Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The Pig Farmer's House
The wind is whipping and I hope the pig farmer who built this place thought of that. Pearl said that all this wind is a new thing. She thinks it’s because they keep bulldozing down all the woods for new houses and fields to feed cows or grow hay and now there is nothing to block it. She said you never used to be able to see that mountain down yonder. “Woods is nice,” she said, “but if you need to feed your cattle...” I was thinking it had to do with something more sinister like global warming. Or maybe it followed me here from Oklahoma like the red dirt encrusted in the tooling on my saddles and in the wheel wells of my truck.
On days like this, even though the windows are new and even though they are closed, the wind comes right through them and blows the plantation shutters open. Kurt is putting up plastic on the windows to try to stop it. To try to make it warmer in here because I am always cold. It comes in a little kit and he uses a blow dryer to vacuum-seal it. I watch the bubbles disappear and the plastic gets tight like Saran Wrap on a mixing bowl. I take my finger like I’m shooting a marble and go ping! I test my breath. I blow out. Nope, I can’t see it. It’s not cold enough for that. Kurt tells me to peel the tape around the windows or get out of his hair. I opt to go downstairs to check the fire.
I wish the plastic could also keep the noise out. The house rattles and bangs. I run outside to see what happened whenever I hear a clunk. One time I chased a piece of siding that was blowing down the street, tumbling like a steel ribbon and threatening to decapitate whoever got in its way. I think Kurt got all the siding fixed now. But I still don’t feel secure knowing the pig farmer didn’t have to get any permits when he built this place.
We used to complain about that up north. You couldn’t turn around without having to get a permit up there. One time we got into trouble because Kurt changed an outlet in the kitchen. In our own house! A simple outlet! The way they had a conniption when they discovered it during a routine visit on another matter, you’d think we illegally disposed of a body or perhaps built a nuclear substation in our backyard. Then we had to jump through hoops and give them all our money, which was called penalties and fees, to make amends, or risk being sent to Rikers Island or Guantanamo Bay, someplace bad, when we got sentenced by the judge, who was the clerk’s brother-in-law and who was still praying she wouldn’t tell her sister about that itty bitty squeeze on the ass.
Defiantly, I decided to see how far they would go. I told them we were thinking about building a little stall for Minnie, about yay high.
“You need a permit for that,” the clerk in the office said.
“About waist high,” I stressed, holding out my hand.
She tapped her fingernails on the counter. I could tell she would have preferred to smack me for my stupidity because clerical jobs in local government offices require workers who are arrogant, self-righteous and have a disturbing lack of patience. Double that if they got the job because they know someone. “You still need a permit,” she said.
“Okay then. What if I build a dog house?” I asked, blinking and ducking.
“You need a permit for that too. If you build it, you need to purchase a permit for it.” Then she threatened me. “Unless you want to get a fine. A big one.”
I should have asked her about permits for birdhouses. And would I need a condo license if it was a purple martin house? It made me so mad, them telling me what to do, overseeing every move we made looking for ways to wring a few more dollars out of us. Pretty soon we’d need a permit to clip our fingernails. I couldn’t wait to get out of there and get to a place where there was some freedom, where you could do what you wanted in your own house.
The ironic thing is, I now realize, after living across the street from the Evils who burned garbage on a regular basis, stacked broken farm machinery and old car tires right outside my kitchen window, and whose fences consisted of ropes and boards and wires—whatever the kids could rig up to try to keep their hungry animals from ransacking everyone else’s property, and never worked—why permits are a necessary evil. Not to be confused with the Evils themselves, who are not necessary to anything but the scourge of neighborhoods. But that’s a whole other story. Permits protect you from discourteous or unruly neighbors, and from yourself, if you are so inclined as to do something stupid like splice together a positive and negative wire or install your well right next to your septic.
The problem is, I can’t get a feel if the pig farmer put any pride into his work, if he had any actual skills or if he just had to get a roof over their heads, because the woman I bought it from, almost seventy years after the actual building, who bought it from the pig farmer’s kids when they finally moved him out because he was old and the front porch was falling down, stripped it of all it’s original detail. She removed all the Depression-era fixtures, doors and woodwork. If there were any kitchen cabinets, or old porcelain sinks worn smooth like the underside of a shell, or a claw foot tub, she took them out and replaced them with new, but cheaply-made, Home Depot versions direct from the mills and assembly-lines in China. She covered walls in paneling made to look like wood; she paneled around the brick chimney like it was a bump on the wall, creating a big box in the middle of the room; and she laid stick-on tiles on the floor that were supposed to look like the black marble you’d find in a McMansion in Staten Island or in Rome, and not something you’d step on in a little farmhouse in south Virginia.
She was a single mom who enlisted the help of whatever boyfriend she had at the time, victims of circumstance, to install the new windows or cabinets or siding—whatever his area of expertise. If you can call it that. As Kurt insists, everything is done half-ass. I keep telling him to look on the bright side. I keep telling him I’ve got to give her credit, being a single mom and doing all of this. She’s the one who built the barn. He humphs and reminds me it had a hundred leaks. She’s the one who rebuilt the porch. He asks what good is a porch if you can’t lean on the railing on a warm summer day because it’s attached to… nothing? A faux railing, if you will. He has no patience or sympathy. And certainly no admiration. He has to fix it all. Doors were installed incorrectly and don’t close. If you want to turn on the floodlight outside, just plug in the orange extension cord that comes through the hole someone poked in the sheetrock near the ceiling in the upstairs bedroom. Moldings are cheap pine boards stamped with Georgia Pacific or are missing altogether. In fact, there is a piece of molding missing in every single room including the furring strips on the ceilings and the trim around the sliding door on the barn, as if they took the last one to start a new one, kind of like a rib.
Of course all this sounds pretty bad until I remind myself that I could still be living next door to the Evils. Who cares if the old owner sided right over the row of charming back porch windows and put wainscoting up without using nails? And what’s a little wind when I’ve got Pearl next door?
I plan to write about the Evils, who I lived next door to, before we moved here. They were the classic neighbors from hell and they did a lot more to us than burn trash and pile their junk outside my kitchen window. Suffice it to say that they are the reason we call that house the Amityville Horror House and moved here, to Heaven-on-Earth.