In honor of the 20th anniversary of our acquiring the CrazyStable, I will attempt some past-life regression therapy...back into the wild, strange time just after the place became "ours." Spouse claims to remember little of this harrowing interval. My memories seem lit by lightning--surreal, ghastly, and disjointed. I took shockingly few pictures, not even documentary shots of each room, just haphazard snaps between unfolding crises. It felt like the "fog of war." And with my dad recently deceased, it was just the two of us--no friends or family who were handy, or renovation-seasoned, to guide our steps. We were 29...but felt older (having inherited my widowed mother), and yet also much younger, like orphaned kids, running around a haunted house with a toolkit.
Although Chang had been forced, on pain of escrow, to clear the junk out of the house by closing day, we soon discovered how much he had managed to "overlook." Several 20-foot dumpsters-worth, actually. The back yard was a forest of head-high ragweed. We started pulling it up--in September, during the worst "hay fever" season I've ever had. Gloved, masked, and sneezing convulsively, I labored alongside Spouse as we discovered What Lay Beneath the Ragweed:
One chopped-up tree, too rotted for firewood. One demolished small building, including crumbled roof tiles and insulation. Lots of random other nasties. And, in a pile by the garage, 200 assorted glass bottles, and many more broken ones.
As we made our umpteenth trip to the dumpster in the driveway, beneath a baking sun, our next-door neighbor, Mr. Dominique, appeared alongside us. His house was as rambling and almost as raggedy as ours; but Dominique, the paterfamilias of a multigenerational Haitian-American household, never gave up his efforts to subdue the place. We would see him wandering around, hefting a tool contemplatively, and be reminded of Mark Twain's saying: "To a man with a hammer in his hand, everything looks like a nail." When we weakly protested at his generosity, he hoisted another bagful of crap and said, kindly but firmly, "You will never do this all by yourselves." Together, we worked for the rest of the afternoon. (He had, of course, been right.)
And then there was the garage. Why hadn't we thought to look during the walk-through? When we finally yanked up the door, we were appalled to find it stuffed tight with...more Chang crap. A whole 'nother dumpsterload full. Since we weren't planning on putting the car in there (if only because the door required a hernia-producing maneuver to lift open), Spouse suggested just leaving it for awhile, but I was adamant. All crap must be purged. And so, more trips down the driveway. (We learned to pack a wicked dumpster. You put the big stuff on the bottom, and wedge the little stuff and big flat stuff in around it, and pour the pourable detritus on top of that to settle in. )
Fueled by stories of brownstone renovators who'd found their original crown moldings or mantlepieces gathering dust in the basement, we never lost hope that something cool might emerge from the endless stream of rubbish. And there it was: a steamer trunk! An old, ghost-story-worthy steamer trunk, with a few yellowed labels attached! Visions of mysterious bundled letters, or tarnished antique bric-a-brac, or God knows what, flashed through our minds. We ripped the hasp off and lifted the lid. The trunk was full...of Chinese menus. Recent ones. The take-out kind. From all over the country, perhaps all 50 states. Do you have any idea how many different ways there are to spell "General Tso's Chicken"?
(Several astute CrazyStable fans have brought it to my attention that "our" episode of Law & Order was repeated again last week--the one where they set a stunt man on fire in our garage. Yes, we caught it--and yes, the garage facade that NBC's location crew put in place like "Extreme Home Makeover: Pyromaniac Edition" is still standing, and still an improvement over the original, even though it was meant to be the workshop of a mad bomber.)
Jesse L. Martin takes aim at our garage interior, September 2005