When Jen and I bought this house, we looked past certain things, because the house had a lot of what we were looking for. There are four big bedrooms. There’s a greenhouse out back. It’s on 3/4 of an acre, and it has a good-sized backyard. We chose to overlook the abysmal condition of the plaster, the lack of modern electrical wiring, the substandard kitchen, and the leaky roof. We also chose to overlook the proximity to Frederick Road.
Being set up so close to the main route through Catonsville has a few advantages, none of which show up on Halloween. Because we’re not tucked safely into one of the secondary roads, most parents don’t bother to come our way on the big night, so we wind up with a bowl full of candy to make it through the howling chill of November. Each year I’ve tried to make this dump a little more friendly to the neighbors. Admittedly, the first year we lived here, the place was kid of run down. And last year, when the hedge out front threatened to swallow the sidewalk, it might have been a bit sketchy. But I carved pumpkins and lit them with candles, man! I lit the front of the house up and mowed the lawn. And the first year we were here, we had a grand total of about eight kids at the door. I was crushed.
Last year, I carved two pumpkins and lit the house, and we had about thirty kids. So I figure we’re making some progress. This year, Jen and I trimmed the shit out of the bushes in front and cleaned up the hedges, and made the place more presentable. I didn’t get any pumpkins for the front steps, but I bought some paper lanterns and put them out on the sidewalk, and lit up the house.
I don’t know if the people on the side streets get more kids or not, but I had a gaggle of about thirty in one shot at around 6:30 this evening. Other groups have shown up, and some stragglers have appeared, but I’d say we’re up to about fifty this year. And that’s not bad.
Addendum: Is it just a Baltimore thing for kids to get a HANDFUL of candy from me, then hold out their hand and ask for “more candy for their brother who isn’t here?”
Behavior like that used to make me unscrew the porch light and go down to the bar to drink beer, you miserable little shits.
Well, isn’t that interesting. The game I helped build at the company I used to work for got written up in Wired magazine a couple of days ago. Pretty cool. If you click the second image link, you can see part of the interface I designed and some of XLT’s buildings.
Last night the electrician came back and wired up all our various new expensive toys to the panel, which means that 1/2 the lights, our dishwasher, and our stove all work now. This whole process has been a learning experience, like going to a spanish-speaking samba class on crutches: There are complicated dance steps involved, but they don’t tell you what order things go in unless you ask exactly the right questions. Knowing what these questions are is key, like asking the installation guys where they needed outlets, and then transferring that knowledge to the electricians so that you don’t wind up with four rectangular holes in the wall that need to be patched after the cabinets are installed.
The installers have been here twice and will need to return again (for the counter installation); the electricians three times (and need to come back once more for final fit-out) and the plumbers twice (and they’re coming back for the sink and disposal installation.) It’s getting so that we’re just going to give everybody a key and keep a twelve-pack of beer in the fridge so they can come and go when they need to.
All this has left us with a pretty sweet kitchen, so far. Last night I flipped one of the two new switches on the wall and 3/4 of the under-cabinet lighting came on, and it looked GREAT. This morning we read the phone-book sized manual for the dishwasher and figured out how to turn it on, and it burbled and hummed quietly, and Jen ovulated at the thought of not having to face another sinkload of dishes to wash by hand. The stove lights with a fast tick-tick-WHOOSH, and it heats the shit out of a pot of hot water.
I’d have to say, we’ve been blessed with some of the nicest contractors in the universe. Our electrician I’ve written about before. The plumbers are a pair of old-school Bawlmer fellas, and speak through syrup-thick Dundalk accents, but damn if they didn’t have the gas line wrangled in about fifteen minutes. These are the guys who would be at home in the engine room of a nuclear aircraft carrier, keeping it floating with a pipe wrench and some chewing gum. The cabinet install guys showed up at 8:30 in the morning, unloaded two vans full of wood, assembled the entire kitchen and hung it expertly on some of the most out-of-square walls in this state, put in the lighting, dishwasher (and its plumbing), and fridge, all without marking up the floor or burning the house down. And they were nice guys. I’d recommend them to anybody, really—I’ve worked with gruff contractors, ex-felons (that was an interesting summer), guys that treated me the customer like a moron, guys that overcharged, guys that never showed up, guys that never finished, and guys that wanted full payment up front. Everybody I’ve worked with on this project has spoiled me for any future contracting, and I suppose that’s alright with me, just as long as we can have a machine wash our dishes and bake a cake that’s not burned on one side.
It’s kind of nice to sit in my house, have plenty of billable work to complete, play a little Cure For Pain-era Morphine, and sip on a hot chocolate I just heated on our new gas stove.
The kitchen light will hang between 12″ and 24″ off the cieling, based on what we put in the center of the room, and how we like the light it throws. And hopefully the shades on the Pembrook fixtures will have some of that honey/amber color in them when they come out of the box, because we really like that vibe for the hallway.
My sister had a bunch of work done on her house a couple of weeks ago, and one of the things she did was to have the weights to her old sash windows cut, something called “sash springs” installed, and the cavities filled with blown insulation. Having just filled our kitchen window cavities with foam and insulation, I can testify to the results of this operation, and also guess that I’m losing hundreds of dollars in heating bills through our windows.
“The window things are called sash springs; they’re essentially thin pieces of sheet metal bent at about a 45-degree or so angle; the two ends have screw holes and get mounted to the sash slot, and the angle hits the window sash. The friction/pressure is what keeps the window up. The thing I’ve found is that it makes the windows kinda hard to operate–I have to gunk them up with silicone spray when I do the storms this winter.”
This might be them: They’re advertised as spring holders, and they list for $1.99 each.
I found this link to the primary manufacturer of the spring balances, Pullman, and it appears I can order them direct from the factory for $23. I think I’m going to order a pair after weighing one of my sashes and see how it works.
Last night, after spending the last two weeks cooped up in our house, Jen and I drove into Baltimore to have dinner and screen a movie. She gets mailings from the Maryland Film Festival about events happening each month, and a particular movie caught her eye: it’s called Nine Lives, and it was produced for a tiny amount of money (relatively speaking) with an all-star cast. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First we drove into the city and through my old stomping grounds of Bolton Hill to try a new restaurant.
The old ‘hood has changed since I lived there. Back in the day, it had a certain feeling of genteel shabbiness, sprinked with eighteen-year-olds sporting purple hair and thriftstore coats. This evening I got the distinct sense I was walking through Georgetown—in the years since I left the area, the uber-rich have moved in and cleaned the joint up. I get the sense they kicked a lot of my patchouli-stinkin’ peeps out and rehabbed the apartments back into respectable Republican drone-hives. (This would be a shame, because in my opinion, one of the best things about being a student at MICA was the ability to score a huge two-floor apartment in a brownstone with a backyard and offstreet parking for $200/person. It’s hard to make art in a cinderblock cube.)
Around the corner from one of my old apartments was a small corner cafe that went through several identities while I lived there—overpriced independent coffee shop, overpriced independent lunch bistro—but is now called B, and which features a fantastic menu at reasonable dinner menu prices—you’ll drop a little less than $20 on a delicious plate of homemade pasta, and spend a little more for seafood. It’s got a cozy vibe, a good wine menu, and a delicious steamed mussel appetizer (ask for plenty of bread.) Unfortunately, we were too pressed on time to really savor the main course, so we ate our dinner quickly, grabbed our bottle of wine, and split for the show.
The new Brown center at MICA is bigger inside than I’d thought it would be. The architects seem to have done a magic act fitting a huge auditorium into the center of that structure, and I’m more impressed with the building now that I’ve been inside. Now I understand why the Alumni Association calls me every month for a donation; the heating bills in that place must be astronomical.
The movie itself was very good. The basic structure is nine ten-minute stories about different women, and each story is loosely linked in some way. Also, each story is shot in one long continuous take on steadicam. Apparently the film is not getting picked up for wide distribution—as some of the asshat reviewers on IMDB complain, there’s no traditional start or finish to each story, so it’s hard to package the movie to the mass market. If you see it recommended on Netflix, put it in your queue (the cast, crew, and actors all share ownership of the movie, so any money you spend on it will go into their pockets.)
After the question and answer session, we bundled back up and walked through the sleepy neighborhood to our car, enjoying the crisp air and our evening together, feeling like a couple in love.