Thursday, August 29, 2013

Flora and Fauna

Today was productive. My brother Dee showed up with a bobcat and cleared the fairyland, poison ivy and all. I swear I saw that machine tilt while the blade pulled those vines. They are 2 inches in diameter and that's no fish tale. OK 1 inch.

Dee is building a house two doors down, which is kind of cool. He is the one who apprised me of this place coming up for sale. This Spring Atlanta real estate was hotter than I've seen it in a long time. Dee's timing was perfect, he built and sold 3 gorgeous bungalows.  He is a master at building these types of houses, and they are cropping up intown like mushrooms. Dee married a treasure of a woman, Jenn. One of the most industrious women I ever met. Affable, cheerful, unshaken by circumstance of any sort. She and I washed walls in this place until I was pooped, but she kept going. A trove of energy I wish I had.

The fridge got delayed and is being delivered today, along with a cheap interim washing machine. I have prepared a path through the kitchen for its arrival, and managed to get the garage door in the basement open for the washing machine. YES, I have a garage in the basement. It's an old-timey one, double doors that open out. They are rotted through. It doesn't keep out the insects or rodents I'm sure. Nor the robbers. Thanking Tommie for her double deadbolt habit, as seen on the door to the basement.

It strikes me as I prepare that I'm not proud of the place yet, and that is unusual of me to live in a place like that. But I am proud to own it, and will be proud to show it off when all of this gets done.

The poison ivy rash has not subsided. Oy. What to do. Baking soda and cool water works, sort of. But I am et up with it, I'll have to buy a pound of it and soak in the tub. Then there is calamine lotion, drying but effective. Today I was bit by a mosquito and my entire arm went into anaphylactic shock. If there is a thing called skin panic, my arm went into it. I think these fauna are in collusion with their flora brethren and carry loads of urushiol boosters in their ugly little needle noses, so that the poison ivy assures a lasting impression on us mere mortals. They get a nice juicy fat-laden blood meal out of it; what do they care if they are doing a plant's bidding?

Monday, August 26, 2013

The March of Time

It's becoming home, Tommie. It's becoming home. When I look around at the chaos and think, this is where I live, the terror is not as sharp. It's still depressing, the chaos, the boxes, the furniture piled one on top of the other. The dingy walls and still uncleaned floors. But it's fun to be picked up from my home to go down to Manuel's Tavern 5 minutes away or watch the young people preparing to move in next door. And I still get to go on a treasure hunt every day. This morning I found a toaster and waffle iron, items that my friend Rose Lynn would kill for, I think. She would have prepared breakfast right then and there.

Tonight on TV there was this civil rights celebration of the impending 50 year milestone of the church bombing. I had to Google it. I sort of remember but not really. Same as the march on Washington and Martin Luther King's stunning speech. I bet Tommie knew all about it. It is easy to feel noble by virtue of living it when cultural will foments a huge revolution, and it's natural to remember the influence of it. But true nobility is having been the focus of it-- not the victim, the focus.

Turns out, the church bombing happened on my birthday, September 15. Go figure.

I made a friend in the neighborhood! Maran is a self-described Buddhist Gypsy. We went for a walk this morning with her dog Riley. There is a park one block over with lots of verdant spaces, ballfields, tennis courts, a gazebo etc. Perfect for walking. We greeted other walkers and residents, Riley checked out each and every canine. The park hosts the drumline from the local high school marching band for practice on some afternoons. I love the sound of it. I also love the sound of the rock band two doors down. Just wondering what is will sound like if they ever practice on the same afternoon.

I got a ridiculous case of poison ivy. Ridiculous meaning even the palm of my hand is infected. I hacked and pulled on vines to get them out of the gutter and wham! Urushiol socked it to me. The fairyland in the backyard has its own version of witches. Hansel and Gretel should beware. My neck, chin, wrists, thighs and butt are bubbly, bumpy landscapes.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Her Stuff. My stuff. Her stuff becomes my stuff. I am beginning to forget which is my stuff and which is hers. I have a lot of stuff. I feel shame over this, but truth is about 10-20 of these packed boxes from the condo are marked eBay. Stuff I can't bear to throw away. Stuff that might be worth some money. Now I have 20+ more boxes of her stuff to add to my eBay inventory. I am truly my mother's blood kin. Respectable member of a hoarder family.

I lie awake thinking about what could happen to my stuff. I can't leave the door ajar without worrying about someone slipping in to steal my stuff. I hesitate having a yard sale because a.) People would see all my stuff, b.) There is so much stuff it's overwhelming.

When I go out I mentally checklist the locks and windows to make sure nobody takes my stuff. I believe I may be more fixated on my stuff than concerned for my own bodily safety.

How is it I can have so much stuff and have nothing to work with? The gutters need cleaning on the back of the house--all I have is this puny ladder barely taller than me. I have spent 2.5 weeks with AT&T desperately trying to get internet access; I am now the proud owner of two additional modems and still no internet—oh wait, yes I do, FINALLY. God dam AT&T to hell.

I guess my fixation with stuff extends to other people's stuff, because I still have my sister-in-law's sponge mop, bleach and garbage bags and I'm anxious to get them back to her. I think she's forgotten them! Some people are chill about stuff.

Tommie was a woman all about stuff. Forty years of mail, bottles, Christmas stuff. Great clothes and shoes. Good quality too. In her later years she made use of giant pill bottles for keeping stuff like nails, keys, pencils and rubber bands. I can't imagine the horse pills she had to take that came in bottles so big.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

One Ringy Dingy

Oh. My. God. I have internet.

Has dealing with the phone company always been a nightmare? Remember Lillie Tomlin's Operator sketch, "We don't care, we're the phone company"? It's not that, it's incompetence. When corporations are allowed to grow obese, they do. Incompetence is round, puffy, slow, and the right hand can't see what the left is doing. How many other trite phrases can I insert here?

Tommie was not only pretty, she was a snappy dresser and she also had enough brains to be hired by the Georgia Department of Revenue. I would say all in all a sexy package. In some ways Tommie is teaching me what it's like being a desirable woman in a neighborhood like this. Wishful thinking? Maybe. A good-looking single woman in her forties or fifties can attract the wrong type. Oh right, I forgot. I am 60.

There is only one explanation for the bars on the windows. But! what about the splintered door? I assume it's evidence of a break-in, but it could have been the cops breaking in to save her. Somebody called 911 when they had not seen/heard from her in days, while she lay on the floor in her own unspeakable mess, declining from dehydration.

Last night I lay awake with the realization that in all that mail and all those papers, there was not one reference to a boyfriend. Tommie Fields, tall, elegant, comely widow, apparently never once took up with another man after she lost her husband. She cared for her ailing mother all those years. But not one scrap of evidence of a romantic interest? I can only hope that she or the family, for sake of privacy, removed all evidence.

Mamie called tonight about the car. I got a feeling she was anxious I might be burdened by its presence. Little does she know I am borderline schizo and talk not only to her dead cousin but also to her cousin's car! I told her all was well. She says her daughter will not be able to take the car but she wants to donate it to charity. If I am confirming territory the car is definitely encroaching and Mamie's update is just. But I have realized hence that the car is my road to security nirvana— it gives the impression someone is always here!

Mamie told me Tommie was her idol when they were young. She thought Tommie was so fine in dress and manner, and sought to be like her. I remember a teenage babysitter whom I thought was way cool, I wanted to be everything she was. I saved up 45 cents to buy white nail polish like hers. Only when I got to the PX it cost 50 cents. It was a major defeat.

You did well by your cousin, Tommie.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Personal Detritus

No internet today. God damn AT&T to hell.

I don't stress it like I did a week ago but I still was thrilled when I found a flier in my mailbox advertising for a neighborhood security watch meeting. Boy, I can't wait to participate and volunteer. I went to that meeting tonight, emerging from it richer in spirit and friends, but shaken. What was I thinking? An older woman alone in a borderline-rough area. Hmmm, motion sensors? Was that another couple of thousand I just heard whooshing out of my checking account?

Tommie certainly expended energy making herself feel secure; every door has double deadbolts and chains. Including the attic and basement doors. The utility drawer in the kitchen is a mosaic of deadbolt hardware and keys. I don't think she ever felt totally secure. The story i got was that she and her husband were ambushed, shot in their driveway by his son. The husband was killed; Tommie survived a bullet through the collarbone. She fled the home she had occupied with the man she loved and bought this house, probably to be near her mother one street over. She would have been in total escape mode I guess. Freida told me Tommie asked never to have it revealed to anyone where she lived. I don't know where the husband's son is or what happened to him.

My visions of a knobby, thin little old woman in a housecoat gliding through this house she knew so well makes me smile. But the personal detritus left behind when a body occupies a space is gross. Steve pitched a fit when I took a shower in his house and left a few hairs in the drain. Granted, I leave quite a few hairs wherever I go; I've got a lot to spare. It's not a problem for me because they are mine. It's other peoples' cellular debris that gives my throat a compulsive heave. It's the sort of thing that makes me demolish medicine cabinets.

Tommie nursed her diabetic mother Gertrude for God knows how long before she passed, and there is ample evidence to show what she had to endure to keep the patient comfortable. Freida told me that Tommie hated Grady Hospital with a passion because they had amputated both her mother's legs and she felt the treatment was over-zealous. The signs of Gertrude's internment are all over this house, from the hospital bed and medical equipment in the basement to the stacks of gauze and dressings in the linen closet. Gallon jars of petroleum jelly, bottles of hydrogen peroxide, packs and packs of Telfa pads, surgical tape, skin prep and other stuff I can't identify. I don't do sickness or death very well, so imagine my barf-meter going through this stuff. Then there were the reports she had to fill out, or the visiting nurse from Medicaid, probably. One report I found described Gertrude's wounds as "necrotic". That was enough for me, I went to bed without dinner.

Chris gave me a generous Lowes gift card. She wants me to use it on a medicine cabinet. Chris has the house to die for. In the neighborhood of my dreams.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Buyer's Remorse

Washer doesn't work. Another item on the to-do list, another dollar sign to add to the array floating around in my head and teasing my ulcer. And I just shelled out $575 for a GE Profile fridge—— yeah I know, good price! I guess this is buyer's remorse. Every new homeowner gets it. It's not my first rodeo, I know it will subside. As soon as I get internet and hot water I'll be cruisin'.

Yep. Buyers remorse, for sure. Tommie's car sits out in front, mocking me. If cars could chuckle it would. It would snark that driveway is mine—who are you to just move in and take over! It beams a reflection of the western sun in my eyes.

Still no internet. God damn AT&T to hell. No, my bad! For making my entire life and welfare revolve around a network of data exchange. For this I suffer ulcerative colitis and a permanent crease between my brows.

The Harlequin Bathroom
Hot water and gas cooking arrived Wednesday. Like turning a page, a new chapter begins. I marvel at how something so simple can transform reality. And I continue to marvel at the display I am calling the Harlequin bathroom. Some fool was partying in New Orleans the night before his tile job. It's a riot! 

I can only say that the medicine cabinet was far above other household spectacles on the barf scale. I gingerly removed it and took it to the curb, only to find later it was a non-standard size. So now when I wash my face I look at a 14' x 19" hole in the wall.

For the last week, I have spent the wee hours listening. Supine, open-eyed listening. Some sounds are no-brainers: the soft snap of 70-year-old framing as it settles, the hilarious raucous battle for cat territory. Others are pure Tommie. Her clock in the kitchen actually ticks. Some sounds are just plain maddening, like the leaky toilet or the drip of the bathroom sink. No sound of burglars or killers. Max says to me, "Mom they don't murder you down here, they just steal stuff off your porch." OK I get that. I've had stuff stolen off my porch, even in Dunwoody. So OK I get that.

Attic; no sound. Basement; no sound. Side walls; no sound. NO SOUND. For years I had to iisten to the sound of the Satanette in the condo next door. Every morning I heard her enter the shower, turn on the water, drop the soap. I could tell when she washed her hair by the change in splash tone. I could tell when she left the house; a barely perceptible vibration of walls. Preceded by a clomp clomp clomp down stairs of wood. The fat cow.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Locale is defined in Atlanta by the Perimeter, an interstate highway that encircles Atlanta. If you live outside of it you are OTP, inside you are ITP. My move to Edgewood was primarily fueled by a desire to be ITP. All my activities and most of my friends are here. I should point out that this is a mixed neighborhood that is rapidly turning. It's not 100% black, just blacker than Dunwoody.

Of the four neighbors I have met so far, three are white. Two of them have been here since Tommie was a still vibrant, professional career working class presence. So maybe this is just bias of a Dunwoody dingbat. Anyway, intown has a higher percent of black residents. Black or white, there are aspects of it I don't like, for instance the aging pitbull on his chain that barks incessantly and can be heard a block away. Or the muscle car with glasspacks heard an estimated eight blocks away. Or the pretty little teen in her pink hoodie who strolls down the street talking on her cellphone Bluetooth headset at full volume so everyone can hear her diatribe over the latest dis she had to endure or the hot babe she is into.

And shopping?!? These people don't know from shopping. Dunwoody Divas go straight to Perimeter Mall for their wares. Convenient commute, plentiful parking, ample restaurants, a good variety of anchor stores and a lot of little boutiques. Now that is how to shop. Edgewood has one center modeled on New Urbanism, the architectural trend du jour. The parking sucks, the layout is tragic, the few anchor stores are meh! It's crowded, the patrons are surly and the clerks are so busy one is easily overlooked. I'm sorry to say intown has a ways to go for shopping.

Tommie Fields was a black woman. From the neighbor, I learned she was tall, elegant, self-assured. She sure knew how to dress and she loved shoes, I can attest to that. That was a woman who loved to shop. I wonder where she shopped? I have taken a close gander at the clothes and coveted quite a few things. The shoes, well, she was a size ten and a half, so...

I decided to offer her loveliest for sale on eBay. You are not going to believe how svelte some of these hats are. It makes me smile to imagine Tommie out on the town on an Atlantic City junket, hitting the one-arm bandits in her finery, sipping her whiskey or beer on a slick bar made of rare wood and brass.

Monday, August 12, 2013

I'm In

I am sitting at a desk space eked out of wall-to-wall boxes, furniture and leftover debris. It's overwhelming. Were it not for the giant piano parked in the dining room I might have at least one room in which to start organizing.

The piano was Tommie's mother's, a solid-built Weber with a solid sound. I wish I could keep it, but there's no room. I agreed to sell it for the heirs and have the proceeds go toward the cost of a family headstone. Craigslist was a bust, and eBay seems unrealistic. Tomorrow I will start calling the churches.

Tommie Fields spent three days on the floor after a fall, unable to help herself and with no one to check on her. Supposedly there was a caretaker-- but not a professional, only a friend, and seemed unavailable for long periods. The only family she had was a cousin in South Carolina, the woman from whom I bought the house. Mamie is a treasure.

My friends and I have spent hours pouring over the belongings left behind, sitting in the very spot (or so we surmise) where dark stains ruin the beautiful wood floors. Max saw the spot and immediately said, "That looks like the outline of a body." So we both decided that is where she lay.

Then there is the car. Mamie says one of the daughters will come and take it within two weeks. I can't justify my angst at having it parked out front, dingy and idle. At least it's not in the driveway any more. It's just a car; like Tommie it has seen better days. Does it represent the lingering Mrs. Fields? I welcome her spirit, yet it seems we both know my ownership will dominate soon. I've been through her papers, her belongings, her atmosphere. She is a blithe spirit, if one. I think she is proud of what little work I have done.

Brynan came over to help get the kitchen into shape. Bryn found the Green Stamps and had a moment, same as I did. We each experienced the conjuring of visions I like to think exclusive to southerners, of grandma shopping the Piggly Wiggly or Jitney Jungle and collecting those Green Stamps, carefully saving for the day they would be enough to buy wonderful objects from the catalog.

Bryn is South-Georgia-Southern through and through, but majored in French, traveled extensively and married a Belgian. They live in a great neighborhood that I covet, support liberal causes and know more about recycling than I can immediately learn in my intown infancy.

Bryn brought her beer fridge for my use until I get one. Then she organized the kitchen. I don't know what she did but suddenly it actually looks and feels like a kitchen! Her organizing powers are amazing.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

This Old House

The place is a disaster. I was lucky to get it. It's a solid brick cottage in a fast-rising neighborhood. But it's a disaster.

The house was built in 1946, Its granite foundation suggests an even older home may have once stood here. Frani, my dear friend, has all but gotten in my face to come over and get this place clean. She has more energy than god. We started with the second bedroom because it was where I piled all Tommie's stuff. It's been fascinating, picking through the stuff. More on that later.

Frani helps with simple, unqualified ability and willingness. She gives genuinely. Together we shuffled through two lawn and leaf bags full of Tommie's mail and records. The woman kept every bill, every receipt. Frani found some old chiropractic newsletters from the 50's and asked to take them to her potential future employer, a chiropractic office in Atlanta.

Frani knows how to dive in and get the ball rolling while I suck my nails and quake with inertia. What concludes from said dive is only logical: garage sale! What is it going to be like, having a garage sale on a block where everyone knew Mrs. Fields? Where everyone is well aware that these are her belongings being sold by this unknown entity and her entourage? Ah, another friend comes to the rescue. Sharon is having a garage sale in Lilburn, and I will be hauling boxes and boxes and boxes to her house for the weekend.

Meanwhile, every surface is covered with grime. Even the roaches turn their nose up at this place. I haven't seen a single one. Plenty of cobwebs, mildew and dust, but not a single insect except mosquitos. And of that there are quantities. They see me coming with their little bug eyes reflecting the equivalent of roast mutton on a spit. Not that this has anything to do with the backyard, no! The back is only a prepubescent virgin forest, that's all. 150 x 65 feet of poison ivy, english ivy, honeysuckle, wild privet some vine I call the Weed of Satan, and other bramble. Oh and large, large trees.

I've got three large trees on my property, each of which could take out a small city if they fell. I have never hired an arborist but that is something I feel I must do to save the population of Edgewood.

I envision a treehouse perched between the two in the backyard. It reminds me of my childhood daydreams. At recess in winter it would get so cold I would often retreat to a corner near the trees and imagine a warm little hut tucked away in the underbrush. Soft lights and the smell of cooking. Some day this forest will be a place of entertainment, a true celebration of nature. Sigh! I can dream.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Big Move

So I bought this house. After 16 years in a condo enduring constant abuse by a Satanic troglodyte neighbor, I finally managed to get the fuck out of Dunwoody, took the plunge, sold and moved intown. I bought a little brick cottage; an estate sale. Its owner was a 94 year old woman named Tommie Fields. She died and left the house and everything in it. I now own a big pile of personal belongings that tell a story about someone I did not know; someone fundamentally different from me.
And as I begin the journey of making this house my own, I have decided to tell the story.

This is still Tommie's house. I own it and all, but it's got 60 years of Tommie's belongings, events, feelings, spirit, and being. It's why I've hesitated moving in. I've frantically leaned on close friends for one more night in a clean organized environment. But it's time to begin.

Even with my own stuff piled around hers it still has the smell and feel of Tommie. I will slowly make it my own, with deliberate steps and lots of elbow grease. Max is coming over to spend first night with me, to reassure me that I've done the right thing, and to help the chaos settle to a warm rhythm of timeless comfort and efficient calm.