The Lady Under the Stairs, Part I

I was going to use this post to talk about underwear, but I’ve decided to put that off in favor of a more pressing topic. I promise to talk about underwear soon, and how I’ve only taken three pairs (okay four, but I’ll get to that some other time) and how you pack for a nine-month journey around the world, but I have another important matter that has taken up my attention these days. There’s a troll living below us, and she’s not happy. I have always been a practical fellow, and because of this I don’t care to spend too much on lodging if I can help it. I like a nice hotel as well as the next guy, but if a place is relatively neat and clean, I’m happy. And if we’re going to be able to pull this trip off, we’re going to have to find some economies. So we begin our trip with a cautionary tale of budget lodging. We are now in New York after a very brief visit to LA. We arrived here last week to deposit our only child at college, and we’re planning to spend a month or so. It is, after all, my hometown, but I left more than thirty years ago, and it would be nice to get reacquainted. We’ll be staying with a friend in Bushwick starting September 1, but we needed to find a place for our first ten days here. Thus, we decided to find accommodations using a famous social media short term rental booking service. As it turns out, the place we found has some issues. Here are the good parts. It’s near Houston Street and 1st Avenue , which is just dandy. We’re right where Nolita, the Lower East Side, and the East Village come together. There’s Katz’s Deli and Yonah Shimmel’s Knishes and Russ & Daughters smoked fish. There’s also some pretty good goy food too. And it’s steps from the 2nd Avenue F train stop, so it’s really convenient. The apartment’s in the rear of the building, away from the street, so it’s quiet (except when the troll bangs on our floor with a broom handle). And it’s cheap. About $150 a night, which is cheap for this part of town and a lot cheaper than a hotel. Besides, you get a kitchen and some room to stretch out and you get to live like a local! Well, you don’t want to live like all locals. We have a troll living downstairs. Or maybe she’s one of the three billy goats gruff, or some other dyspeptic character from an Aesop fable. Whatever she is, she’s pissed. A few minutes after we arrived after a long flight with Maggie’s college luggage, we received our first visit. The doorbell rang and there stood a woman in her sixties – a little thin, a little tar and nicotined. “You’re making a LOT of noise,” she advised. Well, the floor creaks, but it wasn’t like we were tap dancing. “I’m very sorry,” I replied, surprised. Then it got a bit weirder. “Are you friends of Anna’s from Norway?” she inquired. I was non-committal. “Hmmmblmmbbb,” I hedged. Then she asked me if Sven or Joost or whatever his name was got his green card. Was this a trap? “Who can say?” I waffled, thinking I was in a spy novel. If I was in a spy novel, this was a safe house – you know, the kind with the bare light bulb and the bad plumbing. But first, I had to figure out what to do about the troll. Next time – The Thrilling Conclusion

It takes a whole lot of work to do nothing

Way back in March, I announced to friends and colleagues that I would be leaving my excellent job in the rarefied air of the Hewlett Foundation. Our daughter (and only child) would be heading off to college in the fall and the prospect of the empty nest was too much to bear so we conspired to find a way to burn the nest and feast on the ashes. My wife and I made a plan to sell our house and embark on a walkabout that would take us somewhere into spring or summer of 2015.

Hoo boy does it take a lot of work to do nothing.

Since that day in March, we have accomplished the following:

We sold our house. Selling a house is Palo Alto wasn’t too tough, but selling any house anywhere is a great big pain in the patookey. This time was no exception. It was a great house, but it was time to move on. I was dismayed, however, to learn that the buyers tore out the fabulous slate flooring we put in and replaced it with very run of the mill hardwood floors. Then they tore out the fabulous slate mantle and put in red brick. Red brick! I’m sure shag carpeting is next.

We bought an apartment in San Francisco. I did not originally think that I wanted to buy something just yet. I was kind of excited by the prospect of being that free, but we soon realized that nobody would lend us a red cent once we returned, given that I would not be employed as such, so getting back into the market was going to be tricky. Besides, Janine wanted a place to come home to, and I guess I don’t blame her. So we took the plunge and managed to navigate the hideous real estate market in San Francisco. If it’s easy to sell a house in Palo Alto these days, buying one in San Francisco is not for the faint of heart, or liver. On our fourth try, we managed to find something – a flat in a 1904 Edwardian building in the hipster-filled Mission District. I now have a stick-on soul patch which I apply before I leave the apartment each day to keep from being discriminated against when I go for a hand-poured coffee whose beans were washed thrice with nun’s tears and ground by hand with a mortar and pestle by a boy with ear gauges the size of hubcaps and tattoos on his eyelids. Best coffee ever.

We sold two of our three cars. Yes, I know, having three cars is bad, but we had three drivers in the house and we lived in the suburbs, so we had three cars. I have always had a certain fondness for our planet, but by dint of my suburban existence I have found myself doing bad things to it. I suppose all the air travel I’m about to do isn’t helping either. But I feel a least a little happy that we sold two of our three cars.

We leased our third car to Janine’s former employer. Can you believe it? Someone is going to drive our car while we’re gone and they’re going to give us money for it. Who knew?

We moved into our apartment in San Francisco. This produced a certain amount of existential confusion. We occupied our flat in hipster heaven on June 30 and lived there exactly forty six days before leaving again. During that time we nested as well as we could, hanging pictures and buying condiments (we both have a condiment problem) and finding clever ways to arrange our stuff before emptying the closets once again and moving it all down to the basement to prepare the place for our new tenants.

Yep, we found a nice, quiet, responsible couple to rent our place. Through sheer luck, a very eminent colleague and his wife will live in our place while we’re gone. Back in March I mentioned my plans to him, and as it turns out he’ll be working in San Francisco during just the time we’ll be traveling. What a coup! And our tenant, who I won’t embarrass by his association with me, is truly a pillar of rectitude in a world gone mad. We couldn’t do better if Mother Teresa was moving in.

We found someone to watch our cat, Tish. This is hard. Nobody wants to watch your cat. If you’re a cat person you already have a cat but you don’t want another one. If you’re not a cat person you really don’t want a cat, and especially not our cat, who doesn’t snuggle and doesn’t really purr. Basically, it’s like having a box turtle that sheds and scratches your furniture. I yearn for her affection and am always rejected. Like a pathetic lovelorn, I will miss her anyway. Oh, Tish, why don’t you love me??

We found someone to watch our two dogs. My sister in law and her husband bravely signed up for this task. We have a little twelve year old terrier named Trixy (yes, that’s the spelling) who looks like something Dr. Seuss would have drawn after knocking back his fifth scotch. She’s got the head of a Chihuahua, the body of a Dachshund, and the coloring of a Dalmatian. People point and laugh. First at her, then at me. Then there’s Chloe, our semi-standard poodle who is the exception to the rule that poodles are smart. She will run straight into oncoming traffic if you let her. She’s loveable though, and pretty cute, so there’s that.  My sister in law’s family is considering someday getting a dog. Let’s see what they think in May. In any event, I am eternally grateful to them for their sacrifice. I wish all the parties well.

We’ve done more than just this, but those are the highlights. We have just arrived in New York, which is the first leg in our journey. All the pre-departure planning, arranging, groveling, explaining, quitting, buying, and selling are done.

As you can see, it’s possible. It’s not easy, but it’s possible.

Almost six months after making our big announcement, we are airborne.

Next: Q: How many pairs of underpants to do you pack for a nine month trip? A: Three