How did I get here? A favor for a friend. That’s how: here’s the first installment of my life with the Yellow House:
One weekend last fall, I offered to check on a friend’s house. He was away for an extended time in upstate New York and had been gone longer than expected. I don’t have enough to worry about so I was worried about his pipes and his stuff. Visions of water up to the window; visions of nothing left inside except a tattered 1983 Playboy and a well loved copy of The Federalist Papers danced in my head; so I volunteered to drive out to his house and take a look. We’ll address the insanity of trading Colorado for upstate New York in the winter at a later date. As soon as I can wrap my head around it.
I should probably mention this house is almost in the middle of nowhere. It’s really too bad ugly McMansions are encroaching on his land because despite the cold, it was incredibly beautiful that morning, the sun was blindingly bright off the crusty snow, the horizon was swathed in winter mist, and the sky was a chilly blue. It was dead quiet too because—fortunately—it wasn’t windy. Had it been blustery this paragraph would have a decidedly different tone and laced with NSFW language.
My friend is a bit of an eccentric to say the least and sometimes phone conversations resemble teatime with the impossible love child of the Mad Hatter and The White Rabbit. Out of all my slightly mad friends, he fits this quote the best: “You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” The bonkers quality is precisely what I like about him. People like this don’t have “normal” houses. I knew in my heart of hearts this task wasn’t really going to be a simple matter of a couple of door codes; making sure the house was warm enough to spare him the cost of more new pipes; and picking up his mail. But I was still hopeful because the instructions were straightforward: Unlock the electric combination lock on the front door and go inside, drop the mail. BOOM. Done. Tra-la! Back to Denver!
Because his vacation hold had expired, his mailbox was full. I am overburdened with stuff as I pick my way up the narrow snow covered steps onto his front porch. I should probably mention I’m wearing slick-bottomed ballets because that’s how I dress to tromp around in the country. At least I didn’t have on my favorite black pumps. Or—gasp—my crazy expensive boots. Anyhow, I let myself into the screened porch and the first thing I notice is there isn’t a combination lock or a lock box or anything on the front door. What the Hell? I know I’m at the right house. Because my glass is half full, I try the door. Just in case he was barking mad when he left and didn’t think he needed to lock it. Nope. It’s locked, as it should be. I command Siri to call Mr. C.
“There isn’t a combination lock on the front door.”
“Oh, oh, I’m so sorry, you’re at the wrong front door. I meant the back front door.”
[What the fuck Mr. C? No one has a back front door. Oh…wait…you would]
I’m clutching the mail to my chest in the crook of my arm as I hold the phone in my other hand but almost drop the mail when I notice the screen door I merrily walked through about three minutes before doesn’t have a handle. Son of a bitch. I can’t open the damn door.
“Fuck, I think I’m locked in your front porch.”
“What? How did you do that? OH yeah, there’s no handle. OH I am so sorry!”
He’s sorry? Hell I’m the one who gets to call our mutual friend to let me out of the porch. I’m picturing the howling laughter when I ask him to do this. I’m picturing myself huddled on the porch as I shiver from the cold because not only am I wearing ballet flats, I’m without socks, hat or gloves. It’s a toasty 16 degrees. Maybe 20 on the front porch. Fantastic. I won’t notice the mocking in my hypothermic stupor. Mr. B will arrive and will never allow me to forget this ever. THAT alone made me attempt to just push on the porch door even though it had made an efficient clicking noise when the latch attached. Dear reader, you’ll be happy to know my fresh manicure nor my dignity were sacrificed for the sake of my friend’s mail and pipes. The dignity is sacrificed a little later. My manicure was spared.
After picking my way down the steps and creeping around the corner, still clutching the mail I discovered the back yard and the back door. Hooray! A back door. And I said as much because Mr. C stayed on the phone to make sure I managed to get out of the porch and pick my way to the back front door that’s really on the side of the house. There’s a tiny back yard area encased in a fence.
“Mr. C, Where’s the gate?”
“OH hey…yeah…I’m so tall, I just jump over the fence and sort of push it down on the way over. I had to put that fence up to keep the dog from getting out.”
Of course he does it like that. Probably as nonchalantly as he explained his process, too. Who the Hell needs a gate? Of course he leaps over the fence with a single step because he’s Paul fucking Bunyan: easily six inches taller than me (I’m a firkin’ Amazon) and outweighs me by almost 100 pounds. He could throw me over the fence if necessary. I assess this fence I’m supposed to leap over, it’s not quite five feet high and fortunately it’s a little forgiving and without pointy or sharp things sticking out which would tear my jeans. But it’s not sturdy enough to hold my weight nor is it bendy enough for me to crush it down and then smooth it back out. I really didn’t want to climb over this fence. Did I mention I had on my stretchy velvet jeans? Because—again—this is the outfit all the chic country housebreakers wear. Slippery shoes and fancy pants. It’s a thing. Dressing for the task is so 2010.
I even considered a vertical Mambo between an outside wall and the fence post but it wasn’t that wide and I’m newly narrow but I’m not that narrow. I’m relatively strong for a skinny-ish woman. I am really worried about my pants relatively strong so I attempted to pull the narrow metal post up and out of the ground; thinking I could wrench it up and roll the fence back, creating my own damn gate. But Paul Bunyan had probably driven it in with a sledgehammer because that post wouldn’t budge. Nope if I was opening that back front door on the side of the house, I was going up and over. I told him as much and said good-bye because I was pretty sure ending the call was ok. What else could go wrong?
Bonus points for not ripping my Lycra enhanced skinny jeans. But I wasn’t completely spared. I managed to sit on the fence at it’s nexus and felt the bruises forming before I landed. Yup, bruises on the upper most portion of the interior of my left thigh. Fantastic. Would it be TMI to mention my perineum felt like July 3, 1990 and August 8, 1994 all over again? (My sons’ birthdays. You get the picture.)
Still clinging to the mail, I pick my way over to the “front” door that’s really the back door on the side of the house, punch in the key code and hear a “delightful” grinding noise that is so not the sound a deadbolt makes when it is being thrown out of a lock and into the “come on in and check out the pipes position.” Nope this was more of a “you are so fucked this afternoon” grind. I clear the lock and punch it again. This time the grinding noise isn’t as loud. I’m mortified. I have to call him again. My beautiful jeans are dusty and my shoes are muddy. But I’m laughing so hard I had to wait a minute to call. This was supposed to simple. I feel like a short bus survivor.
I call him. Not voicing my fear the lock box isn’t working because the battery is dead. Trying to make it light, explaining the noises I heard and we go through the unlocking process about twenty more times. I delivered a dissertation of the exact steps I have taken to unlock the door. Fortunately negotiating a solution was simple. It just involved Thanksgiving and the post office.
Phew got that worked out… I look over the edge of what looks to be an old entrance to a cellar which dead ends into a window. Unfortunately when great minds think alike it isn’t always a good thing.
“You could go through the basement window.”
It’s a simple cheap basement window, very easy to jimmy open and I’m small enough I can weasel through it. My clothes are a lost cause, I could just crawl through saving us both trips to the PO.
“Um. No.” My great mind got a grip.
“Yeah probably not a good idea and totally unnecessary.”
I didn’t tell him that with my luck and lack of ingenuity I would probably break the window which would necessitate a phone call to Mr. B that would be even more humiliating than: “I’m locked in the front porch.” Mr. C and I decide the basement window was a bad idea but could I please check the fuel level in the propane tank. This year he kept the heat on so he needs to make sure there is enough gas to keep the heater going and the house warmer than frozen pipe temperature.
“All you have to do is open up a pipe that’s in the center and put the long stick in it to measure.”
I peer back into the hole just outside the basement window I was going to shimmy through. What was I thinking? There were weeds and random bits of things. Probably spiders that would eat my head, too. Mind you despite my mortal fear of snakes I stick my hands in weeds and plants all summer. It’s only lucky I haven’t expired in the yard after pulling a snake out with a handful of bindweed. Why would I be distressed over weeds and the possibility of spiders?
“You want me to jump down there.”
“Yeah I do.”
BIG PAUSE FOR THINKING
“You don’t want to jump down there do you?”
BIG PAUSE FOR WUSSING OUT EXCUSES
“Not really. There’s a bunch of weeds and I can’t see the thing you are talking about.” I seriously couldn’t see anything in the “dead center” of the space except dirt and weeds hiding giant hand eating spiders. But more importantly,
“Oh THAT’S RIGHT you don’t want to get dirty. You’re the girl that doesn’t camp.”
While he laughed at me, I continued to eye the hole. Spiders. I couldn’t see them but they were there. I had to defend myself with the truth, “The weeds don’t bother me. I just don’t want to get dirty[er].” And I have a lunch date with an Anarchist philosopher.
I look down at my dusty stretch velvet jeans and my black cashmere sweater. Yup. Fussy. Yup. Not a camper. But then I realize what more could go wrong and I’m here so I should try to find this mother fucking pipe thing in the “center”. I’m pulling weeds and we’re talking to each other. Mostly he repeatedly describes a 3” inch pipe (“Yes, Mr. C I know what a 3 inch pipe looks like.”) In the center of the area. “The dead center. I swear, Laura. It’s a pipe sticking up out of the ground; the top of it has a handle with a hole in it. And it’s dead center.”
When my eyes lay on the Holy fucking Grail, the first thing I notice is it’s not dead center to anything in the history of things. Ever. It’s to the RIGHT of center. I can’t wait until he comes home so I can demonstrate to him what the center of something is. I’m gonna borrow a compass from Beav and maybe even a slide rule and a protractor. There will be a slide show and a power point. We might have snacks, too. But maybe that spot is the dead center of his parallel universe. After all, should I argue with a mathematical genius that would know these things?
I look askance at the holy grail of gas lines. That cap appears welded in place. I reach for the lead pipe to leverage twisting it off but decide to try it barehanded because I’m already covered in dust, and the pipe looks dirtier than the cap.
“HA! Mr. C!! I am strong like bull. I wrenched if off with my bare hand!” I raised that god forsaken “in the dead center of everything” cap like it was the decapitated head of an enemy.
“Fantastic, now take the long stick and see how much fuel I have left.”
He wants me to stick a long wooden stick into a hole and pull it back out so I can measure a line of oil. Like a dipstick only someone else isn’t doing it. I don’t check my own oil because I don’t want to get my hands dirty. Mother fucker if I drip propane on my jeans or my shoes…of course I check it. I’m there so why start saying no to the tasks now?
“You have maybe six inches.” I snickered into the phone because I’m ten.
“There should be twelve.”
I snicker louder. Oh yeah that’s what they all say, buddy. Shrinkage, right? I choke back a snort laugh, “Nope, six on the outside. Good thing I checked. Anything else?” I asked as I tightened down the cap and climbed out of the hole. I needed another task to gear up for the flight over the fence.
Oh so sad, nothing else needs to be done. It’s back to the fence for me. Only this time on the way over, I bruise the upper inner aspect of my right thigh. Yay! Matching perineal bruises. Good thing I didn’t have an annual physical planned because THAT would be an awkward explanation. As it is, I’ll be limping like a deflowered bride for a few days.
I managed to slap the dust out of my jeans and kick the mud and dirt off my shoes. My lunch with the philosopher was fun and he only talked over my head about 15% of the time. Derrida and Foucault weren’t mentioned. I’m not disappointed.
Don’t ask what happened at the post office.