Mill Street Blues

It all started innocently enough, as many spectacular disasters do—with an abundance of good intentions and a dearth of interest in doing research and checking references.

The Jarhead and I, having survived multiple military deployments, thirty-two income tax seasons, and five home improvement projects—including one whole house renovation–decided to go into business flipping houses.

It made perfect sense at the time. As the more creative member of the team, I would come up with the designs, choose the furnishings and fixtures, and do the accounting, while he—as the stronger, fitter, and more mechanically inclined member of the team, would be the muscle, the engineer, and the eye-candy.

As with our marriage—ill-advised as some considered it to be back in 1985—we knew it wouldn’t be easy. As with raising children, we knew there would be challenges. As with military deployments, we knew we would need to plan well and be prepared for surprises. And as with income tax returns and other home improvements, we knew there would be tears, heated exchanges, and homicidal ideations. But we also knew that with patience, dedication and—if necessary—copious amounts of alcohol, our business could be a smashing success.

And so, one month after the Jarhead retired, we bought a domain name, created an LLC, acquired a trailer, and started shopping for investment properties. There were other steps involved, as well. I’m just listing the highlights.

You’re welcome.

We didn’t issue a press release—mostly because no one reads the newspaper anymore, but also because we weren’t sure anyone would care that we were going into business, and because we didn’t want to have to admit it later if the endeavor was a colossal failure. But we told a few friends, and word got around.

Those who didn’t hate it, loved the idea. They imagined the Jarhead as a midwestern Tarek El Moussa to my shorter, plumper, and false eyelash-free Christina. Or as a taller, darker, and less excitable Chip Gaines to my shorter, plumper, blonder, and less patient Joanna. Or as a shorter, older, and handsomer Jonathon Scott to my shorter, plumper, blonder, and slightly less masculine Drew. You get the picture—with my apologies.

And just over a year later, here we are—still married—and about to embark on our second flip. There have been ups and downs, setbacks, and surprises, which I hope to cover in future posts.

And even as I joke about spectacular disasters and colossal failures, from my perspective it’s been a mostly positive and highly educational experience. Case in point: I’ve learned how to (and how NOT to) install vinyl flooring.  I’ve also developed new appreciation for people who show up for appointments and meetings on time, and I’ve learned many new words for ordinary household devices.

For example, cabinets that don’t appear level when hung, are pecker-heads.

Screws that won’t turn at the speed or in the direction you want them too, are also pecker-heads.

Cordless drills with lithium batteries that won’t hold a change are quite vexing, and, therefore, are also pecker-heads.

If you type it often enough while watching someone hang kitchen cabinets, your Android keyboard will eventually recognize the word pecker-heads.

Apologies for the blue language. However, if you’re easily offended, you probably shouldn’t be here in the first place.

And for those of you who aren’t easily offended, be sure to tune in next time for Mill Street Blues II: Hunting and Blathering.


On the Fence

It has been said—most notably by Robert Frost—that good fences make good neighbors. Having not had the privilege/misfortune of discovering firsthand the role of fences in the establishment and maintenance of positive relations with those whom I live near, I was content not to weigh in on the subject and to leave the debate over their value to the poets and politicians.

That is until last fall.

Prior to that, I had not been party to any property related disagreement or dispute, or any other matter that could be resolved with the erection of a fence. If there were fences on or near our property, they existed—like traffic signals in southern Italy—for purely ornamental purposes, or to contain children and other small pets. Thus, wherever we have lived, we have always managed to peacefully coexist with our neighbors.

That is, again, until last fall.

That summer—2013 to be precise—we put up a fence to obscure the hideousness that was revealed after we cleared several trees and an abundance of overgrown shrubs from our eastern border in order  to enlarge our backyard and reduce the risk of a dead and/or dying object falling on our home. It bears mention here that by abundance I mean more than 20 and by overgrown I mean “came in contact with the ooze from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” or “I didn’t even know they could get that big.” We very much would have preferred to trim the darn things but every landscaper we spoke to said that ship had sailed and that our only option was to start over.

Unfortunately, like many of the long established residents of our neighborhood, the people who live in the house behind ours use their rear property line as a dumping ground for all the crap they don’t have room for elsewhere but aren’t ready to burn or take to the landfill. This includes such things as camper tops and assorted construction materials. Not wanting to look at that stuff anymore than I had wanted to look at overgrown shrubs and dying trees, we decided to stack the logs from said trees along the property line, thereby killing two birds with one stone. But despite the Jarhead’s considerable skill at handling wood, the log fence didn’t look much better than the crap the neighbors had stored behind it, and even at a height of 7 feet, it failed to conceal the chaos.

And so, the following summer we hired a contractor to put up a fence that would both hide the woodpile and hide all the stuff we had hoped to hide by putting up the woodpile. Like good citizens, we acquired all the proper permits, followed all the applicable ordinances, and left almost three times the required 5 feet of space behind the fence to allow access by utility workers, surveyors, appraisers, and tax assessors. Coincidentally, this also left precisely enough space between the fence and our wood pile to allow El Noble to comfortably wield a splitting maul and maneuver a wheelbarrow. When the fence was finished, we could still see a hint of the neighbors’ crap over the top of one section, but we decided to be good neighbors and ignore it.

Again, until that fall.

For not long after the fence went up and the leaves on the remaining trees started to come down, the neighbors put up what can only be described as an ugly lattice goal post. Standing 16 feet wide and comprised of two 2’ high by 8’ wide strips of lattice secured atop three 4”x4” posts, the structure towers eight feet in the air and, more importantly, two feet higher than our fence. It appeared one day out of nowhere about twelve hours after I last remember it not being there. Unpainted and alarmingly far from level or square, it looks like a seventh grade shop project gone horribly awry. It’s as if these people said to themselves, “Well, our pile of crap didn’t dissuade the Diersens from trying to improve the value and appearance of their property, perhaps this will do the trick.”

What had we done to deserve this? I wondered to myself, the Jarhead, and nearly anyone who would listen. Did they think we put up a woodpile and a fence so we could look in their windows? Did they think we put up a woodpile and a fence so they could look in OUR windows? Had I forgotten that I have floor to ceiling windows and inadvertently cleaned my house in the nude? Had the Jarhead and I forgotten we have floor to ceiling windows and inadvertently had sexual congress in the family room?

Accepting that I may have been a bit too hasty in assuming the structure did not serve a decorative purpose, I decided to revisit that possibility. Given all that can be found on cable TV of late, perhaps, I’d been too quick to discount that as a theory. Perhaps these people were fans of both the Design on a Dime AND Hillbilly Handfishin’, or followers of the Property Brothers AND Duck Dynasty. Perhaps they were just trying to bring a bit of rustic charm to an otherwise urbane junk pile.

Seriously, though. If this thing was intended to enhance the appearance of their back yard, why oh why wasn’t it level? Or attractive? If it’s not supposed to be decorative, then why is it there? And if it’s meant to be functional, what is its purpose?

The only explanation we could come up with—“we” being the Jarhead and I—is that they’re trying to keep us from seeing in their windows, which is both hilarious (since—newsflash—we’ve done everything within our power to avoid looking that direction since we moved here) and counterproductive (since it’s more likely to make people wonder what they’re trying to hide.)

The whole episode has been unsettlingly surreal—like having your drama-addicted friend suddenly tell you off and dump you for not being supportive enough after you’ve spent years listening to her repeatedly recount all the awful things her ex-husband did decades ago and resisting the urge to dump HER.

In any case, as the falling leaves signal the end of another summer, the Jarhead and I will soon be treated to a view of the lattice goal post that we can’t help but see from our kitchen table. And as we sip our coffee and read the paper each Sunday, we will be reminded of the fact that putting up a good fence somehow made us bad neighbors.