Thursday, June 16, 2011

Buddies and Basements

Brian’s old, yet big and super comfy Jeep was chugging gas like a college frat boy on our frequent trips to Maine.  So last week, we decided to comb Craigslist for used cars and bought an inexpensive little Honda as our better gas getter to help ease the fuel usage for our weekly travels.  We decided that my old Jeep would be turned into a short-haul workhorse and would head to Waldoboro to stay, and we’d keep Brian’s more stylish Jeep and the Honda in Waltham for work and short, around-town trips.  All of which meant that this past Friday night, we headed to Maine in two separate cars.

Now Brian is a much faster driver, and I’m a much slower driver.  So after meeting up for a short errand in Freeport, we drove off with plans to meet up again at our favorite new local spot, the Narrows Tavern in Waldoboro.  Just past Wiscasset, I was rocking out to one of Brian’s favorite Lynyrd Skynyrd songs, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, when I was slowed then stopped by flaggers for a stretch of nighttime road construction.  By the time I got back underway, I figured that with Brian’s head start, he was likely already sitting down to a glass of Malbec at the tavern, wondering where the heck I was.  But as I pulled into the historic village of Waldoboro and Brian hadn’t yet called to inquire as to my whereabouts, I started to wonder about how he might be amusing himself.  As I pulled open the tavern door, I saw the answer.  Our buddies, Bill and Debbie Michaud, from the Outsiders’ Inn were there with some friends; Brian had joined the merriment and was saving a spot for me.

In just moments, we were laughing and swapping stories with Bill and Debbie and their buddies.  Wine and food arrived, and Bill told us all about his scary canoe trip the week before on the Bonaventure River in Quebec. 

The thing about Bill and Debbie is that we’ve only known them for a few short months, yet it feels like we’ve known them forever; they’re like brand new old friends, and whenever we see them, we fall instantly into fun and festive conversation.  As it turns out, Bill and Debbie’s buddies had actually surprised them with their weekend visit—having recently returned to the states after living in Abu Dhabi.  The conversation zinged around like a ping-pong ball and covered river running, outdoor education, heat and humidity, hedge fund management, me being a cougar (ten years Brian’s senior), old homes, art purchases, t-shirts, and bachelor parties in Vegas.  As always at the Narrows, it was good fun with good friends.

On Saturday, we were quickly shuttled back to reality.  Two poor souls were coming to give me the bad news on drying out and waterproofing the basement.  You see, a basement and a crawlspace (the little house has both), are oh so easy to ignore—until that is—they start making the house stink of mold and mildew and until they start rotting the house from the inside out.  Most homes can have dank basements for years, but air conditioners, heaters, and dehumidifiers often keep the damage to a minimum for a long time.  But, the little house in Maine was intermittently left empty and unheated, and the basement became humid and stayed that way—for years.  So, unfortunately, it falls to me to fix this little catastrophe—lest all future repairs be done in vain.

The first basement contractor faired pretty well, and his was a relatively benign encounter.  He took his measurements, provided a quote, and we sent him on his merry way.  Basement contractor number two was not so lucky.  Now, according to Brian, our second basement contractor contestant had his basement science down and apparently provided a solution that Brian feels will work; however, from an “I’m-the-one-who-has-to-open-the-checkbook” perspective, the poor guy could learn a thing or two about delivery.  As the one who needs to pay for this extreme basement makeover, I didn’t want to hear a large number and then be told “that’s just a starting point; it goes up from there.”  I also didn’t want to hear, “Well, you don’t have to buy everything, but if you want to solve your problem—well, you pretty much need to buy everything.”  After a little while, the majority of the humidity in the basement was coming from the steam escaping my ears, and eventually, Brian and I needed to leave the poor fella alone with his tape measure and head outside so I could unleash my frustration, which I ended up taking out on the lawn, which looked much better when I was done with it.

After the contractors left, I was tearfully having a tough time getting over having to spend way more than anyone ever wants to spend on a basement, but I was also trying to remind myself that this is what I signed up for with buying an old house in need of help.  This is that same uphill slog I had to do with the little fixer in Seattle.  In Seattle it was a flea-infested house, a critter-infested basement, a leaking kitchen sink drain, and a sewer line replacement.  Here it’s rot and mold, baby mice in the garage, and a crumbling septic tank.  I have to remind myself, “This is the deal; this is how it goes when you choose to take on what no one else will; this is why you got the bargain, and this is why you will love it in the end.  But, you don’t get the happy ending until you slog through the haunted forest—or at least the dingy basement.”

To help me make peace with my basement woes, Brian decided to take me to dinner.  In the new little gas getter car, we were emboldened and drove up to Lincolnville for dinner, drinks, and dessert at the Whale’s Tooth Pub—an old schooner bum favorite, which I hadn’t been to in well over a dozen years.  We sat by a lovely fire, which burned inside the pub’s gargantuan fireplace that holds logs that are four feet long.  A couple of gray-haired men played guitar, piano, and banjo in the background, and all of a sudden, I relaxed and remembered that the temporary setbacks that come along with home renovations are just that—temporary.  It will temporarily be painful—especially on my pocketbook, but once it’s done, it will be done, and I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that it all gets done right—even if it doesn’t get done cheaply.  Over dinner and drinks—and especially over dessert—I let all my stress dissolve, and I felt lucky that Brian is every bit as patient and calm as I am not.  It ended up being a special treat of an evening, and once again, I was reminded that for me, simply being in Maine is special, and once again I realized that I have no regrets about what I’ve taken on in Waldoboro.

In the morning, we headed back to one of our new favorite breakfast spots, Morse’s Sauerkraut, for some of the most flavorful bacon I’ve ever tasted.  We also had Eggs Benedict and Brian’s favorite—cinnamon Babka French toast, which—despite what Elaine on Seinfeld claimed—is no lesser Babka.

As we were finishing our meal, Brian looked out the window and laughed, saying, “guess who’s here”?  It was Bill and Debbie and their buddies, so we bookended our weekend with another round of hugs and smiles and laughs.  

8 comments:

  1. What a great story! You are making Maine sound more and more enticing!
    Miss you!
    Pamelot

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  2. Hi Pam,
    When you come to visit, we'll give you the grand tour!!! It will be lots of fun, and I can wait to visit with you in Maine. :-)

    Hope to see you soon! Miss you!
    Lisa

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  3. It sounds like a fabulous weekend. I want to go to some of those restaurants! I've never been to Maine, but you have a way of making it sound like a must see destination! Love the story about the pearls. Have fun. Annie

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  4. Hi Annie,
    Thanks for checking out my blog! Maine is indeed a place that has my heart, and if you have a chance, I definitely encourage a visit! Are you blogging as well? If so, please let me know where I can find your writing.

    All the best!
    Lisa

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  5. Lisa, like all your writing, you make Maine a desirable destination. I have been there more than once and each time I go I think hard about buying a postage stamp house and moving to serenity, even if it means mold and mildew. I eventually recover and recognize that having done a total restoration of a period Edwardian House, I would forego repeating that work. Moneypit hardly covers it. But your heart for this peace of America is understandable. You find me at www.makeminememoir.blogspot.com, of course and I look for you there as well as in my essay class. Keep selling Maine. Why not write for a Maine tourist guide?

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  6. Hi Barbarann,

    Thanks for stopping by! I've been reading your blog too. :-)

    I should have another post this week on the adventures (or calamities) of home renovation. I expect to be cured of this disease by my most recent undertaking.

    Talk with you soon!
    Lisa

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  7. I'll be watching your renovation story with interest -- we bought our old house in Maine about 10 years ago and we're still working on it! It's beautiful but there's a lot to do! Right now the best part is being outside in the garden -- this weather is just about perfect! Looking forward to more stories!

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  8. Hi Julia,
    I just read about your adventures in arugula! Sorry to hear about the bolting, but how cool that you are learning about the soil and getting in touch with an expert in the extension office (who turns out to be your neighbor!).
    The interesting thing about the house renovation I have taken on is that some of the issues were allowed to get so bad that I have to fix them right away, which is both good and bad. Bad in terms of cost, but good in terms of (hopefully) having something to show for all the effort in a few months. And since I have to get things fixed immediately, I'm actually glad (at the moment) that the house is very small. Hopefully, I'll get a new post up today!
    All the best!
    Lisa

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