Thursday, November 15, 2012

Upstairs, Downstairs

I’ve been feeling nostalgic for our old house in Boston. This was a three-story, two-family, beige-clapboard-and-white-gingerbread house, tucked away on a tiny private way off a fairly busy street. Even though the house was in the city of Boston it butted up against a high, wooded slope, and we saw lots of interesting critters there, all the time. (Except, when we saw that dead rat in our dungeon basement? That was not interesting.) Wonderful snails with beige and brown and burgundy whorled shells, raccoon eyes glittering in trees at night, skunks, hummingbirds, tons of bats. Those animals couldn’t care less that they were living within the city limits. Our lot was a hospitable one. I liked that.
(NOT the actual Delaunay Manse.)

Our tenants were my brother and sister-in-law, R-- and J--. (Longtime readers of this blog might remember that we could not agree on their blog-names. Rick?? Jackie?? REALLY? they howled. So they have become, in the grandest 18th-century literary tradition, R—and J--.) R—and J—lived on the first floor, and Lars, baby Saskia, later Baby Benjy, and I lived on floors two and three.

That was an interesting house. I blogged here about the triangular cut-out at the top of the stairs, and Benjy’s first real pronouncement to the world, uttered while peering through it. Other interesting features were the stairs themselves, which I (okay, J--, because I am basically domestic-project-impaired) painted in awesome alternating colors – peach, sage green, and yellow, as I recall.  It was like walking up the stairs at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory or something; I kept expecting they’d sing out notes with each footfall.

 (Musical stairs are an actual phenomenon at Children’s Hospital in Boston. One or the other of my kids and I race down those melodious stairs at least once a month, and we love them.)

Anyway, by far the most interesting things about that house were the male inhabitants of it. Namely, Lars and R--.  Now, if you include my Dad, you have the trifecta of my favorite men in the wide world. These are good peoples. But R—and Lars – and maybe Dad, too – are, uh, a little eccentric.

R—will dispute this to the death, but Lars and Dad will grinningly admit it.

All three of them are nuts. But because R—thinks he's NOT, Lars’s nuttiness seems amplified to him. He just shakes his head at Lars’s antics and says, “Geez, Anna.”

For example. As a German, Lars has a Green Gene tucked away in his DNA. They all do. (No offense, German Friends. This is a GOOD THING.) He is OBSESSED with things like recycling, composting, cleaning litter up off the street (he always comes home from dog-walks around the neighborhood clutching dripping beer cans and chip packets and stuff like that. He picks up after the neighbors.)

So in the interest of conserving water at the old house, Lars decided he might rig up a system, involving a garden hose, a skylight, and gravity, that would drain the water from our bathtub into the backyard garden, such as it was.

 “The water is soapy,” I argued.

“This is no problem,” he answered. “The plants are hardy.”

“Okay, but it’s weird,” I told him. “What will the neighbors think?”

He looked at me pityingly and went about his business.

Where this gets really funny is the part when I tell R—and J—about it. We’re hanging out at their place, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze, and I mention that Lars has had another crazy, crazy idea.

“What is it?” they ask with a smirk. They know it’s going to be a howler.

I roll my eyes. “He’s going to drain our bathwater into the garden. To water the flowers.”

J-- shrieks with laughter.  R—looks stricken. STRICKEN.  “But,” he says when he recovers, “I WALK out there. Barefoot, sometimes.”

“Yeah?” I say.

“Well,” he says delicately, “you guys have a Jacuzzi tub. Would I be wrong in assuming you, ah, get in there together sometimes?”

I see where this is headed. “We have on occasion,” I say in as blasé a manner as possible. “We just wash, though. And talk. About life.”

R— looks pained. He’s not buying it. “That,” he says sternly, “Is GROSS. Not the joint bath but the issue from that bath IN OUR BACKYARD. I can never go out there again. J--?? Don’t let the dog out there. We might have to move.”

J— says, “C’mon, Muvvy.” (That’s her nickname for R--. She nicknames everything, and the nicknames change regularly. She’s cute.) “It’s not a big deal.”

Muvvy looks like he’s about to throw up. Did I mention he’s crazy?

“Okay, look,” I say. “There’s a VERY good chance that this will never happen. You know Lars. He rarely gets around to anything.”

This seems to work. R— takes a cautious sip of his coffee. He does not throw up.

Dear Readers, I will save for another time the story about the basement flood and Lars lying on his stomach in the muddy driveway sucking water out of a hose. (Yes, hoses seem to be a recurring theme at the old manse, don’t they?)

My husband really is one of a kind.

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