Sometimes are travels take us a very short distance, but far enough to “cleanse our pallets” of daily life and the daily routine. I had for many years before our situations changed, a very good friend who lived just outside of Boston. She owned an older building with a first and second floor apartment, and basement right out of your favorite horror movie. She had taken on the task of slowly refinishing both apartments, and the building in general, between working the crazy amount of hours she scheduled for herself each week. For a decade or so I would get the privilege of being able to help with a variety of projects as they came up, planned around her meager time off work. One of the first I remember was breaking old tile from the basement floor as part of a plan that never came to fruition to turn the basement into living space. A steel wrecking bar was the tool of choice to break and scrape loose the old tile, and part of the reward for my effort was an ice-cold alcoholic beverage, custom blended, with a mild and enjoyable taste that went down easy during the tile demolition progressed. The drink was mild in taste only, however, and was intended for a much slower consumption. A little marijuana smoked from a cinnamon stick (something I don’t normally partake of) as a top off, and I spent a long time after the floor was done sitting at the kitchen table looking at the digital clock on the microwave, wondering at how it always seemed to be 1:38, no matter how much time went by. Sometime later as I regained some of my senses, I realized the microwave had been stopped with one minute and thirty-eight seconds left on the timer, and it was in fact just after 4 AM. In the end, a good dinner (breakfast?) and some coffee got me back on an even keel, and I left to drive home just before the sun came up, like a proper vampire.
For the purposes of the story here l will call my friend Ms. B, as she has always valued her privacy, and I think it is highly possible as well that she may, or may not be, Batman.
Over the years I enjoyed the being part of her projects. Good food, conversation and ideas where always a key part of the experience. Ms. B is an extremely intelligent individual, as well as an excellent cook, student of life, and someone who knows where to find a good cheeseburger at two o’clock in the morning. A pretty impressive resume’ for any individual. She has a love of good food, from Asian style frozen yogurt to Korean barbeque to vegan doughnuts. A strikingly beautiful woman, she can dress up to impress any crowd or room, but is equally at home in sweat pants and a construction respirator. My own mental argument against the possible aforementioned secret identity focuses wholly on my estimation of the Bat suit’s inability to hide some of the more prominent features of her figure, but I guess with batman, all things may be possible.
When Irene’s pregnancy first came out, I sent Ms. B a picture by text showing her belly, and we followed up with a phone conversation. She was incredulous. We had often chatted about the challenges of a long-distance relationship, and her feeling regarding the latest development was summed up pretty much in her thought for Irene “you had one job, only one thing to do. Just don’t get pregnant…!”.
I think her words where still in my head a week later when we were shopping and Irene asked me what her Christmas gift would be that year. “Condoms” was my immediate answer.
One day, while working on caulking and repairs in the second-floor bathroom, we discussed relationships and age differences. A fifty-something acquaintance had complained to her about the quality and age of the women who were trying to contact him through his ad on the “Plenty of Fish” dating site. He was apparently being relentlessly pursued by women his own age, despite his ad preference stating he was looking for someone younger. He had his own reasons for feeling he rated pursuit from a younger group of suitors, but it brought up some interesting questions about age and dating. Ms. B postulated, considering especially that certain races seemed less likely to show their age, that dating a woman with similar life experiences, and from a similar slice of history, must be a better situation than dating someone younger with less in common. Her question to me was:
“If you had a choice, wouldn’t you rather have a woman who was closer to your age and experiences, and had more in common…? The two women look completely identical in all other ways, but one has the same age and life experience”.
I focused on my baser instincts, and my age, and went with a simple proposition in reply.
“Well, Ms. B” I began thoughtfully, “when I am buying a car, I always look for the one with the lowest mileage. I guess it would be the same thing”
“Those cars don’t want you in them, either” was her immediate response. Ouch.
Painful but pretty funny. For the real matter of it all, I saw her point completely, it made a lot more sense to be with a person who shared the same background in life, similar to your own personal experiences. Kind of a “no-brainer”, but I guess if it was easy, and people where rational, Plenty of Fish and similar sites wouldn’t have so many members.
On another occasion I helped with a painting project which used different layers of randomly applied blotches in varying shades of light colors. A plastic bag was the tool to dip and blotch the walls in a random technique, one layer on top of the other. The important bit in doing this with a successful result was to constantly rotate the bag and place the paint randomly, without a pattern. Organization has never been a strong point, so random worked well for me. I felt I was excelling at pattern-less random applications, but Ms. B stopped me on several occasions to point out patterns she was seeing in my work. I was less sure of this myself, but it was her wall and her vision. One night, starting the same technique on a different wall, I had not been at it too long when Ms. B stopped me to point out the pattern she was seeing. To my great delight, I realized the pattern she was seeing was a spot I hadn’t got to yet. It was her own handiwork from the previous night. I smiled to myself, a small random victory for my own random abilities. In the end, the painting did look awesome when completed, and her vision was a success. Watching the small details in the process is often essential in this type of work if you want to have the correct result in the end. I was happy to be part of it turning out well, even with my randomness being questioned.
When I was diving in Nova Scotia, back in my treasure hunting days, I was the king of random. My search patterns meandered all across the bottom of the ocean. Captain Carr, on viewing my erratic movements from the surface remarked simply, “Random is a search pattern”. I guess in both treasure hunting and painting random can achieve good results.
On another night, while sanding the downstairs Living room floor we discussed a gentleman she had met that was well off financially, and advocated renting instead of owning a property. His thought was, why invest heavily in a property that also becomes an anchor. The money saved on not paying rent goes into taxes, a mortgage, repairs and upkeep, and the financial commitment prevents one from moving easily if they decided they wanted to experience life in a different environment. His thoughts tied in with those of many people I have recently heard discussing a minimalist life style where owning less is the goal. Having less “stuff” gives one more freedom to move and explore rather be tied down by the obligation of many larger possessions. The less you own (and spend to own) the more freedom you have to see the world, and gain experiences that become life-long memories. In his excellent online course, “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior” Dr. Dan Ariely talks about the value of experience as an investment, pointing out that the latest electronic gadget is usually obsolete fairly quickly, and the enjoyment of making that purchase is fleeting and quickly forgotten, while similar money invested in a vacation or travel yields a lifetime of memories long after that latest sound system or device is forgotten. There is of course an irony to discussing this while investing heavy amounts of time and money into an older “anchor” of a building, but it is always good to have flexibility in your thinking, and anchors can always be shed, or cut away.
Now, Ms. B made no secrets about the fact that the old building she owned was also very haunted. The fact that a person with a scientific background, logical mind, and high degree of intelligence could have such a strong conviction of ghosts made traveling alone to the basement a less and less appealing situation with every trip. One project tackled involved putting in a laminate wood flooring in a second-floor bedroom. Each row required at least one cut be made in the flooring. In order to keep the sawdust off of all the new work in the apartment, the chop saw was set up in the basement. Each cut meant walking down the steep internal staircase to the basement, making an (hopefully) accurate cut, and then returning to the second floor to fit the board. At this time I was pretty beat up by an arthritic left hip that didn’t fare well with a lot of up and down stairs. Still, up and down I went, refusing to be slowed by arthritis pain or imagined spirits. That moment when the trigger pull screamed the saw into life, and then the seconds when the blade spun out and the noise faded, where particularly haunting. In my thinking, If I was a ghost and was going to materialize and scare the hell out of someone, I’m doing it in those seconds of noise, and take advantage of the fixed focus and compromised hearing. At least if ghosts have those sort of thought processes.
I never actual saw a ghost over the many years and projects we completed, but it certainly felt like a haunted building. Maybe it was the age of the original building, that went back to the 1800’s, and the fact that our different projects often peeled away layers of time to expose the history of what had been. It is not hard to let your imagination wander to the people, families, and other long-gone residents that may have called the building home over the decades.
Escaping the cape for good food, good conversation, and a variety of DIY construction adventures probably helped keep me sane over a number of years, as much as my travel and diving. Things change between people, even without the stress of being in “a relationship”, situations change, and projects are completed. Even good friends often do move on from our lives, and you never are really certain what the other person is dealing with in health, school, love, work, or maybe possibly even being Batman.