As Emile keeps telling us, we are “flying plane Michigan” tomorrow to see “Grandma AND Papa.” (Can’t leave Papa out, after all.) Usually leaving for two weeks in the summer means that we’ll return to a brown lawn, shriveled annuals, and a stack of cobwebby newspapers. But not this year! Thanks to a helpful and intrepid recent college graduate, we will for the first time be employing a bonafide house sitter. So of course I had to give her a few instructions.
For the past couple of months I’ve been wondering just how to communicate about the Liar House to the next people who move in here, without alerting the maintenance staff. Sitting atop the downstairs medicine cabinet? Might not ever be found, period. Inside the chimney flue? Would just go up in flames, or fall out if (and this is a big IF) the college attempts to clean the chimney before the next occupants are here. Kitchen drawers will of course be opened, leaving it in the freezer might result in it being unreadable or overly brittle with frost, and of course pinning it to a wall somewhere does not count as subtle. So for the purposes of telling the universe what anyone needs to know should they attempt to occupy these premises for any significant amount of time, I’ll just lay it out here in the nicest way I can imagine.
If you are reading this, you have been granted a visiting or tenure-track professorship at the college. Tenure-track professors, congratulations! Enjoy the next six years toward tenure as you acclimate to campus and try to find a modicum of time to work on your research, because remember the school has an open-door policy and our students are very involved! Visiting professors, know that the administration appreciates your hard work and they expect you to be dedicated for the one or two years they’re willing to employ you. Enjoy your time here!
Now then, about this house. This lovely Cape Cod structure was originally built on 2×3 hardwood, and isn’t it great that they’ve kept it intact for the most part? Don’t worry about that bulging wall on the stairwell to the second floor—if you don’t bother it, we’re sure it won’t bother you! On your first walkthrough of the property, be sure to check out the small hand print in concrete next to the garage; little Helen is now 82 years old and still likes to stop by from time to time, so don’t be surprised if you receive a visit from her! But Helen doesn’t have the only lasting touch around the house. Up in the back bedroom you’ll notice the ceiling plaster is well, plastered with doodles from another young girl named Paula! Paula clearly had an affection for California, and the Olympics! Paula also left several lovely games of Tic Tac Toe on the ceiling for visitors to ponder. That Paula!
Yes, this house has a lot of history. You can see some of it in the upstairs hallway where not one, not two, not three, but four layers of wallpaper are revealed in the corner, under the peeling oil paint! Washingtonians sure do like to gaze upon their ancestry since Lewis & Clark passed through a little more than 100 years ago. One hundred years! That’s almost mind-boggling!
There are a few things you should know about residing in this house, because homes with this much character have a few special needs. Anything worth doing in life requires effort, right? Right!
- The refrigerator emits a thin stream of water down the back, behind the shelves, which slowly pools under the crisper drawers. The college maintenance staff assure all tenants that this is the intended design of the appliance; that’s why it comes with its own flat Gladware container. Be sure to dump out the water on a regular basis, unless you want the refrigerator to self-clean the two feet of floor in front of it. It will do this by overflowing the bottom of the unit and spilling out through the seal of the door. Also note that as the rear of the unit is much colder than the front, your Gladware Capture SystemTM may freeze over. Simply bang the Gladware Capture SystemTM against the sink and release the ice, then return it to its place against the refrigerator wall.
- When bathing, be sure to keep the water level lower than the overflow hole near the drain, as there may or may not be a seal to keep the water inside the plumbing system. Water that bypasses a seal will fall directly onto the subfloor, and from there, into your kitchen, anywhere from the electric stove top clear over to the refrigerator and kitchen entrance. Baths with up to 8 inches of water are safe to enjoy. So enjoy your own personal hygiene!
- Your unit comes equipped with a fully functioning fireplace and chimney. Do note that during the time you want to relax with a fire, you should shut the heating ducts on either side of the fireplace. Otherwise these ducts will disturb the air flow near the fireplace and you may be subject to clouds of smoke and ash. We have not asked college maintenance about this but we are sure they would respond that this is an intended design feature of the fireplace unit and not anything requiring their attention. They would however prefer you observe a four-foot distance from the fireplace at all times, including placing your furniture outside this boundary, as well as your toddlers and pets. Better safe than burned!
- Speaking of the heating ducts, do note that you should only have a maximum of three open at any time in order to heat small spaces optimally. Should your feet get cold, know that you may stand next to the vent in the kitchen, as this is a mere three feet from the top of the boiler in the basement below and always emits pleasant heat.
- The garage in your backyard comes equipped with a locking door and garage door that you should feel free to open and close manually. It also has a cat door so that any random rodent can make its home in or near your garage when the summer heat kicks in or when it is very cold in winter. You may also notice several hornet’s nests in the garage eaves; these are normal, but the college will supply you with hornet spray if you request it.
- Remember that today’s appliances use more power than in years past, so operating too many items at once, like the microwave and the toaster, may cause a circuit breaker to switch off. This may become quite inconvenient, as there is no apparent circuit box anywhere on the property, and trust us, we have looked high and low for it. Fortunately the house does seem to reset blown fuses automatically. Like about the bubbly wall, we don’t ask too many questions, and you shouldn’t, either!
- Conveniently located right outside your kitchen window is the college recycling center. A project of several seniors who graduated many years ago now, it was originally intended to serve the entire Walla Walla community, but they may have bitten off a little too much to chew! Such idealists, those seniors! Now the college aims to serve just the local college community, which it has communicated to the greater city population by writing an announcement on the college email list and via a small sign on the front of the building that when open, no one can see. Do take the time to get to know your local recyclers, who will stop by all day and night with their clattering bottles and plastic. It’s a great way to meet people! Also, when they leave the Union-Bulletin in stacks to blow all over your lawn, know that this is an intended design feature of the college recycling center. We all fare better when we read and support our local newspapers!
Have a great year!
Walla Walla has been quite the setting for our little 2-person play on adaptation, struggle, ego, relationships, and personality. Living between a house of students who practiced the Save Ferris version of Come On Eileen for a whole academic year with nary any improvement in tempo or pitch was not something we’ll soon forget. Meeting the “wagon man” as he carefully jettisoned his recycling across the alley from our kitchen window will stick with us for a long time. And who doesn’t remember the bathtub water raining in our kitchen for a 3-month period, star of the film I directed, Holy Shit, It’s Raining in My Kitchen? Good times, all.
But our time in The Liar House is drawing to a close now. The nicked-up doors and baseboards, mushy plaster walls, cobweb-infested basement with illegal bedroom, we’re saying goodbye to them all. We’re only sorry we never found the electrical panel so we could meet properly.
But goodbye, hidden, invisible electrical panel! Goodbye, leaky main water valve! Goodbye, broken dryer the maintenance guy said wasn’t his responsibility! Goodbye, strange plots of bare dirt that the lawnmower guy insisted on spraying for weeds! Goodbye, ducks fornicating on our lawn! Goodbye, many, many students who walked across the same lawn, every day, multiple times a day, to and from class! Goodbye, strange cat who walked into our living room last spring! Goodbye, never shoveled street, even after 30 inches of snow came down from the sky and buried us inside! Goodbye, weirdly reappearing hornet’s nests that keep freaking me out! Goodbye to all of you!
Hello, road trip! And someday, HELLO dishwasher!
We have been thinking of renaming our house. Without knowing it was the tradition around these college parts, we nicknamed the house shortly after we moved into it, decreeing it was “the Liar House,” namely because it looks cute from the outside (and in the picture we’d seen before we moved here), but hosting a series of minor to moderate problems once you get inside.
One of the issues has been that the tub from the full bathroom leaks through the ceiling and into our kitchen. As my 14-year-old niece put it, “your dirty tub water rains into your kitchen? Eww!”
We’ve asked the building manager to come out to fix this several times, and although he didn’t understand the severity of the leak at first, he has been here repeatedly to try different things, even opening up the ceiling at one point and having a bona fide plumber replace some of the pipes. We still had water coming down after that, but the ceiling was closed back up anyway.
While we were away on our tour of western Canada, the building manager had the kitchen painted in Susanne’s favorite shade of blue (the shade of which he had researched with me) in order to win her heart and soften her email messages, which by this point had become understandably more and more irate. Who wants to deal with putting four pots around the kitchen to catch brown water, after all? Not either of us.
We were assured the matter had been resolved. Until one of us took a bath. And then:
We are considering changing the name of our abode to, “The Crying House.” There are a multitude of connotations, see, that we can address with this moniker, and so that may be the direction we take. Thoughts? Comments? Questions?
We call our house the “Liar House” because it looks adorable on the outside but inside, living there, you realize quickly that except for being haunted, it’s about as welcoming as the Amityville Horror. To explain:
There are three kinds of outlets in the house. They are:
1. Outlets that don’t work
2. Outlets that work but that don’t hold a plug
3. Outlets that work and do hold a plug
We’ll call the first group -O. We’ll call the second group O-h, and the third group O+h.
Now then, there are also holding tactics, consisting of tape (t), furniture (f), and small animals (a), which admittedly, don’t work very well unless they’re sleeping. It should also be noted that a is only a theoretical tactic, as yet unused in the household, but for the purposes of our exploration here, will be included in the analysis. Each tactic has its advantages and disadvantages. T, for example, does not require any remodeling of the room but may give way at any moment, or may dislodge paint on the wall. F, on the other hand, can be aesthetically more pleasing than gobs of tape, but may also require the user to be perfectly still for an extended amount of time (see deep vein thrombosis).
A typical scenario goes something like this:
If –O, then identify new O
Other scenarios may be more complicated, however:
O-h+a=O+ha until (a–f)(a+t)=O
In the above example, the animal holds the plug in the outlet with its body until it decides to claw the furniture and the owner(s) must bind it with tape to the wall to keep it in place. Future removal of tape is likely to be a significant disadvantage of this approach.
So no, the outlets don’t work so well. The refrigerator oozes a slow drip of water down the back interior wall such that we periodically have to take out the crisper drawers and mop out a small lake from the bottom. The dishwasher is nonexistent, as is the garbage disposal, so we keep an old cottage cheese container next to the sink to collect the small bits of food from the plates as we’re washing them. Large snowfalls seem to beget more waterfalls in the kitchen down a side wall, not unlike the fridge drippings. Our bathtub periodically backs up and spits back chunks of black detritus, or worse, sewage. And yes, we know it’s actual sewage. We have noses.
It’s been an interesting living experience, to say the least. Any given day might be shower-free, or we could skate across the kitchen floor because the fridge has overflowed again. But it’s nice at night, when we warm ourselves by the 62-degree heating ducts, knowing that some part of the house (right next to the boiler, probably), is availing itself of our $265 heating bill’s efforts. Yes, here in Walla Walla, things are a little reversed, if that’s a possible concept. There is one liquor store and yet more than a dozen wine tasting rooms. There is precisely one each Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and KFC, which is nice. There are two Rite Aid pharmacies in town. I think there may be more cattle in the county than people, but I’ll have to check on that.
The businesses are holding their own for the most part, although a couple restaurants have closed since the big drop in the economy last fall. It’s not so much that Walla Walla has escaped the downturn, so much as it is that W2 is already pared-down. It’s not a flashy town, it has its snippets of hipness in an Austin is weird kind of way. But at its heart it is utilitarian, and what people needs survives. Even if Walla Walla aspires to be a resort for the Richie Riches of Seattle, Portland, and northern California, it is primarily supported by the residents here.
I am one of them. I make the city survive on my endless purchases of mopheads and Draino. So be it.
I was going to start this post with the following sentence:
“Sitting around brunch this morning…”
But a few things occurred to me to make me rethink the thought. Namely:
1. “Brunch” does not occur at 10AM. People call that breakfast. Brunch is a leisurely activity partaken in the immediacy of noon, at the absolute earliest. Heck, in DC, brunch is still going on at 3PM. Emphasis on post meridian. Thus this event this morning, emphasis on morning, was not actually brunch, because we were groaning at 9:17 that we had to get moving. Thank goodness nothing in Walla Walla is more than 8 minutes from anything else.
2. This so-called brunch was hosted by a veteran of the herbivore movement. Now then, I was a vegetarian from 1995-2000, and I learned very, very early that the whole idea of fake meat using soy products is the grossest possible way to be a veggie. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather just not eat a sausage than eat a sausage that in no way tastes like sausage. My mouth gets angry at me for the deception, I think.
So now that I’ve cleared all that up, I’ll begin again.
Sitting around a breakfast of plastic bacon, fine pastries, the remnants of my pie from last night, and some rather delicious cornbread, we were talking about people on the campus and the funny buildings they’ve acquired over the years. Readers of this blog will recall that Susanne and I call our house the Liar House, because it looks cute on the outside but inside is actually the Amityville Horror. So it came, really, as no surprise, to hear that one of the administrative buildings on campus used to be a mortuary.
Here’s the funny/not so funny aspect to it: most of the people in the building are emeritus faculty. So waht is it saying that they’re in the old mortuary? I mean, is that the message we want to send older faculty who’ve dedicated themselves to the institution? “Hey, if you pass away in your office, we’ve kept the formaldehyde in the basement! So no worries!”
Then there’s the former hospital that is now a dormitory for the students. Everything gets recycled in this town. Even the recycling center used to be someone’s house. So why couldn’t they have turned the house into student living, and used the hospital as the recycling center? I have no earthly idea. But someone, somewhere made the decision. I’ve been trying to figure out how someone gets the idea that
hospital : dormitory or mortuary : retired professor offices
but I got nothing. This is the campus, after all, that takes care of a pet goat, so it could just be that there are algorithms here that I do not comprehend. Maybe it’ll take more time living here, and by February I’ll be like, “oh is that a broken down pickup truck parked outside in the alley? well, now it’s a compost pile!”
“Interesting” is one of those words that can mean pretty much anything, but usually means nothing. Used as a conversational nudge, it means, “go on, I’m listening.” Said drawn out in the beginning, like, “iiiiiiiinteresting,” it means you just found something odd. Said after a pause, like, “that’s . . . interesting,” means you just found something really odd. Looking at the actual Webster’s definition, however, it simply means “holding the attention : arousing interest.”
So judge for yourself when I describe the following as arousing my interest:
1. The fellow who comes by the recycling center several times a day to scrounge through the materials to see if there’s anything he wants. So-marked treasures are piled into his wagon, which is attached to his 1950s bicycle. The most “interesting” thing about him is his outfit — always a dusty pair of overalls with no shirt underneath, so one can easily see just how filthy he is. I actually get concerned about him because he seems so duly dedicated and driftless. I wonder where he sleeps at night.
2. The ceiling in the smallest bedroom of our Liar House is made of plaster. Okay, not so interesting. But when the plaster was in its infancy and still wet, someone drew all over it. There’s a tic-tac-toe board and a set of Olympic rings, the words “California,” Walla Walla,” and “Paula,” as if someone were documenting her own travel to this isolated village. Was it inscribed in a year of the Olympic games? We do know from a previous resident that it was there in 2002, but earlier than that, we have no idea.
3. There’s a small photo in our basement, a knock off of some cheap Olin Mills portrait. Four women of varying ages, all blonde, smiling a little too much like they hailed from Stepford, Massachusetts. No idea when that was left here, why it’s in the basement, of all places, if it’s a joke or placed ironically.
4. Tuesday is lawn moving day, which I presume will end shortly — probably when the college shuts off the automatic lawn sprinklers. Our band-playing neighbors next door have a large trampoline in the backyard. When the mowing guy comes by, he doesn’t drive up in one of those long-bed pickup trucks with a green “Landscaping” painted on the side. He arrives by street in his riding lawnmower, as if he pops up from the ground like our watering system, or possibly like a mechanized, humongous hedgehog. I’ve never actually seen him not sitting in the mower. Thus his strategy for moving the trampoline, which obviously blocks a big swath of lawn, is to ram it, head on, move where it recently had been, and then ram it from the other side. So the sound of this is amusing and a bit worrisome: mowmowmowmowBANGmowmowmowmowBANGBANGmowmowmowmowmow.
Those are just the top four interesting people and things in this corner of town. Perhaps next week I’ll move off campus with a few more mysteries.
Meanwhile, it’s clear I need to get out more often.
Okay, I’m trying to make it sound like a joke because I deal in humor, and jokers are wild, and uh, well, it’s babystepping in terms of progress of our move in. Why babysteps, you wonder? I usually blast through the unpacking stage–turn on some Groove Armada, break out the boxes, a place for everything and everything in its place. Not this time. This time we go to the office to sign the lease and the woman in charge looks at us in wonder. We explain who we are. She looks as blank as one of the 39,867 cows we’ve just passed on our trip. Susanne gives her the address, explains we’re moving in TODAY. Good thing we got here early enough that she’s still in the office, because the back up key pick-up location, the security office, was so not going to be helpful. I say this in hindsight, of course.
“Oh,” she says, “I’m not sure if we’ve cleaned that property yet or not. You can just give Scott a call if you need anything.” She says this like Scott’s generally a helpful fellow. Rest assured, Scott is far, far from being anything close to intrepid, thorough, genuine, or even not completely lazy. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I take Scott’s card, which is worth more as the 1/200th of a penny value of the paper it’s printed on than as a conduit to a resource. We sign the lease, which she is now getting around to printing, pay the prorated rent plus another grand or so in fees and etc. we didn’t know we’d have to pay, and take possession of the keys.
The house looks so cute on the outside. It’s a little Cape Codder of a building, nestled between some house under renovation and the school’s recycling center. Yes, recycling center. Where people can drop off their cans, bottles, and other sundry renewable items at any time of the day or night. Great. It’s also across from the student health clinic and counseling center, so that in case we have to send any stalker students to counseling, they can conveniently stop by our house on their way to counseling. Also great!
We walk in the back way of the house because that’s where we parked, just outside the garage, where I see about 5 or 6 bees flying into the garage rafters. Oh dear, I think, as one deathly allergic to bees, hopefully we can get the hive, if one is there, destroyed quickly so I don’t have to worry every time I walk into the back yard. We unlock the back door, and walk into the kitchen.
Kitchen! Yay! Kitchen! NO! The floor is streaked with something, there’s schmutz on the stove, and a lot of cobwebs. I suppose the admin assistant was right — this place hasn’t been cleaned yet. Closer inspection — well, not too close — reveals a very dirty toilet in the “quarter bath” downstairs, which is my new term for it, more dirty floors in the front foyer, and the distinctive and unmistakable odor of cat urine, throughout the house. To say we were disappointed would be an understatement. I have taken to calling the house, so cute on the outside, the “Liar House,” because it is so unacceptable in the interior. We walked through the house, finding dinged up walls, many many chips in the trim paint, holes in the wall (Scott later explained he doesn’t care about any hole that is smaller than the size of a human fist — good to know, so I can run around and put a bunch of quarter-sized holes in the wall when we leave), broken fireplace tiles, and on and on. The only house I have ever moved into that was in worse condition than this one was in 1992, when I moved into a place previously inhabited by four fraternity brothers. But other than that, this was disgusting. The mildew in the uncaulked tub alone was enough to call in a professional cleaning service, which I presumed the college has for these FACULTY house rentals.
Nope. We gave the building manager a call, and he explained that he sometimes uses a couple of “girls” he knows through some painters he’s worked with, but that’s it. The only cleaning that is done is done by the exiting tenant. I have never heard such horseshit in my life. I got him to agree to come over to look at the place with us. He was Mr. Excuses — he didn’t know when we were coming, turned into he doesn’t want to inconvenience us with little things like painting, morphed into he knows it needs work and he’ll do it — once we leave next summer. He looked at us like we were a couple of undergrads who don’t know any better. I was pretty furious, but I felt like I couldn’t give him a hard time before Susanne even gets to teaching, and I realize this guy could potentially make my life miserable if I get on his bad side.
Let me make this clear: it’s not like one generally gets good service on things like housing maintenance in DC. Far from it. Everything is a negotiation, a lot of cajoling needs to happen, probably a $20 bill now and again. But you know up front it’s going to be shit, you’re going to deal with BS artists, and you know what to expect. This guy, and as far as I can tell, other folks in this town act like they’re doing you a favor not doing anything for you. He’s telling us we should be grateful we have new windows and an air conditioning unit from 1957. I’ll tell you what inconvenient is, mister jackass. Inconvenient is driving 3,550 miles across the ever-loving country, to come into a disgusting pig sty, needing to turn around, drive another 80 miles round trip to go to a place to load up on cleaning supplies, come back, clean the entire house, and THEN unpack. Inconvenient is not having to step around a painter while he redoes the beat-up trim.
Michael suggested we not rate our Walla Walla experience on the one day. He is right. But I do not see why I should have to put forth a tremendous amount of effort to make things go my way because other people are not doing their jobs. That is not acceptable. And to have this really sweet road trip end in a miserable situation–which could so easily have not had to happen–that is sad. So I am sad. And I will take it one step at a time, and try to find some semblance of home here because I keep hearing Tim Gunn in my head, saying, “Make it work.” Maybe I should email Tim Gunn.
Dear Mr. Gunn, may I call you Tim. Thanks so much for being an inspiration. This town I’ve just moved to seems to really suck, but I know you would tell me to get in there, designers, and make it work. I can really appreciate your positive attitude right now. You’re an inspiration!
Holla at cha boy,