Friday, June 25, 2010

The Casa. The Murphy.



June is fraught. School’s out and in a little over a year our 17 year old will most likely fly the coop for college. I am getting on Himself’s nerves, prefacing plans I make with, “This might be one of the last times we will all do this together.” I know that the imminent changes are poignant for him too and his objection is not to my wistful speculations about how our lives will change but because I am using this as an excuse to plan things. Himself typically dislikes anything planned unless it revolves around reading a book or writing a review of one.

I get through my third fatherless Father’s Day and Himself survives his second. It is impossible not to feel palpably fatherless on this day but we both acknowledge a consoling relief at not having to buy a tie that will probably never be worn. Himself’s dad required a trip to Orange County and a visit to a chain restaurant which would shake to the rafters as the nearly deaf nonagenarian spouted his Paul Harvey inspired opinions at megaphone volume. My own child-of-the-depression dad was a sucker for all you can eat champagne buffets and I realize I will probably never have to consume another meal that is referred to as “brunch” or surreptitiously supplement a 5% gratuity.

For the father of my children, instead of a public feeding I buy sand dabs from a farmer’s market purveyor. I ask if they are filleted and receive a diatribe about the impossibility of filleting them. The seller is either lying or just making it up as he goes along because they are readily available filleted from other fishmongers. I stop myself from calling his bluff and correcting him. “They can too be filleted!” I can hear myself. The fish are actually delicious, sauteed simply in lemon butter and the skeleton lifts out very easily so no one chokes on a bone and dies to harsh the mellow.

Also in this week of gravitas is our 19th anniversary. Himself goes for a walk alone and the seventeen year old asks why I haven’t joined him. I say, “He didn’t want me to. He doesn’t love me anymore. We’re getting divorced.” The seventeen year old is not amused much these days by what I say unless I say it with an open wallet but my joke about divorce elicits a deep gut raucous laugh at the absurdity of the notion. Despite Al and Tipper, the idea of his parents not being together is ludicrous. I am proud that the sprats feel the essential solidness of the marriage we’ve struggled to craft. I think the day to day demonstration of how we do it will outweigh the emotional harm inflicted by an occasional nasty ass fight.

We do drive each other to the brink of friggin’ insanity. I natter on about things he finds inconsequential. This is particularly annoying to him when he is trying to read or sleep, which is usually. I rag on him for his staggering domestic incompetence. I strong arm him into leaving the house. Sometimes I don’t keep a lid on it with the likes of the fishmonger and Mr. Non-confrontational is mighty embarrassed. I dis him on my blog. But, in our twenty years together, I have never been escorted out of a restaurant, as he bolts as soon as the bill is settled, eager to get home to his library.

Himself feels an obligation to be helpful around the house but finds no satisfaction in domestic engineering. He pitches in on laundry night and I ask him to remove the clothes from the dryer. He squeals, confounded, “the stuff is still soaking wet.” I come to assess the malfunctioning dryer and find him staring into the washer.

While I think we waste less food than average people, he notices some fresh mozzarella gone green in the back of the fridge, about two months past the sell buy date, and he’s sour when I ask him to toss it. “Can’t you just use it IN something?” I am mindful of expiration dates but not completely inflexible. I don’t think my refrigerator will ever become like my mom’s when I cleaned it out, chock full of items expired during the Reagan administration.

I sometimes buy the kids prepared lunches at the Fresh and Easy. Once they discover that the stamped date is yesterday’s and they both text me from school, irate. I convince them that the “sell by” date is not the “use by” date but they are suspicious. Several weeks later I discover that their lunches are a day past sell, so I scratch off the date. The seventeen year comes home incredulous. “Did you think we wouldn’t notice that?”

Their father’s thrift is legendary. I am slicing a pineapple and he is hovering with a full trash bag bound for the garbage can to collect the remains. I fling the cuttings into the bag. He extracts a yellow piece from skin and leaves and thrusts it accusingly in my face. “This is perfectly fine.” I explain that it is the fibrous core of the pineapple but I tell him he’s welcome to eat it.

The puppy Oprah, while sweet and personable, is a bad dog. She has dismantled our drip irrigation system and methodically arranged the components on the sofa. She gnaws the walls, through paint and plaster and down to the studs. We are preparing the house for guests and Himself is very upset about the condition. I blow it off. We have a puppy. But he paces around surveying the damage. We are in our home for eighteen years this month. The realtor who represents the seller remarks, after we’ve remodeled, that it had been the ugliest house he’d ever seen.

Our home is owned by a sex therapist. The walls are painted orange and covered with drooping gold veined tile mirrors and gray-with-dust burlap drapes are nailed to the windows. A different shade of filthy red carpeting graces every room. We see the potential and while there are some rooms that are not presentable for company, we love our home. Neither of us has lived for longer in another place. We live for several years before in the Echo Park Owl House cottage but it is my home before we meet. Our funky Mt. Washington manse, the home we’ve made together, is the first residence that Himself has ever taken pride in.

My husband was raised with Montgomery Ward furniture and dog trophies and the TV Guide. I had a theatre in our rumpus room but the rumpus ended when I was six. Kodachrome movies and my speculations are all that’s left. Even when it relegated for storage, the curtains on the custom screen frayed into tatters, the rumpus room is the best room of the house and the only room with color. We have pitted walls and dog smell and jiggle handle toilets but we have color and we have parties. It is hard work to create a home that is superior, and not merely aesthetically, to the houses we grew up in.

June is the month of many holidays. If I finish writing this before we hit the road, it will be read, in the cool of Mt. Hermon, from the home of our greatest friends Chris and Bob, by Himself on his birthday. We find ourselves at an age when an annual occasion feels really frequent and comes with the agita of registering how blurry the memories of previous years have become.

I wake up on the first day of my twentieth year of marriage. I drive the kids to school in Altadena. The school is moving to a different location. This is the last time I will make this ride. I wonder for how long I will have a sense of the route through stately homes at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains or the little bakery with the lousy coffee in thermoses and all the day old pastry you can stuff into a bag for $5.00. I look through a box of old snapshots. Dead people, babies now in college, parties in places I do not recall and faces I don’t remember. But the falling asleep with and the waking up beside and our places at the table are etched deep. Our home. My strange dear reader. Who I am.

To my beloved on his birthday, no present, nary a card this year, just these words, unequal to your patient love that’s blessed and shaped me and will sustain me when all else has dimmed.

2 comments:

Fionnchú said...

Many humble thanks; for once, words fail me. But-- our furniture was doubtless Fedco, not Monkey Ward's; the sand dabs were some of the best fish I ever tasted, and the cherries via Prunedale Deli off the 101 you purchased this afternoon make my birthday dinner here above Santa Cruz all the more delectable, with our friends and among my family, and yours. xxx me

Dave E. said...

"...so no one chokes on a bone and dies to harsh the mellow."

Heh...yeah, that really does put a damper on things. :)

I love catching and cooking northern pike, but the possibility of someone getting a bone or two down the throat always makes me a bit paranoid.