Tag Archives: house

This Old House

You know that scene in horror movies where the idiot family who moved into the weirdly perfect house that inexplicably wouldn’t sell for years realizes officially that their place is damned? I don’t because I can’t watch horror movies and ever sleep again. But I assume that’s how it goes because I accidentally see the occasional preview. That’s what happens, right?

Well, on the anniversary of our moving into our very first house, that’s how it’s looking for us.

Except that I suspected something was wrong with the house – you know: on principle – before we bought it, so I haven’t been caught off guard like the Idiot Family. (Let’s hear it for paranoid low expectations!)

And it’s not haunted. And all in all it’s a pretty nice house.

But it does have

  • A 100% half-assed heating system (if that’s mathematically and physiologically possible)
  • A stove that was a.) mysteriously not updated when the rest of the kitchen was, and b.) periodically and without provocation stops working in a non-reproducible way.
  • Something in or around it that causes our eyes to itch and water most days.

So it’s not really like those horror houses at all. Except that it’s a house. And that last thing about our eyes. That’s weird, right?

It’s not like, “Aargh, I have a knife and live in your wall!” homicidal weird, but it is creeping weird. Like, “How can I need eye drops when I’m not allergic to anything and this never happened at our old place fourteen blocks over?” weird. Which is a pretty specialized category of weird. But then your walls melting in one of those horror movies is also a pretty special category of weird, right? So here we are:  the “something sinister and eye-irritating lives in our air” thing + my totally normal, not at all paranoid suspicions = SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH THIS HOUSE.

I wonder if we live on a radon fountain or if the ducts are lined with asbestos or if the place was built on some werewolf burial ground. I wonder if the previous family moved because they knew all these things and they stopped emailing me not because I wouldn’t quit asking very, very politely worded things about what the hell became of the keys to the back door if there ever were any, please? but because they knew about the radon fountain. I wonder these things OFTEN.

If there were a WebMD for houses, I would be on there all the time. I think our house has rickets. That’s a thing, right?

Stair Living

stair-diagram.jpgThe Stairmaster is beyond me. Climbing stairs endlessly is like Sisyphus and his hill and who needs more of that in their lives when there are taxes to be done every year not to mention having to cut your nails for the rest of your life?

I don’t understand the appeal of climbing endlessly and slowly. At least on a treadmill you’re moving quickly to get nowhere.

Well, if you’re doing it right anyway. Not like that lady who brings her magazine and sets the machine on, like, 1 mph with no slope. She has definitely spent at least $200 on her outfit though. And then there’s the trip to the grocery checkout for that fashion mag. And maybe she had to walk the gym bill from her car to the post box, so that counts for something. There’s a calorie burn in there somewhere. And she gets points for making me feel better about how hard I’m working, which is not nearly as hard as the girl next to me who must be bionic, really, because who goes that fast?

I’ve gotten off my point. My point is that I’ve stopped going to the gym.

Correction: I’ve stopped paying the gym for not going. I put my membership on hold. Why? Because now I live on a Stairmaster.

Yes, my least favorite gym machine has come into my everyday life. We live on the side of a hill at the top of a hill and the bottom of a hill. Well, really, the top and bottom of several hills. Welcome to Potrero Hill. The views are amazing, but holy God, the hills.

Our beloved former apartment was also in Potrero Hill but just on the edge, on the flat bit leading to other flat, reasonable neighborhoods. My calves will be happy to tell you how much we don’t live there anymore.

Our house is on the up side of the street: we’re perched on bed rock above the street rather than our lower across-the-street neighbors who are also on bedrock but whose front doors are at street level. One steep set of stairs up to our basement level then another set of stairs up to the front door. This is a wonderful set-up for carrying a baby, a stroller, groceries, mail and coffee.

(We have no garage for storing things like strollers: cutting one into the hill will cost, depending on who you ask $50K or $200K, which could be better spent on purchasing and staffing a litter for me and A. to get around. Stripey curtains please, if you’re thinking of springing for it.)

Our house is also the very last house on a half block of flat before a steep downhill slope. This means if I drop anything while unloading the car, it is going to roll away. Far away. Even things not generally considered roll-worthy will have a go at our hill. Why not? It might be their only chance at it. Look at the credit the wheel gets for advancing civilization. Why wouldn’t a square block or a flat book want to even up the score?

In the other direction, beyond the flat bit, we’re at the intersection of the bottom of two just-as-steep hills. There is literally nowhere to go but up.

But let’s get back to the stairs. In some previous owner’s wisdom – or significant budgetary constraints – when they added the living room and our giant upstairs bedroom above it onto the house, they thought it’d be brilliant to use the space under the new stairs for a small bathroom. Excellent. Good. Unfortunately, they failed to put a bathroom on the second floor for the now-sleeping-upstairs residents.

You see where I’m going with this. Any trip to the bathroom from the bedroom involves fourteen stairs down and another fourteen (well, the same fourteen really) back up. In the middle of the night. It’s like a mini workout at 2AM. A very, very unwelcome workout at 2AM.

So as far as stairs are concerned, I’m sorted. Really. Don’t get me stairs for Christmas. I don’t really like them and now I have tons. They’re like tube socks. Or Carters underwear. Stop with the stairs already. Someone get me a slide. Or a human-sized version of that suction tube thing from at the bank drive-through. See, now that would be useful. Why didn’t we look for a place with one of those?

Roll On

wheelchair.jpgIt didn’t look like a good idea, going down a 70-degree hill in an electric wheelchair, but he seemed determined.

I’ll back up.

My office overlooks the street. It’s not usually an interesting perspective because we live on a 100% residential block, but the sidewalk in front of our house drops off like a cliff down a steep hill plus we’re on the uphill side of the street, so I can see all of western San Francisco from our perch at two edges. Not with any specificity, mind you – I’d need a telescope to see any funny business going on over in the Castro – but still.

Not much happens on our street except our burglary and the odd family across the street – heavy 70-something mom in a sweatshirt, dapper angry dad, shiftless 40-something son in a porkpie hat and trimmed-flat bears – who move their red Volvo across the street and up and down the block all day long, even on weekends and at night. Maybe they’re running single errands for every individual grocery they need.

Then, last week, an electric wheelchair approached from the flat end of the street. The man in it was bald, old-ish and steering down the middle of the road even though you can’t see any traffic coming up the hill. He was wearing blue hospital pants covered by a lap blanket and a short-sleeved hospital issue shirt.

He veered and slowed as he approached the crest of the hill but didn’t pull up. Straight down at what looked like maximum speed for a motorized chair.

My first thought was, “Huh. A dude in a wheelchair on our hill.” I had to think twice to think twice and consider how odd it was. Like, not a street cleaning move or something.

My next thought was that he’d made an understandable jail break from the nearby hospital.

San Francisco General Hospital is four blocks away. I’ve never been into it and hope to never have to: from what I hear, they cater mainly to gunshot victims, gang members shooting each other in the Mission. When I took a Baby First Aid class, I asked the young EMT if he thought it’d be better to take A. down the hill to the hospital or call 911 if we had an emergency. I said I thought maybe if she’d been shot, I’d head for SF General. He diplomatically suggested I give the ambulance EMTs a try first, then added the caveat that if she’s been shanked, yeah, maybe the hospital should be our first choice.

So that’s SF General. Good for this guy for getting the hell out of there.

This morning, he cruised back by, still in the middle of the road but with no pause at the crest. Just straight down.

Maybe he’s training for something. Our hill attracts that type. Some crazy, middle-aged skinny woman trucks by with a backpack on twice a day like she’s fleeing the Rapture, canned goods and all. Is there Wheelchair Motocross? He could get on that. He needs a better uniform though and maybe some flame detailing. Better yet, some actual flames. Do wheelchairs have exhaust pipes? Maybe I’ll have a word with him next time he tools by. I could be his agent. This is going to be great. New client! Happy Wednesday after all.


capri_rug.jpgIt’s been raining in San Francisco for…ever, I guess. Rain has been predicted every day for weeks. Meteorologists being what they are (surprisingly poor guessers, given, um, science), and us living in the sunniest neighborhood in the city, there have been a couple of nice days in there somewhere, but they fade in the memory, doused by the gallon buckets of water that pour down on our heads as we leave the house. In the new global warming world order, I guess San Francisco is will be Indonesia. Maybe we’ll start to get some sun when the monsoons aren’t in town.

Can I just say, on a separate note, that I hate our living room? Hang on – it could be a related note… Here you go: “Much like living in New York spoiled living in San Francisco for me, seeing the previous owners’ living room has made me hate what we’ve done with the place.” Yeah, that’s a stretch, but I’m disgruntled on both counts, so there’s your thread.

One of the owners was a painter, so the colors are subtle but true choices, and the décor was harmonious and cheerful. Room & Board meets someone less cheerful than Dr. Seuss but still very friendly. Our décor isn’t really décor, it’s furniture, and heavy furniture at that, and it weighs the room down.

One of the reasons I loved this house is that the backyard is not only done, which is surprisingly rare in the city where unused wild backyards abound, but well-done. Tiled steps and patio for a table and chairs, well-defined garden beds, sun deck and small lawn, all of which merges into the house at the living room’s double doors. It feels – well, felt – like there was an indoor living room and an outdoor living room. Except now, with our stuff in place, there’s an outdoor living room and your great uncle’s indoor furniture depository. Which is not the same at all.

You know that relationship you had in college with the guy who was a really very sweet but smoked a ton of pot and you thought, “If he were just stoned less, this relationship would be perfect,” and then he cut back and it turned out it wasn’t just that one thing at all and really you couldn’t stand him? It’s like that. It’s not just the Oriental rug (family heirloom, presumably expensive, dark, dark, dark) or the piano (excellent to have, hulking blackness along one wall) or the giant square coffee table (no redeeming value except storage, which we no longer need) or the blocky sofa (first one R. and I bought together – save your, “Aww!” until you’ve tried to lie down on it’s just-too-short-ness) or the waterfall of wires from all the electronics attached to our TV. It’s all of them colluding to make the room feel like we have poor taste and are maybe half-blind.


For the record, this is what I want: this rug, this sofa, this chair. And no more cascading cables from the DVR/TV/Mac Mini/Time Capsule stack.

And I’d like to win the lottery. And I still want that pony. I promise I’ll feed it and take it for walks. Promise.

Crime Wave

original-shark-pic.jpgSo that happened.

And by “that,” I mean we moved into our first house with an eight-month-old in tow, made it through the holidays two weeks later (with decorations and a tree, thank you very much), introduced A. to her first snow, were burglarized at our new house (including my brand new Mac Air), lost our nanny for two weeks afterwards (illness, not like in the jungle), and dug a moat around our property and filled it with sharks to protect ourselves from further theft.

Well, all except that last bit, which I’m only not doing because there’s some silly city ordinance about wild animals and bodily harm. Whatever.

So we’re in a bit of a recovery phase. We weren’t feeling very settled in the new place anyway – only here a month, plus difficult to unpack with a speedy baby – and the burglary set us back considerably: bad feeling about the new neighborhood, panicked about safety while R. travels, and an unwillingness to attach to a place that was the site of a serious scare. (The baby and I were home when it happened.)

Settling in to the point of feeling at home after that feels like going back to that one restaurant I really liked but where I got food poisoning last time, you know? Or going out again with a guy who…I dunno: stole your purse? Which you wouldn’t do. Scratch that one. It’d be like…wait: I’ve got it: it’s be like every time you showed up at the movie theater to see Ben Affleck in anything between Good Will Hunting and The Town. Like that. You just want it to be better but it’s just not happening. Until it does. Finally.

So I’ve been having a really hard time lately, but this week might be that “finally” place. Maybe. We’ll see.

It probably doesn’t hurt that I spent all day yesterday sorting out a security system, packing evacuation kits and testing all the smoke alarms. I’ll admit that that does make me sound like a bit of a freak, but I’m a safe freak, so I’ll chat with you later when you come by to borrow water and canned tuna after the big earthquake. That’s all I’m saying.

Rent a Center No More

yard.jpgSo, how’ve you been? Good? Great. That’s good to hear. What me? Well, we’ve been busy. You know, the usual. Early mornings, late nights, not enough salads, yada yada yada. Oh – and we bought a house.

Yes, it’s true. The perma-renter has crossed over to the other side. After several aborted feints in that direction, we actually searched for, found, and bought a house. And yes it’s in San Francisco, the city I swore I’d never settle for or in, but here’s the deal we struck: it’s rentable. So if we get it together to move home to New York, we’ll swap it or rent it or, if necessary, put it on a truck and Airstream it to Brooklyn.

So goodbye money down the drain, hello stable investment.

Of course it’s terrifying – mainly the unknown maintenance and very known mortgage – but it’s a great place and a good time to buy. (If any of you remember the property we came within an inch of owning a few years ago, this place is on that same block. Weird, right?) I wanted to buy a condo so we’d have on-site management, but we saw this place and couldn’t walk away.

It’s super sunny, which isn’t a given even in our sunny neighborhood because it’s all hills, so lots of yards or bedrooms face into the hill. Also, that hill is bedrock, which is great for earthquake safety but not so great for yard management. A lot of places we’ve seen have given up and resorted to gravel, and most places have either poor grading or unmanaged trees (presumably latched onto that rock), or both. We’ll actually have a proper yard with a lovely tree, grass, a small sun deck and a lighted dining patio, all of that extending out from double doors in the living room, which makes it feel like a giant Mediterranean living space. The main bedroom has dormer windows, a skylight and two banks of windows facing east and south. And A. will have her own room. Which will be sweet.

I’ll post some photos once it’s a done deal. I don’t want to get too attached before we’re all the way there. But we’re halfway there, so keep your fingers crossed that we’ll make it to moving day. I’m hoping the most stressful part – the finding and getting – is behind us and the move will be all joy (!) Send packing boxes and organizational thinking.

The Boys Are Back In Town


doves.JPGJust in time for Christmas, our doves are back.

Our deck and the carriage entrance below us used to be home to an expanding family of them, but the unwelcome arrival of a cat (stupid neighbors – thankfully since moved – them and their stupid cat and their stupid band) and the pod of pigeons who found out about our garden fountain one particularly hot summer, pushed them out. It was like reverse gentrification. The doves stopped building their nest, stopped believing we were a safe neighborhood for their kids, and moved on to parts unknown.

Before they went, the entire family, twenty-three birds, made an impressive cameo appearance and then they were gone.

Perhaps sensing that I missed them or that the evil cat was gone or that this has been kind of a tough season, three or four of them have come back to sit on our railing and look relaxed. I’m so glad. They’re that lovely soft gray, their eyes are so dark and intelligent and their cooing makes me feel warm like cocoa.

Welcome back, birdies! We’re glad you’ve come home.

Post-Fire: Update V

Carlo is doing well. He is back in New York, back to being a lawyer and last week moved into a place on the Lower East Side, lucky dog. His hands are repairing themselves under their various coverings and his eyes aren’t so far behind, although his right eye is lagging a bit. My understanding is that corneas take forever to heal, so even establishing a firm prognosis is difficult. The winter’s events still seem very recent, making his recovery seem all that much more miraculous. I’ll see him in person at the end of next week and will report in more detail after that.

To all intents and purposes R and I have resumed normal function out here on the west coast. I’ve been back at work since the beginning of March, which gives me something to do with my time besides re-ordering everything in the apartment and trying to process everything that’s happened. I am having difficulty returning to writing (see: last date posted to this blog), have trouble sleeping and find that even minor bumps in the road are disconcerting. This comes as a surprise to no one but myself and I’m trying to adjust my expectations accordingly. It’s been a very long winter.

In other news, I lost my Oscar pool again this year and we bought and then returned a house. I don’t think “return” is the right word, but effectively that’s what happened. It was a lovely house but far too big for us, much like those trousers I bought that one time and never wore.


iris bloom.jpg

We leave in two days. Aside from the packing, which is sure to be its usual unmitigated disaster, the iris are my primary concern. They are about to bloom and I’m afraid we’ll be gone for the mini rainbow I hope will follow. I love iris – they are my favorite flower – and getting them to bloom at all has been a long, long road, so I’m not thrilled about being away when it finally happens.

We had bearded iris in the front garden when I was growing up. They held on for a month and required only minor maintenance which left me with the mistaken impression that profusion was easily achievable. I am not a completely incompetent gardener, but I have been singularly unsuccessful in getting anything to bloom, which is a key point in bothering with flowering plants in the first place.

I started several years ago with pansies, which, being low to the ground, I assumed would be an easy place to start. This is the equivalent of saying that you would like to learn how to take care of a person and starting with a baby without ever having been pregnant, read a manual or discussed it with your mother or a doctor. Needless to say, the pansies foundered and died under a plague of low-lying insects. I moved up the chain to azaleas, another favorite. Every year, I bought plant after plant and every year they looked up at me greenly with nary a bloom. Most of them then died, probably because I neglected them subconsciously after their failure to be pretty. God help my children, if I ever have them. They had better all be gorgeous overachievers.

Now that I think about it, I ought to stop working out the kinks on plants I like. It is so much more depressing to kill a plant you like. Much better to start with a plant you would not be sorry to see perish. Like, say, a cactus. Which unfortunately never die, no matter how much you neglect them. Same for those ugly succulents. Too bad and so much for that theory.

Perhaps this is a truth of nature, that we are destined to love the blooms which require the most particular attention and defy consistent expectation. This would explain why most of the men I crushed after in college liked mean, fickle, annoying girls who were deeply concerned with their hair and denied their suitors even the most basic peace of mind. Le Petit Prince had a manipulative flower like that. Like orchids, they appeal only to a particular type of person (myself not among them), require constant attention, a controlled climate and are not adaptable to anything. The owner must build his life around them. This is too picky for me, as I have plans of my own. Care must not require a lifestyle adjustment. I must be able to come to an understanding with my plant that is not entirely an accommodation of either of us.

So I’ve kept trying with the azaleas and iris. I have corrected my habits of neglect which were based on a faulty theory that I could forego regular minor care in favor of irregular bursts of excessive affection and overindulgence in water and fertilizers. I have read a few web sites on plant care and the sheet of instructions that came with the iris. I have calmed down and mastered the basic art of horticultural patience. Tend them and wait. There’s no point in questioning your acquisition: if you want the flowers, you give the plant what it needs and see what happens. You can’t hang on forever but, for these flowers, a year or two is not too much to ask. Or so I understand.