Friday, September 8, 2017

Untrammeled water

The day before yesterday.
First of all my computer guy’s Emotional Support Dog (Ozzie, a Papillon, admittedly a very appealing dog) peed on the red club chair in the living room. Being about 6 inches high, Ozzie stood in front of the chair, lifted his tiny leg, and squirted the red fabric. (See below. Not to scale.)

I’ve had that chair and its mate forever, at least since my grandmother moved out of her house and no longer had a sewing room. The chair and its mate were made in the 1940’s by Italian craftsman (apparently, or according to my mother, Italian craftsman made all the finest furniture) in Egypt, and resided in Bon Papa’s study in the house in Mahdi.
I had forgotten about the Italian craftsmen and their furniture, until we moved my mother into the Red House next door. Much of the furniture she chose to take with her was from her parents’ house in Egypt, and whenever she showed anyone around her new home she explained that certain pieces were made by Italians in Egypt. She had a spiel, and that was a key part of it. My mother still refers to Egypt and often will say she spent most of her life there, as if those first 15 years (minus a 4-year wartime hiatus) comprised most of her life. I don’t correct her. She no longer knows where ‘there’ is, or what Egypt is. A country? A state of mind? A French novel?

In 1956, Bonne Maman and Bon Papa moved to America, instead of the south of France or Belgium, because their children were here, spawning more children. The club chairs, along with all their other furniture, were shipped to America in a huge wooden crate. A kind of ancestor to the intermodal containers that are currently plying the seas. My mother hired a carpenter (perhaps he was Italian?) to transform the crate into a playhouse for us, the grandchildren. He installed a pitched roof, and created windows with window boxes; there was a front door and even a front porch. I spent hours in that former-crate-now-playhouse reading aloud from the Green Book of Saints for Children.

As for the club chairs, from 1956 until she moved out in the 1980’s, they were in Bonne Maman’s sewing room, and were upholstered with the strangest red, yellow and black plaid linen. It was a plaid as imagined by a Belgian lady in Egypt. They were situated nearby the large bookshelf (ditto Italian craftsmen) bearing Journeys Through Bookland, ten volumes and a guide. This series was, at least in 1909, proclaimed as a “New and Original Plan for Reading, Applied to the World’s Best Literature for Children”. In Volume IV I read, and wept, over The Dog of Flanders. I read The Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog: “But soon a wonder came to light,/ That show’d the rogues they lied:/ The Man recover’d of the bite,/ The Dog it was that died.” In Volume VIII I read Kingsley’s The Three Fishes and Poe’s Annabel Lee.

Ozzie the Emotional Support Dog peed on the chair I had curled up in and read of dead dogs, and mad dogs, and beautiful beloved Annabel Lee in her sepulcher by the sea.

I cleaned it up, of course.

Then I flooded the downstairs guest room.

It happened thusly. I needed to wash the plastic trays from our handy countertop dehydrator, because I have been making vast quantities of dried tomatoes lately. I placed the trays in the kitchen sink to soak, and turned on the water. While the sink was filling with water, I ran downstairs to check a certain closet where I thought I might have stored, for safe keeping, my mother’s collection of Middle Eastern, Asian and African jewelry. I had no need of ethnic jewelry just then, or perhaps ever. But for reasons buried deep in my obsessive psyche, I had determined that what I needed to do was photograph all my mother’s ethnic jewelry and then disseminate those pictures to my siblings, children, nieces and nephews, so they could choose pieces and I would cease to be responsible for all this ethnic jewelry. In our world of cellphone cameras and instant downloads and email, this sort of dissemination is, theoretically, easy.
I guess it is obvious that my mother also had an obsessive psyche that compelled her to amass this collection of largely unwearable jewelry (unless you are a six-foot tall Berber nomad).

The box I sought was not in the closet downstairs, so I went through the basement hearth room and up the other basement stairs and then I noticed the postman delivering the mail. I said hello to the postman, but as usual he didn’t say anything. Unlike Richie our old postman who was friendly and always told me golfing stories, our new postman is extremely shy. That is what I have come to believe. He must be pathologically shy, unless he finds me so objectionable that he will never say hello no matter how cheerful I try to be. I prefer not to think that. I still say hello and wave whenever I see him pull up, as if I were Doris Day in an old comedy. That’s how I see myself. What he sees is Bette Davis in a creepy gothic movie.

Then I had to check the mail, in case someone had written me a love letter, or written to say I would be inheriting a small Caribbean island from a distant relative, or maybe just written me a postcard of a Jackalope. None of the above arrived. But I got the idea that I might have stashed the box of Mom’s ethnic jewelry in one of the cupboards in my office, because that would be so tricky, and then I checked all four cupboards. There was no jewelry of any kind, but I did find a small Moleskin notebook which would be perfect for Leda’s drawings. She always needs more notebooks. That reminded me that when she was visiting last weekend, she left behind certain articles of clothing, mostly socks, that I had washed. I went down to the laundry room to fetch them, so I could mail her the socks along with the notebook.

I still hadn’t found the box of ethnic jewelry and I wondered if it had been stolen, but that because I had hidden it away so well, I had never noticed. Who would steal weird unwearable jewelry? Who could even think such a ridiculous thing?

I got to the laundry room and heard water dripping. Somewhere. I thought it might have started raining again, and I would need to shut some windows. But it wasn’t raining. Could the dishwasher be leaking through the guest room ceiling again? I thought we had fixed that leak. I went down the hall to the guest room and water was leaking QUITE A LOT from the ceiling. Water was coming from a certain crack and then seeping out all along a crack that meandered from the center of the room almost to the molding. But this part of the ceiling was not underneath the dishwasher. Could it have traveled so far? Or could it be from the rain earlier? But that made no sense, because there is a whole room above the guest room, not a roof. Whatever. I went back to the laundry and got a pile of old beach towels, and a couple of buckets, and put them on the floor under the dripping.
Finally, I went back up to the kitchen. Sometime long before the search for the jewelry and the postman’s non-loquacity, I had left the water running in the sink. Water was pouring from the counter onto the floor. The puddles were impressive.

Yet there is something about watching footage of hurricane flooding that puts things in perspective. In the midst of obsession, perspective.

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