Friday, February 29, 2008

 

Not the best picture, but a late afternoon shot of the kitchen cabinets now in place. Knobs and handles to come this weekend. The base for the big soapstone sink is at the left. The light from the right is coming in from the great room.

*******

The “It never rains but it pours” department (which is not about the weather here currently—that’s the “It never snows 4 to 6 inches but it snows another four to six inches within 48 hours department):

My Jeep is laid up in my mechanic’s shop for the nonce (which used to mean “for the time being”—see the online urban dictionary for the current disreputable sex definition).

OK, you’re all back from having rushed to the dictionary, right? Good. The one Achilles heel of the Jeeps I’ve owned has been the electrical systems, which have all begun to fail long before anything else on the vehicle. I’m now up to 174,000+ miles; the dashboard had to be pulled out a four years ago and most of the wiring replaced. Then last year, I started having incidents of all the dials dropping suddenly to zero while I was driving. I learned that a good, healthy slap on the top of the dash would get them right back up again.

So, when the battery dial occasionally stayed at zero when I started the engine, I didn’t think too much about it. The next time I started it up, the dial would register perfectly, so I figured everything was OK. Until the Jeep wouldn’t start at all.

Fast forward to my getting it into the mechanic’s (he’s less than a mile away) and his discovery that one cell in the battery was dead and the others weren’t exactly robust. Funny, I said, the battery’s only 3 and a half years old. Then he dug some more and found that the voltage regulator was stone cold dead and that before it died, it’d sent lots of bizarre and contradictory signals to the alternator. By the time I got the Jeep in for service, the alternator was in spasm and on its way out. In the process, it had hit the battery with a barrage of wildly fluctuating voltage surges. Thus, the dead battery.

The voltage regulator couldn’t be an easily replaceable independent part, of course. WAY too simple--it’s part of the onboard computer. Replacement cost: $850. A perfectly acceptable used one can be had for $150-175 but has to be reprogrammed ($100) by the only qualified technician in the area—who’s on vacation this week.

I’m not going to take this any further, because it’s been a long while since I talked myself into a good old-fashioned depression over things and I’m not going there again. I’ll just mention in passing that the ceramic tile guys who were supposed to be back on Tuesday of this week haven’t shown up as of this afternoon. They admit to owning a cell phone, but also to never answering it. The flooring was also supposed to have started Tuesday, delayed from last weekend, but we’re now told they can’t start for twelve more days.

It’s at moments like this that Fritz looks at me firmly and says, “Breathe!”

So, I breathe and realize that a lot of work IS going forward. Virtually all the interior doors are installed and framed. The kitchen cabinets are installed, and other finish carpentry has gone forward successfully. We’ve made some real progress painting and will do more this weekend. We can't wait to get in permanently!

Monday, February 25, 2008

 
My beloved has a new toy. This makes him very happy as he loves toys and games of all kinds. They make up a significant percent of his gift giving, particularly at Christmas, but all throughout the year as well.

This new one was brought in by his office manager. Staples, which uses the Easy Button in it’s advertising, has begun to market them in a form that relates to communities Staples serves. Part of the five dollar price of the buttons goes to support the Boys and Girls Club of America and its activities—up to one million dollars. But there’s also a Limited Edition button—the kind we have—with designs on the side done by children who are members of the Club. Buying the Limited Edition button kicks an additional $100,000 into the Club’s coffers.

All well and good, but what Fritz loves about it is that when you push the easy button, a man’s voice says, “That was easy!” So now, whenever he reaches an agreement with someone in the office, or makes a decision, or says something with even the remotest connection to doing something simply, he pushes the button.

He pushes the button a lot. The novelty hasn’t worn off yet and I’m not above hitting it in retaliation with the hope that we might all get it out of our systems that much faster.

*******

I officially ended physical therapy this morning. I went in for a final session where the mobility of the ankle was tested, my ability to support my entire body by going up on the toes of just my right leg, and holding firmly for five seconds before coming down slowly was tested, and I had to keep the ankle immobile while various amounts of pressure were brought to bear, trying to push it in different directions. I had no trouble going through all of it.

It didn’t hurt that Fritz and I went snow shoeing yesterday. We’ve got some nicely varied terrain on the properties that was a good challenge, including some slopes steep enough that going down sideways is advisable. That meant a lot of small, split second readjustments for the muscles in the foot, ankle and lower calf and was excellent exercise in terms of the therapy (which had included my picking up marbles with my toes, and balancing on one leg on resilient foam rubber pads).

Most importantly, the ankle now feels great and I have regained my stamina in it for long walks, going up and down stairs and ladders, etc.

*******



Now that homophobe and bigot John Howard has been replaced as Australia’s Prime Minister by Kevin Rudd, the government has released an official apology to the continent nation’s Aboriginal citizens for the appalling treatment of them over the centuries. In particular, the practice of taking their children away from them to be raised by white Australian families was acknowledged to have been an outrage, a mistake, and a source of great pain to the Aboriginal population, as well as a severe danger to their culture.

Apparently, an apology in some form or other had been proposed to Howard during his time in office, but he refused to take it any further. Gross mistreatment of Aboriginal people had survived well into the 20th century. Farmers and sheep raisers could, if they found Aboriginals camping anywhere on their vast properties, simply shoot them dead with no danger of prosecution.

1933 saw the very first conviction for the murder of an Aboriginal person, but social progress on the relationship between them and white Australians was a thing of fits and starts for quite some time afterwards. And even today, the social and economic status of Australia's first people remains problematic.

Anyone interested in the complex and fascinating history of Australia, its people, it’s exotic flora and fauna (including fish that change sex more or less at will) would enjoy Bill Bryson’s “In a Sunburned Country.” Bryson is a superb comic writer who passes along huge amounts of hard information and keen observation, served up with a sharp wit and laugh out loud humor.

Friday, February 22, 2008

 
For the last three days, it’s felt like I was back at work painting my scenery at MIT. We’ve been making huge advances on the painting but it’s been exhausting. As it’s all newly primed surfaces, the darker accent colors require two or three coats to cover. And there’s lots and lots of taping to do around the many, many windows and around the ceilings. Still, it’s all coming along. We’re really happy with the colors we’ve picked, particularly one called camel, a golden sand color that looks wonderful with the light pouring in the big south-facing windows.

There’s been one unexpected problem. In one corner of the master bedroom is a concrete pier. On the inside, it had been covered with blueboard and a coat of plaster over that again. I painted the pier Wednesday around 2pm and when I came in on Thursday everything in the whole room was dry and cured except the paint on the central portion of the pier, which was wet and runny with condensation.

Once I determined that the paint was just as wet as the moment I had applied it, I got some paper towel and wiped the pier down to get rid of as much of the drippy mess off the plaster as possible.

When the general contractor showed up, I asked him why this pier of all the others I had painted should do this. He finally decided that as it was facing southeast, it was not getting anywhere near as much sun as the others and had retained all the chill from the previous night’s ten degree weather. Moisture from all the drying paint in the house and the tile-setters’ mastic was condensing on the pier and gathering into drips.

I had a very evil thought that if I’d painted a mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the pier instead of a flat coat of camel-colored paint, I could have had every Catholic within 50 miles flocking to the house to see the icon weep.

*******


Stage Source, a central clearing house for all types of communication and other services that nurture the performing arts community in the greater Boston and new England area announced this year’s nominations for the IRNE awards and I caught the following in the lists:

Best Set Design:
Janie E.Howland for MAN of LA MANCHA (Lyric Stage), TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (WheelockFamily Theatre) and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (New Repertory Theatre)

Janie’s a former student of mine and I was able to help her with recommendations to get into grad school in design at Brandeis where I did my own grad work. She then took the ball and ran with it, becoming perhaps the leading professional set designer in the Boston area. I’m extremely happy for her and glad to have been some small part in her great success. She’s already a two time Eliot Norton Award winner for scenic design, the award named for the noted theater critic and lecturer with whom I studied during my undergrad work at Boston University.

Eric Levenson for PONIES (Gloucester Stage Co.)
A great colleague of mine for many years in Boston theater.

Best Lighting:
Karen Perlow for PARADE (SpeakEasy Stage Company)
Our lighting designer at MIT for the last seven or so years of my career there, an extremely talented designer, not afraid of color, and a genius at solving bad lighting angles and other inhospitable space problems.

Best Costumes:
Kimmerie H.O. Jones for CABARET (Metro Stage Company)
Another former student who did brilliant work costuming several student-designed productions at MIT.

It’s a joy to see the work of friends and former students recognized like this. Boston was a terrible theater town when I arrived for college but it has developed a vibrant theater, dance and opera scene over the years. The two flagship regional theaters (The American Repertory Theater, housed at Harvard) and the Hunting Theater (housed at Boston University) are surrounded by a large number of smaller companies that do excellent work, draw good crowds, and that have fostered the development of a genuine theater and performing arts community in the Boston area.

Monday, February 18, 2008

 
We were fully booked last weekend at Fritz’s Center, and with groups that are polar opposites. From Friday at 5pm to Sunday noon it’s the annual retreat of the ladies from a church in Derry, NH. Then at 4pm on Sunday our boys arrived for a Sweat gathering. From church ladies to naked gay guys—you can get anything you like chez Fritz and Will.

*******

Saturday night we had the great pleasure of hearing one of our friends as featured performer in a flute and harp recital in Durham, NH sponsored by the Mill Pond Arts Center. Doug Worthen’s has had an international career (Edinburgh Festival, Russia, France, Japan, Singapore, Spain) in addition to many well-known U.S. groups like Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society, Milwaukee’s Beethoven Festival, and in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center and Boston Symphony Hall. The venue for the recital was the intimate, classically austere New England-style Durham Community Church, whose warm, clear acoustic was perfect for the elegant ensemble playing of Doug and harpist Kathleen Lyon-Pingree

The program was largely French and French-oriented stylistically with works by Daniel Burton, Jean-Michel Damase, Vincent Persichetti, Otar Taktakishvili (an exotically seductive serenade), and Jacques Ibert. Each musician played one solo: she a Debussy Arabesque and he a sonata by Telemann. There was a good crowd, a comfortable, informal atmosphere, and excellent music-making.

Doug will be performing flute concertos with orchestra this spring in Concord and Manchester, NH.

*******

We’ve begun painting in the new house. The professional painters finished their work (base coat on all plaster, finish coat on ceilings, the two story tall stairwell, the tall center section of the great room back wall) last Thursday. We finished choosing all our color choices last week and will do the rest of the house ourselves.


This is the upstairs studio in process. What you can sort of see is that the reveals in the windows of each wall are painted the color of the other wall. There’s a lot of detailing to come. The look is to be Moroccan, supported by art and furniture that’s either genuine Moroccan or things I’ve built and inlaid in the Moroccan style. Fritz refers to it as “The Casbah,” which is fine with me.

We’ll finish the basic painting upstairs this morning and move down to the kitchen this afternoon.

We’re back to living in a cloud. With the arrival of warm, tropical air and rain over ice and snow, there’s fog and murk everywhere. We’re off this evening to a presentation in Exeter by the local Adult Education organization called “Being Green.” It’s supposed to cover all one needs to know to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle and leave the smallest carbon footprint possible behind. This, of course, is right in line with how the new house has been planned and built.

*******

Another of these things that I can never resist. Somehow, they always seem to come out with something I can recognize in myself.


You Are Upper Class
Class isn't always about money, and you've at least got the brains, manners, and interests of an upper class person.

You don't have a trashy bone in your body, and you don't pretend to be someone you're not.

You're comfortable with your station in life, and class issues don't really bother you.

The finest things in life are within your reach, and you're comfortable enjoying them.

You may end up: A business leader, corporate lawyer, or philanthropist

Other people who share your class: Bill Gates, Oprah, former world leaders like Bill Clinton, and those reclusive billionaires no one ever talks about.


What Class Are You?



Thursday, February 14, 2008

 
Happy Valentines Day to all my readers!

It's 10 am and so far I've gotten two pop-up Valentines that Fritz made himself and a Blue Mountain musical e-Valentine from him, sung by the animated Love Bugs. With all this lovely attention, it's an pleasure that the day has dawned with a virtually cloudless clear deep blue sky and brilliant sun. I needed this day very much as the combination of gloom, slush and cold was finally beginning to get to me.


Today I hope you get some sweets or other goodies from the men in your lives.


Today I wish you love and happiness.



********


Today I’m going to celebrate the legendary love of one man for another.
Hadrian, one of Rome’s finest and most effective Emperors, spent much of his reign visiting far-flung places in the Empire on journeys away from the capital that took years at a time.


At Bithynia in Asia-Minor (modern day Turkey) in the year 127, he stayed with the local king and was struck by the spirit and beauty of
Antinoos, a young man in his teens attached to the court.


When Hadrian’s journey resumed, Antinoos went along as part of Hadrian’s inner circle. Empress Faustina was apparently not thrilled, but when your husband’s Emperor there’s not a hell of a lot you can do.


Hadrian’s love only deepened over the years until, on a fateful visit to Egypt in the fall of 130, Antinoos drowned in the Nile. He was 19 years old.


The death may have been completely accidental but some scholars are convinced that Antinoos purposely went into waters from which he could not get back safely, the idea being to give his life to the gods to protect Hadrian who was dealing with massive crop failures and famine in Egypt.


Hadrian was devastated. He immediately ordered the construction of a memorial city, Antinoopolis, in Egypt. When he returned to Rome he prevailed upon the Senate to declare Antinoos a god (he certainly seems to have resembled one and his personal looks, which differed from the classical ideal, influenced depiction of the male form in art for centuries afterward).


Temples were put up to honor the Emperor’s lover. Full length statues and busts of him flooded the Empire. In many of them, Antinoos was portrayed as Hercules, Dionysos, or as Ganymede, the beautiful boy who was the god Jupiter’s young lover.


At Tivoli, the massive estate outside of Rome that Hadrian designed and had built as a retreat in his later years, several buildings were constructed to honor Antinoos and allow the bereaved emperor more closely to recapture his lover’s memory.


Architectural historians have analyzed the plans and seen strongly erotic symbolism and iconography in these structures.


Many have water that is seen to be symbolic of the Nile central to their design, running through them, or running around parts of them.


Hadrian outlived Antinoos by eight years during which he attempted to have himself killed or attempted suicide several times. He finally succeeded in joining his young lover in 138 after having established the cult of the god Antinoos securely throughout the Roman Empire. After his death, the Roman Senate declared Hadrian a god, guaranteeing that the two men would be together for eternity.


The love story and the young man who inspired it were so popular in the Empire that those who had a special devotion to Antinoos were among the very last Romans to convert to Christianity.

Interestingly the Popes, who seem to have developed an interest in homoerotic images of beautiful young men rather early in the game, acquired a huge collection of statues and busts of Antinoos for the Vatican Museum over the centuries, possibly the largest collection of Antinoos statuary in any museum in the world.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

 

In the middle of this gloomy, stormy, seemingly endless winter, it's pleasant to contemplate summer--perhaps with some new equipment for the outdoor grille.

*******

Fritz and I both woke up around 3:30 last night for no apparent reason. The cat was nowhere around and it was dead silent outside. We were supposed to be at the height of a new snowstorm but there was no wind and no sound of the sleet that had been promised.

We curled back up together but after half an hour neither of us had drifted back off. Fritz suggested putting our lights on and reading. He’s nearing the end of a book I gave him on the history of the Erie Canal system (we’d taken a boat tour of the Buffalo end of the canal two summers ago); I’m getting into the latest Armistead Maupin tale of the city, “Michael Tolliver Lives.”

Maupin’s said the new book isn’t a sequel, but it deals with many of the same characters, visited again twenty years on in their lives after the events of he last of the original set of Tales of the City novels. But if it’s not a sequel I can’t imagine what you’d call it; two pages in it was as if there’d been no break in the series at all.

I finally got up and looked out and saw that at least six new inches of snow had fallen and very soon after that frozen rain began clicking on the window panes, adding a glaze of ice to end yet another big storm. Heavy cold rain is now turning everything into piles of cement-heavy slush.

*******

In the wake of yet another set of primary victories by John McCain, this lightly edited
Arianna Huffington piece seems to me to be of special interest:

End of a Romance: Why the Media and Independent Voters Need to Break Up with John McCain
Posted February 11, 2008 | 03:52 PM (EST)

I hate to be the one to break up a love affair, especially with Valentine's Day just around the corner, but I can no longer stand idly by and watch the media and independent voters continue to throw themselves at the feet of John McCain.

The John McCain they fell in love with in 2000 -- the straight-shooting, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may maverick - is no more. He's been replaced by a born-again Bushite willing to say or do anything to win the affection of his newfound object of desire, the radical right.

And we've got the money shot of his betrayal on tape: McCain singing the praises of Karl Rove, calling him "one of the smartest political minds in America," and saying, "I'd be glad to get his advice."

So, please, stop pretending that McCain is still the dashing rebel that made knees buckle back in the day -- and stop referring to him, as the New York Times did this weekend, as "moderate" and a "centrist."

What is it going to take for you guys to face reality? McCain verbally stroking Rove should be the equivalent of that great scene at the end of The Godfather where Diane Keaton's Kay watches in horror as Al Pacino transforms, in the kiss of a ring, from her loving husband Michael into the next Don Corleone. This ain't the same man you married.

I know it's hard. I myself was deeply enamored of the old McCain. In 2000, I invited him to give the keynote address at the Shadow Convention I'd helped organize. He spoke with passion about the need to clean up the "iron triangle of lobbyists, big money, and legislation."

And now he'd be "glad to get" advice from one of the preeminent architects of that triangle?

The old John McCain once rightly called Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and like-minded religious bigots "agents of intolerance." The new John McCain now slavishly seeks their endorsement.

The old John McCain talked about trying to do something about global warming and encourage renewable energy. The new John McCain didn't show up for a vote last week on a bill that included tax incentives for clean energy, even though he was in DC. And then his staff misled environmentalists who called to protest by telling them that he had voted for it.

The old John McCain once stood tall as a fearless leader on immigration, co-sponsoring a humane, bipartisan reform bill with Ted Kennedy. The new John McCain, when asked during a recent GOP debate whether he would support his own proposal, replied: "No, I would not." In other words, he was for his core beliefs before he was against them.

So McCain has backed an amendment that would limit the right to habeas corpus, has endorsed an Arizona constitutional amendment that would not only ban gay marriage but deny benefits to unmarried couples of any kind (lest those pesky gay people find some kind of loophole), and has discovered a newfound support for teaching "intelligent design" in schools.

The old John McCain once tried to take the mantle of true conservatism away from George W. Bush. The new John McCain is now essentially running to give America a third Bush term - and, indeed, will even out-Bush Bush when it comes to staying the disastrous course we're on in Iraq.

Right on time, the new McCain got Bush's blessing on Fox News Sunday: "I know his convictions," Bush said. "I know the principles that drive him. And no doubt in my mind he is a true conservative."

There you have it: John McCain, a Bush conservative. If you love George Bush, and all that he's brought you over the last seven years, you're gonna love John McCain.

As it turns out, the new John McCain doesn't need any advice from Karl Rove. He's already internalized the Boy Genius' lessons.

If you think the problem with the United States right now is that we haven't given Bush enough time to finish his agenda, then John McCain is your man. If not, it's time to stop running on the fumes of romantic notions past and find a good divorce lawyer (and, yes, I'm talking to you in the campaign press corps and to you independents and to you moderates and to you anti-war McCain voters in Florida).

The Thousand Year War Express is careening along the road to the White House, and the new John McCain is gunning the engine. And he has to be stopped.

*******

There used to be an old saying that you should always have clean underwear on in case there's an accident and you require being rushed to the hospital. Although I myself am a confirmed naked sleeper, some variation on the old saying might apply to wearing pajamas to bed.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

 
We’re back in the snowstorm-every-two-days syndrome. The last one dragged itself out seemingly interminably—two hours of snow, an hour clear, repeat, repeat, repeat. Every time it started up again it was another half inch to inch of icy, sleety snow. In case you can’t tell, it’s beginning to become a real pain.

We lost a full day of the ceramic tile crew’s work on Friday because while the plow guy showed up and did a good job, the sanding guy went AWOL. It wasn’t a problem for me personally, because the Jeep’s four wheel drive got me up to the new house with no problem.

But I’ve discovered that a lot of the subcontractors don’t have four wheel. They drive standard pick-ups that are light in the rear end to begin with and if they aren’t packing a lot of gear or supplies in the bed of the truck, they fishtail all over the place, give up, and take off, pissed that they’re missing a day of work. This being northern New England, I’m surprised anyone whose business depends on his vehicle wouldn’t be properly set up for New England weather.

The two brothers who did the acid dye on the floors turned them out beautifully. I managed not to take a camera up there with me when they were done, so pictures will have to wait for a couple of weeks. These guys can always get through no matter what the road conditions. They’ve got muscle pick-ups, big bad Ford trucks with four wheel drive and double tires on the back axle.

We spent the morning yesterday covering the floors in the three rooms that had been dyed and sprayed with sealer. Heavy construction paper we put down will protect them from the next wave of subs—the painter, the tile guys and the finish carpenter. After covering the floors, we moved all the kitchen cabinets back into the great room to allow the kitchen to be base painted and its tile floor to be laid down. We’re playing a shell game these days from room to room with cabinets, finish grade lumber and other equipment and supplies.

We’re ventilating the house by opening downstairs windows and pulling down the fold-up stairs that lead to the attic with its “solar chimney” cupola, creating a great upward rush of air. The sealer on the floors gives off a heavy chemical smell as it cures and the house currently isn’t a pleasant place in which to work. The odor gets into clothes, particularly bulky soft items like sweaters or the fleece lining of Fritz’s leather jacket.

*******

I was back down in Boston twice last week. Tuesday was Opera Boston’s final performance of its run of Handel’s Semele. Semele is relatively late Handel when he had transitioned from Italian opera into English oratorio, except that the libretto for Semele is unquestionably meant for the operatic stage.

When the work premiered, eighteenth century London arrived expecting yet another uplifting Biblical experience, but what they got was a ribald tale of a young woman erotically fixated on the god Jupiter and determined to use sex as a means of being created an Immortal. The first audience hated it all, despite one of the wittiest libretti ever written (by playwright William Congreve) and music from Handel’s top drawer. Semele languished until the 20th century-- which knows a thing or three about sexual social climbing--rediscovered it and made it a hit wherever it plays.


The opera succeeded very well indeed in Opera Boston’s production which was set in an anonymous-luxurious suite of hotel function rooms where the story was updated to dovetail with modern neuroses—a very good idea indeed. Lisa Saffer, an internationally known specialist in vocal music of the 18th and 20th centuries, was in complete command of the role. Boston Baroque and its conductor Martin Pearlman played the score with verve and beautiful tone.

Thursday was a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert featuring Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Petite Symphonie Concertante for Harp, Harpsichord and Piano, Sergei Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, and that grand French 19th century sonic extravaganza, Camille Saint-Saens’ Symphony #3 for Organ with piano and lots of brass. Charles Dutoit conducted with an ideal mix of elegance and showmanship.

*******

On the way home, I tuned into WBZ Radio’s nightly talk show that’s moderated by political reporter Dan Rea. Things were bouncing along nicely concerning Barack, Hillary and Mitt for the most part, when James called in from Medford. James had something else on his agenda entirely.

“Why don’t you ever discuss how the Communists are destroying this country?” he demanded of Dan. “They make all this terrible weather in China and then they send it over here to destroy our towns and businesses. They’re poisoning our children. And you go into any city, any town in this country, and every two blocks there’s a Communist restaurant. I will NOT EAT Communist food!” You never know what’s in it. I do not want to eat cat.”

Dan handled it very well: “James, you’re obviously an extremely perceptive man. You can see things the rest of us can’t and you’re concerned for our safety. My advice to you is to go to the police or the FBI with your concerns, and make sure you take the evidence you’ve collected with you as proof.”

James wasn’t having any of this. He wanted Dan to discuss Communist-cooked Mu Shu and fried rice, and Chinese weather aimed at us like weapons. After a five second drop out because James crossed the line with some obscene language, Dan said good night to him and cut him off. “James seems to be living about 60 years ago,” he said.

Somehow, I do wish Dan hadn't cut him off before asking how you aim a tornado at another country.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

 

Bye, Mitt!


DO let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

 
Fritz and I between us are fortunate to have a number of fine architects as friends. One of them, H, sent an email with a delightful new term for the sort “flip-flopping” on issues candidates do to get elected: electile dysfunction.

********

Fritz has revived a long dormant family tradition that descends from an uncle of his, appropriately named Uncle Will. Uncle Will would keep all the Christmas cards that had come into the house and then as the new year began, one would be chosen at random each day. A member of the family who knew something about the sender would tell the story to the others. We’ve been doing this at breakfast and having a lot of fun with it. The cards are kept in that wonderfully gnarled Chinese tree root bowl that I posted a picture of a while ago. We suspect that bowl will serve many uses in our life and entertaining in the years to come in the new house. Everyone who sees it is struck by its textures and the story of its origin.

*******

I’m trying out an accent color for part of the back wall of the great room. It’s about ten feet wide, centered, steps forward about two inches, and contains the open arch that lets the great room communicate with the kitchen (seen here during installing of the Aga). We’ve decided on orange, a color I think is sadly undervalued, except I’ve noticed it being used extensively these days in art direction for television (Ugly Betty is frequently a festival of orange). The orange wall will be set off by the rest of the room in a sand color that keys off the shade of stone that will face both the inside and outside of the room’s piers. The question was, what shade of orange?

We wanted something strong, rich and beautiful (like all gay men want, yes?). The paint chips in stores weren’t quite what I was looking for, and we have to be careful, because the wrong shade over such a big area could be awful. Two candidates presented themselves at about the same time; both were items of clothing.
The first is a new flannel shirt I’d bought that’s in a really beautiful shade of saffron orange; the other is a woven scarf that one of the teachers who works for Fritz had been given by her husband when he came back from a business trip somewhere in Asia. Made of a polished thread, it had a slight iridescence of orange-gold that we knew would be tricky to match.

While she was teaching on Sunday, I went to Lowe’s to have it scanned and a quart mixed so I could paint a test panel and look at it in the house’s natural light. The woman at the paint counter looked at the scarf, her eyes lit up and she said it would be a pleasure but she wouldn’t touch it until she had gone to wash her hands.

I’m not sure that the paint will really capture the stunning effect of the material, but I’ve painted a 3’ square patch and we’ll check it out as soon as we get some sunlight back—we’re in a sleet/pouring rain mix right now and the light in the house is not good for paint testing right now.

Also, the concrete stain guys, two hunky brothers who specialize in this work, started working the acid into the concrete yesterday and are back again today and tomorrow. We won’t be able to enter the great room until Thursday at the earliest.

*******

I’m into the final sessions of physical therapy. Physically, I turned a corner last weekend—the swelling in my ankle and lower leg, generally at its worst at the end of a full day of activity--seemed to have eased on Saturday night and was noticeably less on Sunday night. The first thing the therapist commented on at the beginning of this morning’s session was the fact that she could definable anklebones and calf muscles. This is big progress.

I’ve always had pretty powerful and muscular legs. During my childhood they lulled my father into the false hope that he had bred a football player such as he had been in college. It wasn’t to be, of course--but in theatrical design, which is a surprisingly physical profession (up and down scaffolds, ladders and light towers all the time; long days painting backdrops that can be as big as 50’ wide by 30’ high) their strength wasn’t wasted for a minute.

Their strength has helped me rehabilitate the ankle in a relatively short time. One of the measurements the therapist has been checking at every session is how much I can bend the joint when I pull my toes up toward my knee with the leg held straight. A healthy ankle will flex between 12 and 20 degrees. My uninjured left ankle can do 16 degrees, right down the middle. Last Friday I could do 11 degrees by myself, and 12 with a little pressure from her. This morning I did 14 by myself and 15 with assistance. The other measurements she took to monitor the swelling showed a decrease of a couple of centimeters in the “figure 8” wrapping of the tape around the arch of the foot and the ankle just below the ankle bones.

We tried me on running today and I did very well. The building the therapy center occupies is a former bank that has an open floor at least seventy feet long. I did several laps down and back with good form (hips level, no limp). We finished off with several balancing exercises on the right leg. Balance isn’t one of my stronger senses so I do much better when we’re working on the flat floor than when she gives me rubber pads or teeter-totter devices to work with, but I made it through them all pretty well.

I have two more sessions of therapy and then on Friday the 15th I see the orthopedist for the last time, and I’ll be officially healed and on my own.

The downside of all this is that in spite of my having had all the proper referrals from my regular medical provider, Blue Cross has rejected all my claims for emergency room, orthopedist and physical therapy. In every case it turned out that I’m fully covered but the bureaucracy has demanded duplicate referrals and extra submissions, both on paper and via electronic transfer along with a lot of extra work.

The billing department at the therapist’s told me this is quite common: “we suspect they reject these claims to avoid paying us as long as they can, and in the hope that patients will just give up and pay us themselves.” Not this boy!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

 

My Evening with Extreme Makeover: Home Edition



The Master Bedroom and the Great Room covered in plastic in preparation for acid dying their concrete floors

I’m my own general contractor for about ten days. R, the real gc, is in Viro Beach, FL with his wife setting up the memorial service for her recently deceased mother and taking care of all the legalities, possessions, etc. I’m coordinating the schedules of all the sub contractors, rearranging with Fritz all the supplies and equipment in the house to clear rooms as necessary for the work that’s going on in each at any particular time, and trying not to get in the way of progress.

Way, way back I was asked by M who did the architectural drawings on the house, whether or not I wanted to be my own general contractor and I said no, not under any circumstances. I had no contact sheet for subs with whom I had previous experience because, of course, I didn’t have that kind of experience. The scheduling part might have worked but I hadn’t yet realized how fluid, to use a kind word, the promises and schedules of various subcontractors can be. I’ve become a lot more philosophical about delays--the only ones I get upset about now are the really stupid ones that are caused by subcontractors deliberately creating conflicts in their schedules.

Case in point: you may remember that our framing crew got picked to work on an episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition last October. Their supposedly one weekend involvement ballooned into two weeks. The house that needed attention is in Manchester, NH, about half an hour from here, and had been wrecked in the violent spring floods of the spring of 2007. Very little could be salvaged—clothing, furniture, appliances—all gone.

The owner and his wife were told that the place was uninhabitable and had to be demolished. They were told they’d be given a grant to rebuild by FEMA—and if you see it coming, you’re right on the mark. The grant to rebuild barely covered the demolition—which left them with the remainder of the mortgage to pay every month while renting substitute lodgings and trying to reclothe their children. Their situation was bad but, as the husband kept on saying, no worse than many, many others who suffered equal losses.

However, this family didn’t live just in Manchester, but in ManchesTAIRE, ie the old, well established French Canadian section of the city. Neighbors rallied en masse, nominated the family for a makeover, and they got it. The original plan was to bring in a pre-fab ranch house in two sections, assemble it on a new foundation, and give it to the family. But an extra flood of testimonials about the quality of their family life, involvement in the community, etc. led to the plan to give the pre-fab to another family and build a brand new dream house for the original winners. This is how our framing crew got involved.

The show aired last Sunday and we tuned in. We don’t usually watch Extreme Makeover but as people we knew were involved—including Fritz’s Office Manager who’s in training as a licensed theraputic masseuse and did chair massages for tired or stressed workers at the building site—we did on this occasion. She and our framing crew had brought back tales of how chaotic the site was, with hundreds and hundreds of totally unskilled volunteers milling about with nothing to do and little or no supervision. Everyone on site had been given a white hard hat--the head of our framing crew finally had to run around with a can of orange spray paint and spray the hard hats of his own guys just to be able to find them in the milling crowds.

On air, of course, it was all made to look like a well-oiled machine, perfectly coordinated to a triumphant conclusion. Ty Pennington did his shtick, the neighbors and volunteers hooted and hollered and the house was revealed. Personally, I think it looks awful--a disjointed jumble of elements grafted onto each other that towers over the rest of the neighborhood, with which it has nothing in common in terms of style or scale.

But the family was sweet and very grateful, constantly mentioning their unease with having been given so much when others were equally devastated, concerned about others at least as much as for themselves. They were also told that the community had raised funds to pay off the mortgage on the house that was destroyed. That’s the kind of place ManchesTAIRE is.
PS--we never did catch sight of any members of our framing crew in the midst of the hordes working on the house.

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