A friend, taking in the uninhibited use of color, pronounced Casamurphy a happy house. I didn't allow her upstairs. My bedroom was last painted over twenty years ago. Due to a serious roof leak, paint flakes riddle the ceiling and occasionally waft down onto the bed. The poverty long ago eclipsed the genteel. We get a fair bid on a paint job. I am so transfixed by the Dunn and Edwards website that I forget to eat. Well, nearly. I work through infinite potential color combinations. My Lowe's shopping cart has seventy-five color samples in it. The site crashes, apparently from bloat, when I attempt to process the order. Impatient, I visit a local purveyor and order up twelve different hues. I sponge the bedroom walls with color. The perfect green eludes me. I pony up for nine more samples. The variations are so subtle I number each sample with a Sharpie. I live with the paint dabbed walls for a week looking at the colors at different times of day. Ultimately, the bedroom, stairwell and bath boil down to seven colors. One orange, two greens, a blue and three pinks. My instructions for the painter are contained in 3 single spaced pages.
The vision of fresh paint makes me realize how crappy everything else is. The perfect shower curtain takes more than a day to track down. Selecting the little hooks to hang it from is another afternoon. I need curtain rods and light fixtures. Our ancient ceiling fan has an incurable groan. There is no Dog Shaming. There is no Facebook. There is no Chowhound. There is Amazon, Home Depot, Bedroom Bath and Beyond, Pier One, World Market, Restoration Hardware, Overstock.com and ETSY for two weeks. I search for the perfect one of each of the little things I need on so many different sites that my head spins.
The last time our room was painted was before we moved in It didn't occur to me that 22 years worth of stuff would have to be boxed up. Our clothing, books and toiletries are stacked on the deck and scattered throughout the house. I wear the same socks for a couple of days until I am able to extricate a fresh pair from underneath a tarp. The room, emptied of contents, seems huge. The prep work has resulted in a thick layer of dust that isn't confined to the bedroom but has seeped down through the whole house. Himself's socks, pajamas and underwear are dispersed on three different floors. His sweaters are under a tarp on the deck. He endures my constant yammering about closet doors and shoe racks. I think he will like not sleeping under falling paint chips but otherwise the bedroom frenzy is one of those husband-y concessions that he makes every decade or so.
We decide to get out of Dodge and head up to Mt. Hermon for a couple days when Himself gets an extra day off. Dear friends Bob and Chris sent a bonsai when my mother died. Himself took a shine to the tiny tree, the focal point of a miniature universe. Maybe he has tender associations with Chris and Bob, and perhaps no overwhelming grief at the passing of his mother-in-law. The bonsai is called Brother Juniper. He lives on the deck and Himself fusses over him a lot. We also have a personal relationship with our Neato Robot vacuum cleaner, our little Robo. I overhead Himself cleaning out the dirt filter and murmuring, “I love you Robo. You're one of the family.” We take the 5 up to make good time. A crude sign advertises bonsais is right outside of Coalinga. I ask if Himself wants a friend for Brother Juniper. The owner of the stand can't answer many of our questions but keeps pressing us with an instruction sheet that he assures us is in English. We both gravitate to a little juniper. Himself holds the bonsai steady between his feet all the way to Mount Hermon.
We stay in the cabin three or four times a year. It's belonged to the same family for four generations but I suspect we spend more time there now than the owners. There are always tiny changes, a new piece of furniture or replaced appliance. This time a tiny ceramic bird is missing from the mantle. We unsuccessfully look all through the whole house for it. We walk in the Redwoods and then we sit in recliners. We both keep in touch with work. Himself reads and writes reviews. I start a story which is the first serious writing progress I've made in months. Bob and Chris live next door. They come over after work . We eat and talk. Despite the Naugahyde recliners and a particularly hideous new bedspread, this is a happy house.
There is a bit of drama when Joe College calls from school reporting his keys lost. I have the only spare to his car with me in my briefcase. It is decided that I'll send the key by Federal Express Saturday delivery. Himself lectures me about doing too much for the kids. He adds, in the same breath and before I have a chance to say anything myself, that he himself is actually the most frequent recipient of my “doing.” Several hours later I am notified that the keys are recovered, having been located inside a board game called Pretty Pretty Princess which the boy is emphatic about not having played.
Later in the week Joe College visits a friend in Santa Cruz. He comes to Mount Hermon for dinner I grill him about the painting progress in the bedroom. His response is vague. I actually slept up there,” he says. He'd spent very little time in our room since he was about six. “It seemed unbelievably tiny,” he adds.
Himself and I are California romantics to an extent that the Spawn are embarrassed. After nearly 25 years of road trips there are still many byways we've yet to explore. Never in much of a hurry when we leave Mount Hermon, we take Highway 25, the Airline Highway, through Hollister and down to the 5. A few miles outside of Hollister a sign reads “No services for 76 miles.” There hasn't been enough rain for wild flowers except one lonesome clump of poppies by the road, but the hills are green. There are a few ranches, cows and horses. We pass fewer than a dozen vehicles as we cruise over infinite rolling hills.
After hours of negotiation and attempts to manipulate the library's crappy application, we agree to listen to, and after much travail, download to my Iphone, Kerouac's Dharma Bums. There are passages about exploring California, not exactly our route but with the same sense of awe and magic we both share. The novel however is meandering. Long parts of it are stultifying. Just about any book from this and earlier eras would be considered sexist by today's standards, but Dharma Bums betrays a misogyny that can only paint the Beats as assholes. A self abasing female character, for example, is named Princess. Kerouac makes Hemingway read like Marge Piercy. Himself admits to having already read the book. I am miffed at him for not knowing that I wouldn't like it.
The production company that's shared my office for nearly two years has moved out leaving half of the building empty now. There's my dad's old office, the big room I used before I moved myself into a storage area and the once busy main office, now all forlorn. The production company changed configurations frequently and dozens of freelancers were in and out, some here for months, some for hours. I never quite got used to it. There was always the sense that there was someone else in the building. It is quiet now. There is a peacefulness that comes from knowing that, for now, I have control over who comes inside.
The little brother of Brother Juniper is christened Paddy. Soon our belongings will make their way inside from off the deck. Himself will not have to worry then about the bonsais being crushed and he can keep an eye on them. The new shower curtain will be hung and the goner ceiling fan replaced. It will take me days to put our stuff away but then I won't be ashamed to show guests the bedroom anymore. Unfortunately, Himself will probably take a while to recover from my bedroom insanity so it will probably be a while before I'm permitted to invite guests. New tenants will probably move into the office. Another stranger will take over my dad's office. I'll adjust again to sharing a space that for so long was just mine. We'll plan another trip to Mount Hermon and maybe the little bird will turn up. And, our happy house will look a bit happier.