Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Madwoman of Chaillot

So far I've only cried twice. Okay, I also choked up a little when my washing machine hose sprang a leak, but I hadn't had any coffee yet and it all just seemed like a little too much.

Once upon a time—say, a week plus one day ago—I had things down to a science: painting would be finished by Monday, kitchen floor installed Tuesday, new carpet a week later, furniture arranged in pleasing configurations, meet with the realtors and get out of Dodge for Thanksgiving.


The carnival began last week, when my sainted brother-in-law and nephew arrived from Marin County to paint the place. Bob is a singing Irishman—he sings when he wakes up, he sings when he drives off at 7 in the morning to a painting job, he sings through the day, he sings before dinner, he sings as he goes to bed.

But the song died in his throat and his smile froze in place as he took in the water-stained vaulted cottage-cheese ceilings, the still-overcrowded bookshelves, and the godawful decorative remnants left from the previous owners: fringe glued on to every single shelf edge; metallic gold wrapping paper encircling every closet rod; warped plastic shelf liners. Incredibly, these things had seemed sort of amusingly kitsch to me when I moved in, so I left them alone and forgot about them. Ten years later, it was like waking up in the middle of a nightmare.

As Bob and Terry started prepping the rooms, I ran around documenting the traces that were about to disappear under a new layer of Swiss Coffee-colored paint. The measurements on the doorframe...

...the wall in The Child's room.

I created arrangements of The Child's things and e-mailed the pictures to her at college, asking, "Keep or toss?"


My beloved and I worked maniacally to box things up, schlepping stuff from room to room to try and stay ahead of the painting wave. The cat was not pleased by this turn of events.

Meanwhile, I fielded dozens of Craigslist e-mails from people coveting my solid pine desk hutch, my sweet antique-ish dresser, my papa-san chair. A trail of young people who'd just moved to L.A. from Virginia and Texas and Long Island trooped in and out of the clutter, bearing off my possessions.

In the midst of the chaos, my three angelic sisters brought over a generous picnic lunch that we ate all together on the sundeck, along with Lucy the pug, who enjoyed her munches in the shade of a Monet umbrella:

When everyone left that day, it was time for my first meltdown. Amid the paint cans, the ladders, the draped furniture and the constantly migrating cat-food bowl, my beloved—who four months ago had neck surgery and has been trying to go easy on his back—expressed his anger.

He'd been trying to tell me for months that we weren't doing enough to prepare for this moment, and found himself beyond frustrated by the chaotic condition of things in the house. Plus his arm was aching from all the lifting and from a sudden wrench while removing a heavy wooden CD rack from the wall. And the worst thing: He felt his opinion didn't matter to me at all.

I reacted with typical Hepburnesque flair: I sobbed snottily, lurching from room to room in search of the Kleenex box that I'd packed in the back closet.

He was right, and I felt horrible. I'd been trying to continue living a normal life, taking a box to the Goodwill here and there as a token gesture of packing up, while dismissing his warnings as overly dour and pessimistic. I wanted to show him I was true to my word—that we'd be out of L.A. by the end of the year—but I wasn't working with him as a partner in the moving process. It was a ridiculous, self-defeating exercise, and it crashed on me that night.

Somehow we talked it out, I relinquished some control, we got rid of more stuff, the painting was nearly finished, and we began to see the outlines of a pared-down, organized new home. The fog started to lift.

Then my downstairs neighbor showed up at our front door on Saturday morning and announced that water was dripping on his head from his kitchen ceiling.

The next few days were like a Keystone Kops movie—by way of Fellini.

Monday: 8 plumbers, 3 painters, 10 hours in a single kitchen. Dishwasher removed. Holes gouged in walls. Leak determined to be coming from the drain line.

Tuesday: 2 different plumbers, 5 hours. Drain line replaced. Dripping continues. Leak determined to be coming from the risers. Risers to be replaced tomorrow. Dishwasher sits in middle of dining room. Wash dishes in bathroom sink. Watch pool of water spread across bathroom floor, from newly sprung leak in drain pipe under bathroom sink. Susan has quiet weep over realization that there's no such thing as home anymore.

Wednesday a.m.: Put load of laundry in washing machine. Turn on washing machine. Water spews from water valve.

Wednesday p.m.: Lone plumber arrives with single screwdriver. Announces he's there to remove wood siding then go away. Susan turns into screaming banshee (Susan is never a screaming banshee). No risers replaced. No use of kitchen sink.

Wednesday p.m. postscript: Plumber with screwdriver fixes leaks in bathroom sink and in washing machine faucet. Susan regrets neurotic screaming banshee behavior.

Thursday: 2 plumbers, 13 1/2 hours. Shiny new copper risers in place. Delivering clear, rust-free water to kitchen faucet for first time in 10 years.

Friday: Dishwasher sits in middle of dining room. The carnival continues.


Karen said...

Oh, you poor, dear girl. (Wouldn't Hepburn have said something like that?) Me, I say there isn't enough vodka in the world for what you just went through. As a veteran of more than my own share of appliance calamities, you have my sympathies, and then some.

So Lovely said...

I know it must be an absolute nightmare for you - I cannot stand moving. You will get to the point in a couple of days when you are just pushing a box around with your foot and dumping anything you see in it - no rhyme or reason.
But when you're on your last nerve just have a look at the last photo you posted again - that made me laugh! xxx

Susan Champlin said...

Thank you, Karen and So Lovely, for your empathy—which helps, tremendously. Things are definitely starting to look up, fortunately. No meltdowns in days...whoops, I shouldn't say that out loud.

Michele Hush said...

Nothing is easy about moving. (I guess that's why my mother used to throw 75% of everything away.) I think Kate would speak of soldiering on, but she would offer no meaningless talk about brighter days ahead. Hang in there.

Tina Cockburn said...

Holy crap, dear Sue. Just when I thought your hell couldn't sound any more hellish, it up and did. Not enough vodka is so totally spot on.

I hope enough leak-free days have passed since.

Miss you!