Tuesday, February 17, 2004

It's Not a Vacation

Steve's off from work this week. Since we're in frugal mode, we're not going anywhere or blowing much money. We might need the casheroo for moving trucks and cans of paint in a few months.

A week at home with kids shouldn't really be called a vacation. A vacation conjures up images of lounge chairs and frosty drinks with red umbrellas. It does not involve caring for children with ear infections. A vacation has nothing to do with the list of chores that I plan to accomplish this week: a hair cut, an excusal from jury duty (not easily accomplished in NYC), and a major transfer of files to my new computer. So what should we call this week? More work.

Another item on this week's itinerary is house hunting. We looked at more dumps in New Jersey today. We've narrowed the search to a couple of towns that have promise. They have sidewalks, a short commute into the city, and good schools. So, that's good, right? The trick is just to find a place to sleep in these idealic communities. Our old Southern belle real estate agent showed us six or seven places that reeked of death and divorce.

The first place needed a lot of work. The kitchen cabinets hung at odd angles. The walls were dirty and grey. Brown rugs from the seventies covered the second floor. The family had chaotically half moved out. The real estate agent whispered, "bad divorce". Kids' toys and coloring books were swept into the center of all the rooms. The agent said, "I can't believe they didn't clean up." The basement was piled to the ceiling with sagging boxes. A dog had ripped up the sheet rock.

That was the best one, so we'll have to see if the owners are willing to come down in price.

I'm trying to imagine if we can make it work. Can we paint over the sadness and lonliness and pain in these homes? If we strip off the orange flowered wallpaper from the old man's house, will it erase the smell of Old Spice and whiskey? When the dead woman's cabinet of curios is gone, will my computer hum happily there? Will a table in the kitchen cover the stains of dog piss?

Read This
Steve's vacation week has also given me time to memorize the latest New Yorker. Of course, read the David Sedaris article.

I also really loved Ian Frazier's piece on Route 3 in Northern New Jersey, a place I know well. His story starts off in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. "Most bus commuters sensibly occupy themselves with newspapers, laptops, CD players,and so on. I always try to get a window seat and then look at the scenery. If this were a ride at an amusement park, I would pay to go on it."

He also pays a rare compliment to the much maligned Garden State:

As a grownup, I have lived in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Montana. Now I live in the New Jersey town of Montclair. Recently, a friend who’s a rancher in Wyoming sent me a card saying he finds it hard to believe that he has a friend who lives in New Jersey. Sometimes I find it hard to believe I’m here, myself. When I lived in the city, I had the usual New Yorker’s disdain for this state. Oddly, though, I was attracted to it, too. I used to come over to Jersey a lot, maybe because it reminded me of Ohio and other places I love in the middle of the country. I like being on the continent, rather than slightly offshore. I get a sense that I’m more connected to it; when there’s a big snowstorm, for example, I imagine the snow stretching from here back across the Alleghenies to Ohio in unbroken white. And I like the feeling that I’m near the city but also just out of its range.

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