paint. Missing doorknobs, spiders, les mouches, green mold, canted drainspouts, chipped paint, slumped porch.

And yet...there is that lawn. There will be fruit there, and fine fat veggies. There will be soccer games on the lawn, and mud pies, and exploration. We will always find animal tracks in the snow in winter, and in the spring we will start to smell the ocean. In late summer the cricket's hum will begin again, insistent, rising and falling, and we will hear the fountain flow into the neighbor's fishpond. For whatever fool's errand brought us here, it's ours.