Hot Water and House Mysteries

Midlife Sentence - House

One morning last week, I was washing my hands in the bathroom sink, the timing of which prompted someone upstairs to yell and pound on the wall.

Our water heater, probably like most residential heaters, delivers water of the precise temperature requested to only one person at a time, with preference to whoever most recently summoned it. Turning on the faucet in one part of the house will result in an either bracing or scalding blast for anyone already showering, possibly also triggering a tirade from a teenager who really should have been ready for school a while ago.

… Which makes me wonder, if we can only ever use one faucet at a time, what brainiac decided this house needed three and a half bathrooms? It’s one of those great mysteries. Like: why is there a cupboard above the refrigerator, all but inaccessible to even the tallest among us? And why do we put stuff there, ever?

Speaking of great mysteries (and also bathrooms and teenagers), another one is how we’re supposed to keep this house from turning into a giant biohazard. Any rational individual would contend the cleaning of any bathroom is the responsibility of its primary user, but what if that person cares less about cleanliness than someone else? Someone who, say, made the economical decision to lay off the housecleaner because she mistakenly thought teenage boys could be responsible for cleaning up after themselves and that there were other things to be done with the money?

We have altogether too much house, anymore. That wasn’t always the case. When we moved in, fourteen years ago, there were five of us: Mike and me, the kids, grandma, and our menagerie – two dogs, two cats, a lizard, and a fish. These days we have fewer people and animals, but no commensurate reduction in the number of bathrooms (although to be fair, the animals didn’t use the bathrooms all that much, save an occasional sip from the commode).

Back then, our full basement came in handy as an apartment for grandma. I also have a vague memory of one of us using the office down there as an office, instead of storage for camp gear and scrapbooking materials. Today, the whole bottom floor is a repository for junk I sincerely pledge to sell off at a yard sale. Someday.

And there’s a bonus: if I ever want to beat myself up, or need something to keep myself awake at 4:30 am, I can ruminate on the fact that nearly a third of our home has been taken over by stuff we don’t use anymore.

And then there’s the outside of the house. When we moved in, we weren’t totally happy with the sort-of-steep driveway. But then, it was south facing, and almost never needed shoveling, even in the dead of winter.

When it snows, our driveway is the first in the neighborhood to be rid of the stuff, and usually without much effort on our part. Out of all the driveways on our street, the sun somehow hits ours first, like God revealing Mount Ararat to Moses. Our own little miracle.

But this was the winter to end all winters. This year every single visitor had to contend with our slick-as-snot, steep driveway or the treacherous stairs leading up to our door. This winter our 80 year-old paper carrier was stuck for three hours one morning in the snow bank he slid into after driving up our driveway to deposit our paper right on our doorstep.

It’s been weeks, but Mike’s still dealing with a repetitive stress elbow injury brought on by shoveling.

Then there’s the whole issue of home improvement in general. We’re people who like fixer-uppers that have already been fixed up. When we moved in to this place, there were little things we weren’t happy with, but settled for because the bones of the house were good, and I lie to myself about our potential to complete projects.

We did redo the backyard and managed to avoid divorcing over a wallpaper stripping project by leaning on family, and then eventually hiring a professional (painter, not marriage counselor, although we could probably have used both).

When the painter came, he pulled out a few paint chips to show me and I asked him to pick. Something fashionable, preferably. He came up with a nice combination of brick, mustard, and a color called “Harley Green,” which I loved, but which he said I would tire of soon, it was so trendy. That was okay, he said “paint’s easy to change.”

I guess he underestimated my capacity for “meh,” which is why we still have the same once-trendy paint, ten years later, and I’m not making any beeline for the Sherwin-Williams.

Sadly, but not unexpectedly, we ran out of steam in the remodel arena before we got to some of the more expensive jobs, which is why our kitchen, several light fixtures, and a staircase bannister in the living room hail from 1983.

Recently we were admiring the kitchen remodel of a friend, who asked us “what’s your next house project?”

What’s our next house project? That sounded so generous, as though we were assumed to ever be organized enough to tackle something on our own without having to call a mediator. Like we don’t actually just give up on rooms in our house, or even entire floors, and then seal them off like Al Capone’s vault.

Jeez, what do we look like, HGTV?

Mike, quite understandably, stood there without answering. Probably wondering what should be our next house project? Besides packing up and moving, hopefully into a much smaller place. He didn’t say anything for a second.

So I answered for him: “cleaning the bathrooms.”


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