Wednesday, September 28, 2011

One-Hit Wonders: September 2011 terms inexplicably pulling up this blog...
  • a wife driven mad by husband tickling her feet
  • bloody fight youtube
  • wendy kroy new yorker
  • full oblique exterior of a rest house
  • jewish man on couch
  • milla's first foot tickle video 1
  • smoking socially
  • the blagh!
  • won't you come on over? stop making a fool out of me

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The 20-Mile Hike


pretty sure i died on that hike. pretty sure it was a bad idea, and this is where i need to clarify that it was not my idea, because i generally don’t have bad ideas as long as we don’t count a few unfortunate hairstyles in high school. (ok, maybe last year’s brazilian blowout was also a bad idea.)

my best friend, Jon-David, was in LA for a weekend, his birthday weekend, a weekend he had been aching to spend reliving childhood events, chiefly among them a camping trip to Ojai. unfortunately, a google search uncovered that his childhood campground no longer existed, but there was one nearby we could hit up, so we decided to hit it up, just the two of us.

the night before we left, we had a lovely birthday dinner for Jon-David that featured adult things like flights of wine and sashimi tartar appetizers. the food was divine and, given that we’ve been best friends for more than 20 years, the company was also divine.

after dinner, the wine kept flowing, the laughs kept following and the reminiscing began. helping usher in the memories were several photo albums i had of the time we spent gallivanting through Europe. we were living a veritable coming-of-age film back then — our college years spent glued together like two halves of the same soul. with credit cards in hand, we traveled every summer, spring break and winter recess to faraway places to discover what it meant to be alive.

as jet-setting new adults, we had no parents to meddle nor curfews to obey, only lessons to learn against the backdrop of ancient buildings and memorable strangers, and through the childish mistakes that are easy to make when you’re convinced you’ll live forever.

“remember that time we smoked hash, became paranoid and then got lost in the medina in Morocco?”

“how about that time we spent two weeks living above a gay bar in London? didn’t the manager of that bar have HIV?”

“remember those 10 days we spent in Amsterdam, how they were during the coldest winter of the century? all the canals were frozen.”

“remember that anti-semite in Madrid who told us that the problem with America was that the jews control everything?”

those were the days, my friend. those were the days.


the following morning we made our way to the campsite with borrowed gear, packaged food and a gallon of water, pitching our tent about 15 miles north of Ojai in a place with no cell reception and a starry sky that went on for miles.

that night, we made a fire, spread cheese and tapenade on baguettes, drank wine and talked about life — another divine night cementing a lifelong friendship. we were both 35 now, our faces lined and humbled by life, far from the 8th-graders who became fast friends when seated together at the back of the class. but the conversations were still quick, the jokes were still plenty, the shared interests still many. we had become more family than friends.

the next morning the 20-mile hike began.

i should stop here and say that i knew this hike would last 20 miles. i wish i knew why this seemed reasonable to me at the time, but i’m not really sure — probably because 20 miles sounds easier in theory than in practice and Jon-David has always had a way of convincing me to do foolish things. i had been hiking fairly regularly through the summer at my local trail so i felt pretty fit and figured those extra miles would make for great exercise.

plus, Jon-David promised there would be natural hot springs awaiting us at the 10-mile mark, which we would enjoy for a few hours before turning around and hiking back. so with some SPF 55, a gallon of water, a change of clothes and snacks for lunch, we set off at 8:30am.

the first hour seemed to fly by. the trail offered little shade, but was fairly flat and direct, at least at first. we were hiking along a creek and frequently encountered running springs, shallow pools and swimming holes, which proved useful when heatstroke threatened and there was cool water to dip our heads into, but that came later. at first, we were super hiking machines, chatting as we walked, and beyond an unfortunate encounter with a persistent bug (which i ended up swallowing), all was well.

then, time passed. the miles added up as our feet wore down. the hike became hilly and the air became hot, heating our bodies up with it. and then came the death blow: we lost the trail. correction: Jon-David lost the trail as he was hiking in front to “make sure you don’t step on any snakes, Milla. i know how you are.”

by mile 9 we were trailblazing through brush that was full of bees and poison oak, saying often, “i think i see the trail up there! let’s just cross these thorny bushes. do it fast and it won’t hurt.” this must have gone on for over a mile. ultimately, it landed us in the creek, where we crossed slippery rocks in merciless heat — the reality that we were lost sinking in like our sunburns. and the hot springs? WE NEVER FOUND THEM.

what we did find was a swimming hole near a shady spot at the end of the creek, where we stopped for lunch and a dip in the water. maybe collapsed is more accurate, as we had been hiking for three hours at this point.

“i’m going to kill you and let the mountain lions eat your sunburned body for dinner,” i smiled as i took out the pita chips and hummus. we had hiked 10 miles at this point (maybe 11), and my feet were already lined with blisters.

“this was a bad idea, but it’s a really great adventure,” he replied with forced enthusiasm.
“that’s what they’ll be saying at our funeral.”


we ate lunch in disbelief, all the while bemoaning the nonexistent hot springs, the missing trail, the long hike back, the burning sun, the dwindling water supply. we had officially gotten ourselves into trouble, just as we had countless times before when we were kids, unfazed by consequences, living only in the moment. but at 35, we were fully aware of our mortality, a mortality that was making itself evident in our swollen feet and aching muscles.

“i don’t think i can do the hike back.”
“we don’t have a choice.”

and there was the crux of it: we had no other options. it’s amazing what that can do for one’s stamina. so we picked up our unsteady legs, trailblazed the couple miles back toward the trail and hiked our asses straight to the car. the high-noon hike took three and a half hours, a time when we were teetering near delirium, stopping often to rest under slivers of shade, our thirsts unquenchable, our bodies in protest, the sun amplifying each discomfort.

we hiked mostly in silence, with our few attempts at conversation devolving into expletives and the conclusion that it took too much energy to talk or think. the only thing i thought as i stared at the back of Jon-David’s neck was how his skin looked like roast beef. i know mine did, too, despite the sunblock. i swear i heard it sizzling.

as the first stretch was the easiest, the last stretch was the hardest, full of slipping on rocks that we crossed with ease just hours earlier. we ran into a few running streams and debated drinking their water once our supply was depleted, deciding ultimately to pass and save ourselves a case of dysentery.

the last half mile offered the most agony, as my body started to shut down prematurely with the knowledge that it would soon find relief. with my back muscles spasming and legs shaking, i walked those final paces to the car short of breath and certain i would pass out from heatstroke. it was 4:30pm by then, and we had spent 6.5 hours hiking.

“there’s water in the car,” i wheezed. “you take the supply in the trunk and i’ll take the stash by the front seat.” as i downed the 90-degree water that had been sitting idle in my car’s cup holder for six months, i realized that Jon-David would miss his flight that night (which he did, but thankfully made the next one) and that i hadn’t needed to pee once despite drinking about a half gallon of water.

our first stop was the grocery store, where we each bought fruit juice, iced coffee and water. i had finished the fruit juice before we even got to the checkout, with the coffee following immediately after. we must have looked like two prisoners of war — reddened to a crisp, smelling like a sewer and hobbling around awkwardly on legs covered by scratches. we locked arms at the register and exchanged the signature glance we’ve shared too many times before: “what the fuck was that shit?”

we drove home triumphant, in laughter.

the next two days i spent in bed, hopped up on vicodin. the soreness was unlike anything i had ever known before, with every single muscle in my body mad at me, including my ribcage, which made me wince each time i took a breath.

i had a blister the size of a gumball on my big toe, a cold sore the size of a dime on my lip, a rash on the inside of my legs that made it impossible to walk normally and dirt under my fingernails that wouldn’t budge for days. every shower taken during that time was a cold one with minimal water pressure. i ate mostly soup and left my house as little as possible. it took five days before i felt fully recovered.

was it worth it? nope, not even a little bit. would i do it again? not a chance.

but if i had to do it again, there’s no one else i would rather take besides my best friend.

(happy birthday, Jon-David. let’s never do that again.)


Monday, September 19, 2011

The Home-Improvement Chronicles: Plywood, Planter, Paper (Weeks 2-6)


the windows: most of the new windows were installed by the end of the second week. i went with the Milgard brand because it’s super awesome and because it offered a WoodClad Series that mimics the appearance of wood while being the more affordable fiberglass.


the doors: i was beyond thrilled to see the old deck door go — with its too many mullions that mimicked a jail cell. almost every window had this same grid pattern and most windows were single paned, meaning zero energy efficiency.


by contrast: the new doors and windows are double paned for maximum energy efficiency and have only the few mullions needed to make the windows craftsman-style. the cranberry trim will fit with the color theme of the house’s exterior, which will be a mix of browns, yellows and reds.


meanwhile: the plywood was coming, personally delivered by Home Depot, my contractor’s home away from home.


woodsy: after all the damaged studs and beams were torn out and replaced and gaps in the insulation were filled in, the house was wrapped in plywood, which, according to my contractor Platon, made it “four times stronger than it ever was before.” i do not dispute this.



new planter: there was a bit of debate over this — whether to keep the old, short planter or build a new, higher one, with the latter winning out. now comes the new debate: what should i plant there?


the specs: one very thoughtful thing my contractor did was build the planter about two inches away from the front of the house, which will separate the dirt from the wood siding, preventing erosion of the wood. the planter also seems to extend the front of the house by a few feet.


nice and tall: the top of the planter meets the bottom of the windowsill, which makes it about waist-high. the plan is to cover the front of it with wood siding so it blends seamlessly into the rest of the house.


the tar: the day the tar came was one of my least favorite days of construction, probably because it was one of the hottest days of the summer in addition to being a saturday, meaning i was home to smell the grossness that is hot tar on a hot day. plus, Pinko stepped in the tar and matted the hair on her paw together. and that was soooo much fun to remove.



the awning: remember that rotted wood awning in the last installment of these chronicles? that came down and a new, longer, not rotted awning was built in its place.


and there it is: the new awning is so lovely and long that i’ll be able to sit on my porch during rainy days and never get a drop of rain on me. and yes, i plan to test this theory the next time it rains.


can you smell the wood? i know i probably should have gone with a greener alternative like composite or bamboo, but nothing is as awesome as wood. not only does it look the best, it’s still the most durable building material and was far cheaper than most quality composites i looked into.


roof repair: much of my roof is crap but there was no budget to fix it during this remodel, so my contractor ordered a few panels of what looks like faux wood and lined the exposed part of the roof overhang with it, making the roof look deceptively new.


more roof repair: a few beams were replaced, the existing paint was removed, and any dents in the rafters were filled with Bondo.



the deck: it quickly turned into a dilapidated disaster as parts of it seemed to fall off daily. it became so unstable that the crew added a few beams to reinforce the posts before demolishing it entirely and rebuilding new scaffolding.


the black paper: with the house wrapped in plywood, the awning rebuilt, the roof repaired and the planter erected, the time had come to wrap the house in flashing, the last step before applying the wood siding.


deckless house: the deck came down on monday, september 5, the 36th day of Operation: Home Remodel. it was Labor Day so i had the day off of work but couldn’t get home in time from my trip to the beach to take photos of the demo. (tragic, i know.)


gift wrapped: this is how the house looked at the end of the sixth week of construction. my once pink house had turned black. and i stood beside it, happy that we were halfway there.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Everything Else

sadly, there’s not much else happening besides Operation: Home Remodel, which has entered its sixth week. i was fine with everything until about a week ago, when the orchestra of hammers, drills and saws that has been the soundtrack of my life again woke me up too early on a saturday morning.

i was lying in bed, feeling sleep deprived as usual, my two nervous dogs pacing the room and whining incessantly as usual, and thinking to myself, “fuck, i am so sick of this.” of course, i know it won’t last forever and it will all be worth it in the end — something i am reminded of constantly by almost everyone i know — but that doesn’t make the day suck any less. still, i’m hanging in there and will make it through. and despite a few hiccups, i’m happy to report that everything is going as planned.

in my spare time, i’ve been working like a madwoman who really needs the money. i even picked up a side gig working as a transcriber, a wholly stressful gig that i sort of hate but am happy to do as it means cash in the hand, which i am all about these days. my goal is to pay down my newly acquired house debt in just a few years, and i have many innovative schemes i’m hoping will help me reach this goal (all of them legal, of course). in the meantime, i’ll be eating plenty of poverty meals, mostly prepared in the crockpot, and taking vacations to nowhere.

in my leftover free time that isn’t consumed by house stuff, work, sleep and wishing i were asleep, i’ve attended two weddings and one play, saw Janet Jackson perform at the Greek, Buena Vista Social Club at the Bowl, made a foray to the beach — where i attained an epic sunburn — and marathoned the HBO series Game of Thrones, which i really loved.

i’ve also been reading plenty and watching this season of Big Brother religiously in addition to catching up on plenty of other streamable movies. (notice how i haven’t mentioned exercise in this list.) beyond that, i just wish construction would end already. just six (eight? ten?) more weeks to go.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Home-Improvement Chronicles: Demolition Days (Week 1)


danger, danger: wrapping the perimeter of my house with CAUTION tape was the first thing the crew did when they arrived. it was a Monday, the first day of August 2011, and Operation: Home Remodel had officially begun.


step 2: a huge plastic sheet appeared at the side of the house that separates me from my closest neighbor. this was to catch any debris that would (surely) result from the demolition.


man in white suit: thankfully, there was no little pointy hat to match, but the suit did resemble the alien spacesuit you’d see on a hazmat team. turns out the paint on my existing siding contained trace amounts of lead, which has to be removed under stringent EPA guidelines that mandate white suits, respirators, plastic sheets and gloves, special receptacles and complicated disposal techniques.


by the book: apparently, there is a big fine if lead-laden paint is not disposed of properly, as even a small amount can kill a kid if it’s ingested, so my contractor and i made it a point to follow the code to the letter — in this instance as well as every other — because we are law-abiding people who never jaywalk or download pirated music.


day 2: demo moved pretty quickly and by the end of the second day, all the siding had been removed, leaving the bones of my house exposed. the great surprise is that they were pretty good bones and the insulation was solid. but the best news of all: no more pink house.


other surprises: ok, so not every bone was perfect. there were some overrun with dry rot and termite damage, but rest assured that every faulty stud was torn out and replaced. thankfully, there were more good than bad studs. (there’s a pun in there somewhere.)

front door awning: this area was the most damaged area of the house, fully rotted through, and it unnerves me to think i spent three years walking under this unstable thing, which could be pulled apart with bare hands.


tornado alert: a lot of folks have asked me how my dogs are handling this ruckus, to which i reply, “as well as can be expected.” (this goes for my handling of it, too, though i don’t get as many questions on that.) needless to say, it’s been disruptive to all our lives and i’ll be happy when it’s over, but it’s the cost of doing business — a cost i’m willing to bear for a nice house.


day 5: a dumpster arrived, taking over my driveway (and making my already ghetto house look even more stylish). first thing to enter the dumpster was the demo’ed debris in the foreground from two planters — the one i’m sitting on in the photo above and the brick one at the right of me, below the deck. the two brick planters that line my walkway (pictured above the debris) will remain intact.


another surprise: underneath the stucco that covered the master bedroom at the far end of the house was the same pink siding that covered the rest of the house. this was surprising because i had always understood that bedroom to be an addition, which would explain the stucco-siding discrepancy, but it appears it was always part of the house, which means the stucco doesn’t make any sense at all.


already forgotten: as the demo was moving along quickly, i didn’t dwell on this mystery or any of the house’s many others (like why there was a tile factory in the crawlspace) and instead focused on the drama that was brewing between my contractor and his sub.

turns out there was a dispute over money, a dispute i knew nothing about until day 7 of Operation: Home Remodel, when my house stood naked, siding gone, bones out, and the sub and his crew of four beefy guys showed up on my doorstep. it was early sunday morning — i answered the door in my pajamas — and they were asking for money.

as delicately as i could, i explained to the sub that i would not be giving him any money that day, or any other day, as we had no contract in place, and that they should take up any issues they had with my contractor. then came an earful about what a shitty guy he was (all lies, he’s been an awesome contractor) and after realizing that i wouldn’t budge despite the intimidation, i let the crew into my garage, where they recovered their tools, told me they were quitting and left.

i wish i could say that was the end of it, but the sub called me later that day to keep complaining. he was convinced he was owed more money, even though he and my contractor negotiated a wage at the start of the week, which was paid, but the sub convinced himself it wasn’t enough.

why he kept working without renegotiating the wage i’ll never understand — nor did he have an explanation for — but he was relentless in his complaints, which he kept peppering with, “i wouldn’t want you to be affected by this.” when i called him on it, out came the threats, none of which i care to go into, (and none of them particularly aggressive), but they were enough to disturb me. also disturbing was how kept following each threat with, “you understand me?” yeah, buddy. i understand that you’re an asshole trying to blackmail me.

obviously, this prompted several lengthy discussions between me and my contractor, in which we decided to do absolutely nothing. the result? absolutely nothing happened. the old sub ultimately left us alone, and a new crew arrived to take over where the old crew left off. they’ve been working steadily on my place ever since — no drama, no fuss. with demolition complete, it was time to install the new windows, build a few things and prep the house for siding, all to be covered next.