In the early morning, in the waning days of summer, the autumn air blasts in and causes steam to rise off the surface of the pool.
I say, “steam.” He says, “water vapor.”
I say, “Magic! Wonder!” He says, “Science!”
We mean the same thing.
It was a coup, we learned later, landing an apartment in that neighborhood. You happened to call the leasing office during a week when they were done filling spots with faculty for Cal State Channel Islands. There were a few townhouses left, and we jumped on the one available. It was a three-bedroom with a den — spacious compared to where we’d just been. And, we heard, it was in that part of California where people from LA vacation: Camarillo. We loved the view over the hill as we came down the 101 from Thousand Oaks. Strawberry fields stretched out to the ocean, with terracotta-roofed neighborhoods between tall oak trees. The greenness of the valley was a stark change from the brown on the other side of the mountain.
A rumor existed that the campus of CSUCI was the Eagles’ “Hotel California.” It was a state mental institution earlier in its history, before it was shut down for repurposing as a campus. There were stories of haunted bell towers and courtyards. We found out later that the Hotel California wasn’t based on the place after all, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t jog around the campus without the song in my head.
The only weather that existed in that part of the world was the “June Gloom.” On the first day of June each year, the clouds would roll in. They would hover over the valley until month’s end, and then be on their way. Every other day was predictably between 70 and 85 degrees, and sunny. We kept our windows open frequently. No screens were needed.
Through the open windows, on the hour, we heard the mission bells from the tower on campus. After dinner, we would frequently walk down to the campus coffee shop and buy ice cream for the boys. On the way back, we’d take the long way around and visit “tunnel rock,” the kids’ favorite place to play. The low-hanging tree had embedded itself around a rock, leaving a tunnel in between — precisely the right size for little boys.
We had a garage at this address — what a luxury for a pregnant mother of two toddlers. The house backed up to an alley that ran behind our row of townhomes. When we first moved, I was disoriented a few times and went up the wrong alley. It was then that I discovered that our garage door opener worked with our neighbors’ garage. Good thing they weren’t home.
I never saw a live rattlesnake, though the signs were everywhere. I remember seeing a dead one in the road one night. Our neighbor’s dog was on the losing end of a battle with one. The dog survived, though it was touch and go from the vet for a while.
The real highlight of this address was the community we found. We were at the pastor’s home the first Sunday we were in town — he was the dad of a friend from Northern California. His wife kept me stocked with avocadoes from their backyard tree, and she doted on the boys. We celebrated Thanksgiving with two other families. We were made welcome and a part of things right from the beginning. When you expressed a desire to learn Greek, Rick made time for you, traveling the half hour to our home weekly. Penny and I walked the neighborhood while you two studied. Everyone seemed to have a sense that we had landed there alone — we had no family locally. They became our family, and fast.
Andrew came along a little early after my failed Kramer impersonation. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect, really — we left from church, the older boys got to go home with friends, and he was born by 7pm. The day after he was born, it was over 100 degrees in Thousand Oaks. Everyone who came to see us complained of the heat. It reminded me of Ben’s birthweek in Massachusetts. Andrew was born on Palm Sunday; we went to church on Easter because I felt great.
That fall, the Santa Ana winds kicked up pretty badly, and the fires began. I closed all the windows and doors up tight, but the ash still coated everything every morning when we awoke. Sunsets were terrifyingly beautiful — cast in deep blood reds and oranges. One fire was on the other side of the mountain, and we were in the watch zone for evacuation. We never had to leave, though. Eventually the weary firemen gained the upper hand and the air cleared. We drove over the hill to LA one Sunday and saw where the fire had stripped the landscape black, jumping the highway and tearing down the hillside.
Our sad little antenna never pulled in any TV stations in that area. The mountains were too high and the winds too unpredictable. We were too cheap to buy cable, but once the Red Sox made the ALCS, you decided it would be smarter to buy cable than to buy dinner at the sports bar every time there was a game on. We drank Sam Adams, you bought subs at Jersey Mike’s (to break the curse, you claimed later), and the Sox staged the greatest comeback in baseball history. Then they won the series. We celebrated after the game, and felt sorry for our east coast friends who’d been up ‘til early morning. We were still in bed at a reasonable hour.
You worked long hours under the authority of a demanding, unkind boss. Much of your work was courier work, really. You drove parts around. One time you flew them across the country and came back the next day. The stress caught up with you, leaving you unhealthy and your nerves stretched taut. You passed out in your office one day. As much as we loved where we’d landed and who we’d grown to know, we understood that we had to do something else.
We left on Thanksgiving Day, leaving a few bags of groceries for friends on the front step.
Next month marks fifteen years of marriage for my husband and me, and I’ve been working on a special series in honor of all the Places We’ve Loved along this road together. You can read the other entries in the series here.
When we took the tour with Thomas, the overly confident associate from the office, he told us that we couldn’t have pets unless they were “non-carnivorous fish.” I laughed out loud because I remembered the phrase from my days in college residence life. He apparently thought I was upset about the news, so he comforted us by telling us that we could probably sneak in any quiet pets we’d like to have, like, for example, his giant exotic tarantula.
When we had considered moving to the area, an opportunity came up for a cottage in a camp town in Santa Cruz. When we saw that it was entrenched on the side of a steep hill with rickety steps leading up and down, we decided it wasn’t the best option for a mother of two little ones. I was thankful we’d made this decision when I heard the traffic report telling of frequent accidents on the twisty, treacherous road over the mountain. If you hadn’t been in an accident, you would have been in three-hour traffic jams trying to get around the ones that did occur.
The apartment complex in Fremont was by far the most diverse place we’d ever lived. Northern California is that way, and it was great for us. Our neighbors spoke Arabic, Hindi, and other languages we couldn’t recognize. The smell of curry hung in the air often. I adjusted poorly to the apartment lifestyle and bought far too many groceries weekly instead of making smaller trips more often. We parked in the lot behind the buildings and trekked in past all the fountains, which Cameron called “baffs.”
We moved in November, which meant that it rained for the first two months we were there. I was not aware before then that Northern California had a rainy season. We crammed all the books we couldn’t unpack into the exterior storage on our patio, a choice we would later regret as we unpacked mouse souvenirs for years to come.
The movers were perplexed by our giant hutch, which we came to own in Massachusetts. “You don’t see things like that around here much,” they said as they glanced at each other. I found this to be true; people in California don’t use open display shelving for dishes often. It puts a real damper on your china collection when you have frequent earthquakes. I thumbed my nose at tradition and set everything out on the hutch anyway. I had enough to adjust to — I wasn’t going to give up my teacup collection, darn it.
I learned to cook on a gas stove and quickly fell in love with it. I discovered that tile countertops are a pain to clean but are handy when you want to set down something hot. We both scratched our heads at the pervasiveness of textured walls on the West Coast. We stuffed our desk into an extra closet and made it an “office,” never mind that you couldn’t open the drawers anymore.
We experienced sweet church community as people made the long drive to our place. As long as they’d make the trip, we said, we’d feed them. I used up countless inexpensive avocadoes learning to make decent guacamole. We had a crowd for Cameron’s third birthday party, even though we’d only arrived two months earlier.
We went to the City — never called by name or (cringe) San Fran — as often as possible. One visit led us to the Fog City Diner, which we knew from the movie “So I Married An Axe-Murderer.” We blustered in out of the rain with our two toddlers, only to discover that it wasn’t so much “diner” as “fine dining establishment with white tablecloths.” We soldiered on anyway and enjoyed our meal.
When my mom came to visit for Ben’s first birthday, war began in the Middle East. We watched the massive protests in San Francisco and wondered about the safety of friends in the military. Mom wondered if she would make it home, and we were all relieved when she touched down in Boston.
Later in the spring, I trained on our treadmill for a 10K in Santa Cruz. It was one morning, just after I stepped off the treadmill, that I heard what would be the only earthquake we’d experience in our two years in California. The apartment rolled slightly, and the glass doors made a loud pop in protest. Nothing broke, the kids didn’t wake, and I patted myself on the back for being an “earthquake survivor.”
That summer the complex held a karaoke contest for a free month’s rent. I scrambled to choose a song, landing on 10,000 Maniac’s “Candy Everybody Wants.” I did it cold, and Cameron performed his air guitar solo like a trooper. We placed second, behind the teenager who belted out LeAnn Rimes’ “Blue.”
We saw the writing on the wall when your program was cancelled and you were now reporting to a group in Southern California. We just wondered how long it would take. Sure enough, we were getting packed up again after ten months’ stay in Fremont. The church threw us a huge killer goodbye party with a make-your-own pizza bar.
Next month marks fifteen years of marriage for my husband and me, and I’ve been working on a special series in honor of all the Places We’ve Loved along this road together. You can read the first entry here.
Our church family moved us in on a Saturday in May. It was hot for Massachusetts. We ordered pizza for the movers and made sure Cameron had a crib to sleep in that night. As the last boxes came in, you and a friend pulled one tile off the wall in the shower and discovered the rotting drywall underneath.
I set up my books, notebooks, and pens in the “sunroom” — the breezeway in between the garage and the house. It would be the first of many such little spaces I carved out for myself. The back windows overlooked the broad, flat backyard, obviously once beloved but overgrown for the last five years.
The tiles in the bathroom came down quickly one night, and out poured a stream of ants worthy of a Hitchcock film. I wondered about whether they could travel across the hall and actually carry our child back to their queen. I went to the only store left open that late at night and bought whatever spray poison they had available. It would be a months-long battle until we were able to shower in that space.
Outside, we pulled up weeds. We cut back vines. The front beds were a steady progression of tulips, bleeding hearts, and then daylilies. They seemed to be always in bloom. Cameron liked to sit on the front step and watch you mow the grass. One night he fell hard and had a bloody bump on his forehead, but he was probably more traumatized by the argument that followed about who should have been watching him.
When spring came, Ben arrived. It was over ninety degrees all week the week we came home — bizarre for April in New England. He was a miserable reflux-y mess as a newborn, and I was always at the sink washing bottles since we had no dishwasher. One day on route 9 in Spencer I saw a dishwasher by the side of the road with a sign: “FREE.” I sped home to tell you, and we turned around to pick it up. You and Brad installed it a few weeks later, bringing a new “modern” luxury to the house.
We laughed about the fact that you had once lived in the basement of that house as a bachelor. You had moved to my parents’ apartment as a result of tensions with the landlord at this place. Now we had a tense relationship with him, wondering when he’d pick up the last of his junk from the basement. He never did, until eighteen months later when we moved out and called a trash company.
There was a house a few doors down that had plastic plants in its front beds. It seemed as though the owners had given up on actual vegetation; the lawn was covered with green plastic indoor/outdoor carpeting and littered with sprigs of artificial flowers. A few more doors down was the house where the garage door was spray painted with “BEWARE OF DOG.” I always wondered if the owners had done that or someone else.
As the year wore on, your job dried up. We wondered where we’d end up. And then, we were moving to California at Thanksgiving. You flew out to begin work, the movers came and packed us up, and an ice storm descended on central Massachusetts. A tree came down in the backyard. We lost power. I called a friend who had a tree business and he came to our rescue the last week we were in town.
You completed the bathroom renovation that last week, too. To install the new window, you stood on a ladder on the outside of the house as the ice began to fall. I picked out paint and was sad I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the finished product.
A family friend sold the house for us. He kept the walks clear and showed the house through the winter. It didn’t take long to sell, and we were officially “only” renters again — this time on the other side of the country.
Next month marks fifteen years of marriage for my husband and me, and I’ve been working on a special series in honor of all the Places We’ve Loved along this road together.
We found the ad in the classified section of the Sunday paper. As we planned the wedding and made a hundred frivolous decisions about it, this decision seemed to cement our life as husband and wife more than most. We found a place to live together, under one roof.
It was an old school building with hardwood floors and tall windows in every room. We had an intercom and buzzer to let people in the front door. We used to imitate Jerry and Elaine with the intercom. The kitchen was new, with corian countertops; the bathroom was old, with retro yellow tile and fixtures. The hard water dried out your skin and drove you crazy.
You moved in on my birthday, the same day my mother and sister threw me a bridal shower. I came home sweaty from helping you move to find tens of women dressed for tea on the front lawn.
The landlord was old school — so private and mysterious that we speculated about connections to the mob. We mailed our rent to him and hardly ever saw him. If we needed a repair done, it happened while we were gone.
We were often awakened in the early morning hours by the territorial cats around the trash shed outside. Their attachment to the address was explained when we learned that Connie, the elderly lady down the hall, fed them every few days. The carport was littered with cat food cans.
We affectionately called her “Crazy Connie.” She loved to listen to Jordan Levy, the local political talk show, and tell us who should get the boot in the city. The day they announced the rent increase, she called Jordan to tell off the landlord publicly. She used to talk about her husband, who we never saw. We thought maybe she was delusional — hanging on to a memory — until the day I opened the front door and there he was: a slight elderly man with steel-gray hair and a walker clutched before him. He walked the halls while we were at work to keep his muscles from deteriorating. We wondered how many cats they had inside their apartment.
Sometimes in the middle of the night when the cats were quiet, the window shades would let go of their lowered position and shoot up the length of the window with the sound of a gunshot. Adrenaline pumped through our veins and we prayed for rest to come after the jarring fright.
I burned up our first Christmas tree in the working fireplace in the living room. Looking back now, I see how that was a foolish decision. But the only time I set off the fire alarms was when I used the oven to season our “new” cast-iron skillet, the vintage one I bought at the Brimfield Flea Market.
The hallways were poorly lit with beautiful brass lanterns. The basement was terrifying. The two washers and dryers were in the best-lit room in the place, but they adjoined the storage rooms — a series of stalls with padlocks where the twelve tenants each stored their worldly goods. One had a painting of a black figure with a glowing red heart. It was life-sized and it seemed to peer at me while I folded. I knew the exterior doors didn’t close properly and I wondered who was hiding in the stalls. Eventually my fears caught up with me and I started using the laundromat.
On nice days, like my first Mother’s Day, we walked to Institute Park across the street or across the campus to Tortilla Sam’s or the Bean Counter. You took me to the Boynton and gave thanks that we were together, since you used to go there as a single grad student and wonder why you’d moved to this social wasteland.
On snowy days, you diligently moved and shoveled out our cars at various hours. You prayed the plow wouldn’t hem you in too badly. The ice became so bad in the deeply-rutted driveway that one tenant scraped off the bottom of his oil pan on his Mercedes. Serves him right, said Connie. He didn’t pay for that car anyway; his daddy did.
The neighbors had fierce fights — sometimes physical ones. One night it was so bad, I had my finger on the phone to dial 911. We heard the door slam and out he went. After that it didn’t happen again.
On December 3, 1999, we drove home on the highway and saw some firetrucks on the street below. The next morning, we awoke to the smell of chemical smoke and learned that six firemen had died the previous night. The city was quiet and grieving. The President and Vice-President came to town for the funeral.
The millenium came and went with much fanfare. We didn’t prepare (sorry, Dad). We fell asleep before midnight, figuring that we’d wake up with no power….maybe.
The next January, we drove the five minutes to the hospital in the middle of the afternoon on a Wednesday and welcomed our first child as the snow approached. He came home with us that Saturday at noon, as the new President took the Oath of Office.
When the spring came, heralded by the blooms on the trees in the churchyard next door, we had a deal on our first house. You had shrewdly talked our way into it, buying it from a friend with no realtors involved. We signed the papers on a Friday afternoon at a round table in a noisy corner of the courthouse. We walked home.
Last weekend my husband and I had a date. It was quite possibly the nerdiest date in history. Or maybe just in our own personal history.
Let’s start with the fact that this portion of the date began a few months ago when I heard an ad for ticket sales on National Public Radio.
So, there’s that.
Words. Wit. Whimsy.
We’ve been listening to “Says You” since the dark ages of our marriage. It originally taped in Boston year-round, and it was the show that followed A Prairie Home Companion on our NPR station when we lived outside of Boston.
Longtime readers will remember me lamenting the loss of Says You a few years ago. But since then, Charlotte’s WFAE started airing the show on Saturday afternoons, which everyone knows are my favorite times to listen to NPR.
So there we were Saturday night, seeing the panel LIVE! And IN PERSON!
My favorite quiz within the game is a segment called “Definitions and Derivations,” where the panelists have to define an idiom and theorize on the origins of it. You may know what “beating around the bush” means, but do you know from whence the phrase comes?
(Please note my use of “from whence” in this nerdy, wordy post. Go me.)
We sat amongst the NPR faithful, including Guy Who Hadn’t Showered in a While, Man in Black Turtleneck With Navy Sportsjacket, and Woman With Shock of White Hair With Hemp Accessories and Organic Fabric Scarf.
The musical segments were provided by The Farewell Drifters, who were GREAT. We’re considering going to see them at the Evening Muse next week. They played “The Only Living Boy in New York,” amongst other, original songs. The fact that they did justice to a Simon and Garfunkel piece placed me firmly in their corner.
The producers taped two shows, which will air sometime at the end of January or beginning of February. Maybe if you listen, you’ll hear us clap! That is, if you can stand the wordy nerdiness.
Thirteen years ago tonight, my boyfriend took me out for a night on the town in Boston. We went to dinner in the theater district and saw the Nutcracker performed by the Boston Ballet at the Wang Center. Afterwards, he proposed to me in an office high above the harbor.
It was one of the coldest nights of the year that night, and I remember clutching my hand tightly in my coat pocket to be sure I wouldn’t lose my shiny new diamond ring.