Well, here it is, my first ever blog, and late in the game as I am, you might think I would opt for the writerly approach and shed some light on my books, where I draw ideas from, the act of writing, etc….
Instead, I’ve decided to run with the topic of mold remediation.
Please, don’t click off just yet. I promise, there’s a plan!
Two weeks ago I came home from playing tennis to a deep rumble emanating from our basement. Left to myself, I might have just ignored it and turned on the news, but since the dog seemed to be getting all agitated and pawed at the door, not to mention the house was rumbling, I went to investigate in the netherworld of pipes and pumps downstairs that I know nothing about, and to my horror, discovered water spewing into the basement from a blown gasket in what I now know as the pressure pump. Not a leak, mind you—more like a fire hydrant left on. Or picture the first release of the Kenebec River Dam in rafting season. Soaked immediately, I couldn’t get myself within three feet of the pump.
If you haven’t yet figured it out, I am essentially useless in these situations. My usual plan when calamity strikes (or even when a large, flying insect finds its way into the house) is to scream at the top of my lungs, “Lynnie…!!” (My wife, who happened to be happily day spa-ing in Greenwich at the time.) In seconds, water had crept above the top of my sneakers. All I could mentally picture was our beautiful home tipped on its side and majestically sinking, like the Titanic, into Westchester County. Frantically, I dialed Robert, our plumber, encouraging the answering service with a few choice expletives that this was not an opportunity for voicemail—“this is a fucking disaster! Do you understand!” In minutes, I got him. He instructed me to turn the water main off. I’ve only lived in our house twenty two years. I had no f-ing idea where the water main valve was! Soaked, frantic, twisting every conceivable lever I could find, I finally found the one and the torrent immediately abated. I surveyed the damage. Six inches—over the carpets, the yoga studio, the universal gym, the couch, the fancy large-screen TV. It was the gloomiest possible scene, made even ickier by water filing up my shoes.
Needless to say, upon returning, my wife’s pedicure high was cut short. As it happened, we were leaving the next morning for LA, to visit two of our kids. In a panic, we called Mike, who for years has washed our rugs, our now-deceased, diabetic Westie giving him lots of business. To our relief, he said, don’t worry. He’d handle everything himself. He does this sort of thing. Our savior! Rushing over within minutest, with two gigantic blowers, drying, dehumidifying, squeegeeing. “I’ve seen a lot worse,” he said, confidently. “Enjoy your trip. I think you’re going to be okay…”
Relieved, we set off for the West Coast, a bon voyage story for the kids, everything being well-handled. Returning four days later, the whiff we met as we opened the basement door, aligned to dead rats, informs us we might have been wrong.
We now hate Mike. Correspondingly, he is no longer a fan.
It’s a disaster. The carpet is still completely damp, the pads, underneath, damper. Ugly brown trails are creeping up along the walls. Calling Chubb in, and their environmental contractor let us know that our aspergillius count, normally 7, is over 3000 now!
In comes the mold remediation people, wearing scary, Tyvek, bio-protective garb. Their big, new air-purifying engines churning. Taping off the basement from the rest of the house, like we’re living on Love Canal. So much stuff down there, potentially affected. They even want to empty the wine cellar.
So why am I sharing this, other than for a grim laugh? I did say I had a plan!
Everything down there, the mold-covered detritus of our lives, the record of our lives before I ever even thought I would one day write, had to be rescued, evaluated, wiped off with bleach and water. Saved or discarded? The memory of twenty five years.
There are books I once loved I never knew what happened to. Thomas Gifford’s, The Wind- Chill Factor, North of Montana by April Smith. Thomas Mann, Buddenbrooks. E.M Cioran’s, The Trouble with Being Born. Each resonates with a singular moment in time. Toss or save? Sadly, we shake out heads.
There’s a pre-reservation, Navaho chief’s blanket. (Fortunately, insured.) Delicate kachina dolls, a hundred year old set of spurs. From the times we used to head out to Santa Fe every year.
There’s a wedding album we hadn’t seen for years. On our friend’s lake in Vermont. Me in a white summer suit with straggly hair. Lynn, in white lace, proudly looking not much different than today. I say we had all of nineteen people there; my wife insists it was twenty three. Over twenty fives years, we’ve re-counted the guest list a hundred times– and never once been able to agree.
There’s the framed invitation for Lynn’s 40th birthday celebration, a black and white Mardi Gras mask at Paul Prudhomme’s. Even had the famous chef fly up from New Orleans to do the cooking himself. We laugh, recalling the wildly expensive Sylvia Weinstock cake I had splurged for. Prudhomme refused to serve it. We ended up having to cut it up into a hundred servings and drag it all the way home, where it sat in our freezer for the next year. Save!
There’s a file of early rejection letters. Twenty three of them. One, it turns out, I’d forgotten, from an agent in the next office to where my current agent is now! Ha! There’s an Art Monk Redskins football helmet, which, blitzed at a school charity event, I bid over two grand for! There are blankets and sleeping bags, video games and hockey masks and footballs. Each comes with a mental snapshot of one of the kids catching a touchdown pass or getting crunched, wobbly legged, into the boards. We signal thumbs-down. Gone.
We pull out an awful painting of a coq fight my father once brought up one Sunday, when he used to roam the flea markets and buy anything he could successfully bargain down. He claimed it had the touch of a Picasso; we thought the frame would work for firewood. Five years after his death, it makes me tear. One by one, we leaf through the forgotten record of our lives, reliving their importance, then signal to the remediation folk, like Roman royalty, thumbs up or down. A old garment bag, balled up, unfurled, reads Leslie Fay.
So once there was a life before writing. Before I ever conceived a plot line. Before the “me,” the few people reading this now would ever know. One day these images may figure into my books. You will read them, and maybe know where they came from. Nothing will ever be discarded. Because basements dry, clean air is restored. Mold remediation crews in bio-hazard yellow suits leave.
But these relics will never leave. We own them in our hearts and minds.
This painting I once rolled my eyes at, never nice enough to find its way upstairs, yet never discarded, these are our lives.