Thursday, August 30, 2012

Friendly Goodbye

Checking the mail in North Dreadful
Yesterday, I visited the North Dreadful post office for the last time to close our post office box. This transaction involved standing in line, filling out a form, and receiving $6.00 in cash in exchange for the keys. There was another customer there buying stamps for a big stack of invitations, which he had not counted in advance. Probably not more than 30 years old, the other customer had on long plaid shorts, large old school glasses and an interesting hat. For the first time since I moved here a year ago, this stranger in the post office seemed genuinely interested in talking to me, and I had to tell him that I was moving out.
The housekeeper is sad to see us go. Her opinion of the Landlords is that they are “crazy.” She is incredulous that they can rent out the house and “make money on it” while the furniture is “all garbage.” There are slipcovers on the upholstered furniture, so until you take those off to wash them you do not notice that underneath it is indeed garbage.
The listing agent’s attitude about our leaving is a mystery to me. About 30 hours before the last big, bad storm here, she sent me an email:

I spoke to [Landlord] and he mentioned he might consider a reduced rent  month to month if you want to keep it for a while or until we rent it. Fall is so beautiful up there. 

Between the power outages and the loss of internet access, I was not especially keen to answer her. Furthermore, the lease on our new city apartment had started already, and I was busy dealing with problems there. I did not want to make a nasty reply, thinking it would not do anyone any good, so I thought I would wait until I could say something pleasant.
Almost exactly ten days later, I heard from her again:

Hi, I may have a showing for tomorrow  Tuesday morning around 10:30. I am waiting to confirm but will that work?

Our lease stipulated that we would get 24 hour notice of showings. This email had been sent exactly 26 hours in advance. I replied immediately after reading her message, saying that I was going to be in the city all day that day and the next, dealing with issues at our new apartment. I explained that my children were in charge at the Red Barn, that the dogs would be there (in their kennels), and that housekeeper comes on Tuesdays in the early afternoon. I summed up saying that it was not the “day to show it at its best,” and that, “Any other day this week or next would be preferred.
I had two replies. The first:

Hi, It is not my client and it is the only day she has her so I had better go with what we have if that is ok.
You have a new apartment eh. I guess you don’t want to take [Landlord] up on his offer to keep the house on a month to month if it does not get rented.

And the second:

Hi , They definitely want to see it tomorrow morning at 10:30.. I know you said it is not the best day but It is too difficult to get the other agent and her client at a convenient time for us so we have to go with the flow. Please confirm received.

At this point, I had Leveled Up to “Had Enough.” My reply:

I don't know if you are trying to be funny here.
Your query coincided with our fourth or fifth prolonged power outage. I was hoping to reply when I could say something polite and positive, rather than be blunt.
 The neighborly North Salem you presented to us in the aftermath of Irene is not the one we have experienced this year. When the power goes out, the Red Barn is the only one on Mills without a generator, so while our milk spoils and we flush toilets with buckets of pool water, we hear our neighbors going about their normal days, generators humming away.
I am leaving North Salem with no local friends at all. The immediate neighbors see us coming and going but I rarely even get a wave back. The school made no effort to incorporate [child] into the class, and the PTA did not call to invite me to join. 
As far as [Landlord]'s month-to-month offer goes, I spent the whole year feeling gouged on the price of rent here. Remember, you all teamed up to raise the rent once we said we needed to stay on after we were moved in. Had the rent stayed at the original rate for the full year, we probably would have signed on for another six months, at least. 
I have spoken to my kids about tidying up and being ready for the 10:30 am appointment tomorrow. 

I realized that I was not going to accomplish anything productive. I also realized that I had not been pleasant. Sometimes, though, telling the truth is irresistible. Her reply: 

Wow, I am shocked I never heard a peep about any problems. When I met you on the road walking the dogs you said all was great. I have lived here since I was a kid and we have never had power outages like recent times. People are just starting to get generators. Not all have them. As far as a "friendly" town all I hear and do are good things. I wish I had heard of your feeling isolated as I would have done something. Apparently a lack of communication could have been the problem. As to gouged on the rent?? We had been getting [more] in the past but dropped to go along with the market. As I said I don't think your disatisfaction should have gotten this far.
I will be there tomorrow.

I have not truncated her message, omitting the “I’m so sorry you had this experience in my town.” My takeaways: I was supposed to somehow know that this year was unusual for power outages; she is “friendly” and so is her town; had I told her I was feeling isolated, she would have done something about it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

25 Things My Dogs Do

Lately I have been keeping a list of areas in which my dogs are more skillful than I am. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments section.
Sleeping curled up in a chair
Cleaning up crumbs
Thundering down the stairs 
Letting the cat bite them
Eating grass
Peeing on things outside
Looking comfortable sprawled on the floor
Being ready and excited to go somewhere in the car
Showing enthusiasm for a new toy
Showing enthusiasm for an old toy
Rolling on gross things
Looking out the window
Flopping on the couch
Meeting new people
Pricking ears
Belly flops in the pool
Pooping in the middle of the road
Pooping in the middle of the floor
Body Rubbins

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Half Japanese

On the left is a weekender’s house, like a tree-house built on piers and usually seems empty. Their grass is mowed infrequently and mostly has tassels on top. Parked on the driveway and shrouded in a car cover is one of those mini-SUVs that are popular in Westchester.  On the right is the colonial, like a life-size doll-house, with a pool and a two-car garage and two girls in the local school. Their grass is short and plush and uniform like a golf course.  Our grass is tended to by a team hired by the landlords, and is a mixture of manicured and wild.
A few weeks back we woke up to a hot, humid morning and it quickly went from “too hot” to “much too hot” to the kind of hot that elicits groans. The dogs were walked perfunctorily, up the driveway past the doll-house and the tree-house and down the driveway again. It was the birthday of the youngest boy, and a not insignificant one at 15. He had planned his camp sessions around being home for this birthday. What did he ask for? Not a thing. He was asked and again and again, before, during and after his trip to camp, and his answer was always, “I'll think about it.”
Azuma Sushi in Hartsdale
In the end, we had a quiet day, to the extent that an afternoon punctuated by a thunderstorm is quiet, and a bustling early evening: losing internet when it was most needed for research, racing to the art supply store 40 minutes away before they closed, almost running out of gas, finding a gas station where none of the pumps worked, picking up the Medium Cheese at a Different train station, circling round and round in a vain effort to park, having to call the restaurant to let them know we’d be late. Finding good food near North Dreadful sometimes means compromising on either proximity or quality, and on birthdays that seems unfair. So we put on smiles when we sat down for sushi in Hartsdale.
Back in the 80s when we lived in Burlington, Vermont, we ate at Sakura on Church Street almost once a week. Before then, neither of us had ever had sushi, but a friend worked there who taught us what to eat and how to eat it. Since then, we typically find a favorite sushi place wherever we live, and eat there regularly.
In Seattle it was Aoki, at the top of Broadway. Of course there is the over-the-top Nishino on Madison for special occasions, but for the weekly Japanese food feed we preferred Aoki. The very first time we ate there, it was a hot summer day in Seattle and we were looking for cold air-conditioning.  Aoki has some decorating quirks, including benches that seem to be made from sample pieces of laminate and a framed rising sun flag.  Sometimes we would surprise them by showing up with extra people or with fewer when kids went off to college, but they always recognized us and greeted us warmly.
Last summer in mid-town we ate at a couple of different sushi places, finally settling on one where the giggly wait-staff summoned up the courage after a great deal of consultation with her co-workers to ask one of us if he was half-Japanese.
We order a lot of food when we go, and we eat it all.  My favorite sushi story of all though involves the time the Medium Cheese and his not-half-Japanese son went to sushi while the rest of us were out of town. They ordered all the usual things, in all the usual quantities, and realized, as they struggled to finish, that the two of them together had eaten as much as they normally eat with two or three more people helping.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

North Dreadful

The next day
Thursday afternoon we went for a dog walk, and while we were out it got even hotter and more humid. When we arrived home, we jumped in the pool. I put my iPhone well away from the water because we all know that iPhones are easily ruined and had to get out of the pool to answer my phone when it rang.
There is a certain style of customer service which is employed for especially valuable customers, either to handle a high profile person or to remedy a past problem. I received the call and immediately heard the urgency in her voice and went inside to take notes.
In her eagerness to help me, “Deb” kept accidentally calling me by my first name, then hurriedly correcting herself and calling me “Mrs....” As it turns out, we are just high profile enough, and had just enough of a problem to fall into both categories, so “Deb” was giving it her all and going to fix everything.
At the same time I started getting texts from my husband, the Medium Cheese (he is why we warrant the special treatment). I had to juggle the phone, continuing with “Deb” and letting the Medium Cheese know that he was making my iPhone buzz in my ear during my phone call. My texts to him say, “Getting smothered right a Persian cat rubbing your legs right after you slathered them in lotion.”
By the time our conversation was finished, I was shivering and took a hot shower. We even had plans to go out to dinner. I got out of the shower to find the house was fully engulfed in a violent storm, with thunder, high winds and driving rain. In the midst of texting the Medium Cheese (who was on his way home on a Metro North Train) about the storm, the power went out.
I next wrote, “The long conversation with the Persian cat means my phone is almost dead.”
The Medium Cheese’s train then stopped. “We will have to sit in Chappaqua ’for a few minutes,’” he wrote. “Which means they don't know.”
The source of the delay was a tree on the tracks, and I was advised to fetch the Medium Cheese from the train station in Chappaqua.
Turning right out of our driveway we encountered the first downed tree across the road almost immediately, at the top of our next-door neighbor’s driveway. Reversing, we discovered another mess of downed trees tangled in power lines about a quarter mile in the other direction. There was another way out, and we took it, but our way was blocked by another large tree which had pulled down the power lines. We reversed again, and made our way on the last possible route. This final attempt ended when we found the road blocked by a very large tree, about two miles from the red barn where we live. The Medium Cheese had to find his own way back. We were trapped.
The only way back was to re-trace our route, and when we got there we got busy lighting candles and deciding what we would eat, given that the dinner plan had been to eat out so we had nothing on deck. We ate the potstickers from the freezer and as much ice cream as we could. 
The Medium Cheese never made it home. His train was over an hour late, but he couldn't get past the downed trees from the other direction, either. He went and found a hotel.
I checked the NYSEG web site before bed (having mostly recharged my phone in the car), and saw their estimate that the power on my road would be restored by 3:00 pm the next day. This gave our minor emergency an ending, in the near future, and made the situation seem like a non-event.
We woke to a stuffy, quiet house. I was quite awake before six, and walked a dog, and checked on the status of the fallen trees. Overnight road crews had removed the obstacles and our daily newspaper had been delivered. We cooked up all the bacon and fried some eggs, hard-boiling the rest of the dozen. I checked the NYSEG web site and it had changed the status of our repair to the next day, in the afternoon. The non-event felt like a minor emergency again.
In the afternoon I drove to the airport to pick up our oldest son and he had more friends with him than I had anticipated, so we drove home to our hot, dark house with an over-full car. I gave the houseguests a lesson in flushing toilets with a bucket of water from the swimming pool, and we all had a specific disappointment: there would be no hot showers despite a many-hour plane ride from Europe. Not long after this disappointment, I checked the NYSEG web site and found that the status of our road’s power outage repair had changed from the next day to a blank. I called NYSEG at this point, and spent 25 minutes on hold. I was told that the time was not posted because they no longer knew when power would be restored. We ate out.
That night, I woke at 1:57 am, very hot. I thrashed around for quite a bit, and then my phone rang at 2:25 am. I made motions to answer it, but saw it was a “425” number and decided it was a wrong number. I have had this number for almost two years, but I still get wrong number calls for the old owner of it. I imagine that someday each of us will have one number for our whole lives, but for now, I will still get calls for “Brian.”
I checked the NYSEG site then, and it was still blank.
I managed to get back to sleep.
For breakfast there was coffee (using a French press and bottled water and lighting the gas stove with a match to boil water) and cereal with less-than-ice-cold milk from the cooler. After a few hours of lying around we rallied and went to the grocery store.
On the way we had to detour around the first work crew, addressing the downed trees and power lines closest to our house. A NYSEG crew had commenced work despite the lack of a planned time of completion. We met the second NYSEG crew at work on the other mess of trees and power lines, and we were told by the only guy who didn't look busy (the grumpily scowling guy standing in the road with no gear, no uniform, no helmet and no sign), “Road closed. You gotta go the other way.” 
I told them to hurry.

Also the next day

How cold and bright and startling is the American supermarket after a few days of no electricity! We replenished the drinking water supply and planned to barbecue. It had come time to buy plastic forks and paper plates as well, since we had run through the dish supply.
I think it was at this point, after the grocery store run but before the power came back that I dropped my iPhone in the toilet. Back when I was teaching at my last teaching job, I used to hear the sounds that high school girls make when they drop their mobile phones in the toilet. My classroom was across the hall from a bathroom, and while they were never supposed to take out their phones except during lunch, they often took advantage of the privacy of a closed bathroom stall. As for me, I did not scream.
As we re-stocked the food shelves and re-organized the coolers, a scheme was devised whereby the overflowing sink full of dishes would be washed by hand using pool water. All of the big pots were filled and set on the stove to boil. The sink was about half full of hot water when the light in the kitchen changed. The hood above the range had come on, for power had finally been restored.
My husband, the Medium Cheese, is also a Relentless Troubleshooter, and by the time we got down to making that dinner, my calls had been forwarded to another phone, and my profile fully installed. It feels almost like magic when technology works, and your pictures and contacts and apps are all there in the new handset. It reminds me that the iPhone is, for me, a nearly perfect device, with exactly three flaws: the battery life is too short, it is not waterproof, and it is made by workers who work under conditions so dire they must be prevented by nets from throwing themselves from their dormitory windows.

Storm victim found in road