Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Home-Improvement Chronicles: The Siding


day 57: it took two weeks for the siding to arrive, a time when the crew busied themselves with interior work like trimming the new windows and filling my house with dust, while my contractor cheated on me with another job. i was quite cranky during this time, as nearly two months of banging, drilling, sawing and stapling had worn my patience down to its nubs, but as with most things concerning this remodel, it was out of my hands. so i suffered through it impatiently, smiling widely as the first board of siding was nailed to the house on the 57th day of Operation: Home Remodel.


timing: applying the siding went quickly, taking a little over a week to wrap the house and then another week to patch and sand. at this point, only my contractor and one other crewmember were doing the work, effectively putting the house together with their bare hands, a saw and a nail gun. i provided the cheerleading.


shelter and sky: coming home from work during this part of the project felt like a weeklong christmas for me. i drove up my hill excited every day to see the gift that would await me at the top. my once pink house had turned into a woodsy log cabin, and it looked gorgeous.


the specs: the siding was cedar, except for certain parts of the trim, which were redwood. the style is known as "channel rustic," which is a flat profile with square corners that isn’t as popular as it used to be; it’s actually known for being quite old-fashioned, but it does plenty to give the appearance of a lengthened house, which is why Mo the architect decided on that style over a shingle or clapboard approach.



the pattern: that thin, central “belt” that hits the top of the planter wraps around the entire house and effectively breaks it into two parts. below that belt, the siding changes size from one thick piece to two thin pieces and back to one thick piece. above the belt, the inverse occurs with two thick pieces sandwiched between one thin piece. the belt again appears in the top and bottom trim that wraps around the house, further giving it a horizontal sensibility.


corners and nails: the corners were mitered together, which, given the less-than-straight walls of my house, meant that extra patching was required to plug in gaps and ensure a snug fit. the nails were chad nails, which normally don’t hold as well as galvanized nails, but when you use enough they hold just fine. plus, the galvanized nails kept breaking the boards.


snafu: it rained on day 65, so the crew wrapped the house in a giant condom to ensure that none of the untreated wood was damaged. as there were plenty of unused wood scraps at the site, some cedar did become wet, creating a most divine smell that transplanted the entire neighborhood to a magical forest.


speaking of wood scraps: there were beyond plenty, which i tried to give away repeatedly without much luck save for one friend who took some for firewood.


Pinko! here’s a photo of my cute cake just because.


Juice! i couldn’t include one and not the other as i adore both my mutts equally.


voila: i adore my house plenty, too, and after the siding was up and windows were uncovered, i can’t say i didn’t get a little misty-eyed. it looked beyond better than i ever imagined. a few people told me i should just stop there and stain it, but this cedar is knotty and built for paint, so the crew patched and sanded instead.



fenceless: then the fence around the front yard came down, giving the house some serious exposure to the street. this was probably the first moment in my three years of homeownership that i was proud to have the outside of my house seen. gone was the scary-looking foreclosure that kept solicitors away — admittedly, not always a bad thing — and in its place was a house that looked as it should, with a design that serviced its location, layout and owner especially.


home stretch: then came a coat of primer, which did much to show off the lovely angles of the siding, and got the house ready for its big finish: paint.

One-Hit Wonders: October 2011 terms inexplicably pulling up my blog...
  • two headed dog russian
  • arm dismembered costume
  • trees are our best friends essay
  • freckled boy
  • irish republican army flag
  • concrete couch
  • big tummy, what to wear for gown
  • sitting on couch watching porn
  • easiest way to do 20 mile hike

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Home-Improvement Chronicles: The Kitchen Table


kitchen completed: this table has actually been in the kitchen since last summer and was a parting gift from my ex, Mo the architect, who had been building it in the garage when things between us began to sour. truthfully, given how tense things were back then i never expected him to finish it, but he surprised me by bringing the completed table into the kitchen about a week before he moved out. this was last June. it’s been the centerpiece of the house ever since.


the delay: i’ve had this entry in draft form for several months and just couldn’t bring myself to finish it. i suppose it’s because this table is so inextricably linked to Mo, who still manages to stir some intense emotions in me. i can’t look at the table and not think of him, of us, of it, of everything. certainly, time has helped soften some of this intensity, but Mo’s hand is evident in every corner of the house, which keeps him an ever present force in my life.


the specs: the table is about six feet long and is as tall as the kitchen countertops. it’s made of small panels of wood that have been laminated together, then sanded. (i believe the wood is birch.) the stain is a blend of ebony and dark walnut, which was followed by several coats of sealant.


the legs: they are pretty extraordinary. i’m not sure if this pattern even has a name beyond “pretty extraordinary.” every person who has entered my house after the table arrived has commented on how stunning and unique it is. i fear these photos aren’t doing it justice — it’s truly one of a kind.


the chairs: i bought these walnut barstools from my beloved Crate & Barrel, where i’ve spent far too much money over the years. they are incredibly comfortable — with that curved back cradling the ass perfectly. they’re also incredibly gorgeous and fit snugly underneath the table, as though they were built especially for it.


special: the table is 100% Mo’s vision — from design to execution. he made several sketches of it before he began building and kept costs down by going with lower-grade wood panels, which, when fused together, made it super strong. the table is incredibly sturdy: it does not scratch easily nor does it wobble.


support: i wobbled plenty after Mo left. i would often lie on the table in an effort to feel closer to him, especially in my saddest moments. perhaps that’s why it’s been so difficult to write this post. the table is so beautiful and perfect, completing the house just as Mo left the household.


the center: during the interior remodel, Mo made every executive decision about the aesthetics of the house — a house i bought alone on paper but had every intention of sharing with him in a life that in many ways would have centered around the table as the family hearth, with children in highchairs pushed against it during breakfast and family discussions during dinner, all situated against the backdrop of a sturdy table made of solid wood, standing strong and tall, enduring and supportive, a depot for the mail, the bills, the food and drinks — everything that encompasses a shared life.

yet in the absence of that life, the table has still become the heart of the house. when friends come over, we hang out around the table instead of the couch. i take my morning coffee there and leave my purse on it. it’s currently piled high with documents about the home remodel and everything else i need quick access to. it doesn’t stay clear very long, nor do its contents stay static. it’s truly become the centerpiece of the house around which everything else revolves, including my life.

as for Mo, he called me about a year ago after many months of not speaking. we stayed on the phone for several hours that day and have slowly worked toward building a friendship. nowadays, our contact is fairly regular, especially since Operation: Home Remodel began.

just as he did with the table, Mo has determined the entire remodel — from early renderings to detailed plans to finalizing colors to deck design, which has left me blissfully off the hook. it’s no cliche to say that i couldn’t have done it without him; it’s the cold, hard truth.

so if my house looks incredible once it’s done (and i fully expect it to), it’s because of Mo’s involvement, which has included many sleepless nights and frantic emails — and all for a house he doesn’t live in anymore, a sacrifice for which i will forever be grateful. his creative genius is singular and extraordinary; i’ve been in awe of it for the 20+ years i’ve known him and count myself among the blessed to have had some of it shine on me.

(note: he’s available for design work if you want some of it to shine on you — message me privately for his info.)

so thank you, Mo, from the bottom of my heart and house. know that your imprint dwells in us now and always and that we have been forever improved because of you. and happy birthday.


Monday, October 10, 2011

Of Fasts, Pasts and Funerals

i fasted this year for Yom Kippur, something i haven’t done in over 10 years. i’m not even sure why i did it — probably to prove to myself that i could. anyone who’s read this blog for any length of time has probably guessed that i’m not a very religious Jew. i love bacon cheeseburgers and gentiles way too much for that. but being Jewish is definitely part of who i am, even if it’s not the main part.

you can find it in my numerous superstitions, my always expecting the worst in every situation and the fact that i know the words to countless Neil Diamond songs. the Russian part of me is a whole other blog post but trust that it’s present in many ways as well. there’s also the Angeleno part, but this is already getting too narcissistic so let’s go back to Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day of atonement.

so yes, i fasted that day. 24 hours of no food and lightheadness and bad breath and a growling stomach that made me spend most of the day in bed reading. what was i reading? a book on witchcraft, of course, but that’s also a blog post for another day.

i broke the fast with my also-fasting parents at Jerry’s Famous Deli, a restaurant i absolutely loathe, but they offered a multicourse kosher meal for a fixed price and you know us jews and our deals, so we went for it. during dinner, we got the call you never want to get during dinner, especially a Yom Kippur dinner: a relative had died.

she had been sick for many months, so it wasn’t exactly unexpected. still, it sucked, especially for my mom as it was her favorite auntie. to me, it was my great-auntie Tyotya Moosya, my grandma’s sister who lived down the street from my grandma for as long as i could remember, even long after my grandma died.

by Jewish law, the dead have to be buried as soon as possible, so the funeral was scheduled for monday afternoon. i came to the cemetery a little early to meet my parents and sister so we could visit the graves of my grandparents on my mother’s side, who are also buried there.

i also wanted to visit my friend Alexander Merman, whom i knew was buried at the same cemetery, though i wasn’t sure where. Alexander, or “Sasha” as i knew him, was an ex-boyfriend who was murdered three years ago during a freak killing spree in Santa Monica. the police never found his killer.

after dropping off flowers for my grandparents, reading a psalm and kissing their headstones goodbye, we started making our way to the temple for my great-auntie’s service. i was talking to my mom about Sasha, saying that i was going to find the directory to see where he was buried when i saw a headstone with MERMAN etched into it. and there he was, buried just a few paces away from my grandparents, when he was 36 years old.

he looked handsome in the photo on the headstone, just as i remembered him. some of his art was also embedded into the stone right next to an inscription from his mother. i couldn’t find a pebble anywhere, so i left a shiny penny nearby to let him know i was there. then i kissed his headstone, got up, walked away and burst into tears.

my great-auntie was one of five sisters. they were known as the Kravitz sisters, their maiden name. they were also known for being made of steel. with that strength came a fair dose of bitchiness. i well remember hearing my father tell my mother that she was “acting Kravitz” plenty of times while i was growing up. the Kravitz sisters were the matriarchs of their families in that iron-fisted Soviet way that didn’t stand for bullshit.

they were a close-knit family, staying together through the war that killed their only brother — and then their mother, whose weak heart gave out when she received the news about her son. (their father died a few years later.) the Kravitz girls endured, putting down roots in L’viv, Ukraine, where i was born some 30 years later.

three of the five sisters immigrated to the States with their families, leaving behind the oldest two, one of whom died six months after her sisters left, reportedly of depression. all of them married, changed their surnames and had children of their own (except for one, i believe). most of the sisters had daughters who also had daughters. on my mother’s side, there have always been far more women than men, and all of us have a little Kravitz in us, myself very included.

my great-auntie had a lot of Kravitz in her. she was a colorful character in every way, from her perpetually sparkly clothes to her vibrant personality. she was a gossip, but a kind-hearted one, generous with everyone and with an opinion on everything. a life force not easily dismissed, she hung on until the bitter end, dying from kidney complications at 88. with her death went the Kravitz legacy and the last link to a past that is nothing short of incredible.

to be honest, i don’t think it’s a past i’ll ever fully understand. it’s one filled with war, fear, hunger and a communist republic with state-sanctioned antisemitism that put my Jewish family at a disadvantage. it’s the reason my relatives left for the promised land, my then-twenty-something parents leaving with them with two kids under 10 and no english skills. i was 3 years old at the time and completely clueless as to how lucky i was.

i know it now, though. we all do.

my mother loved her auntie tremendously and visited her often — in her final days and in healthier ones. she was like a second mother to my mother, especially after my grandma died. “make your face before you make your bed” was one of my great-auntie’s more famous sayings. she was slightly vain that way. i’ll never forgot the bright pink lipstick she wore well into her eighties.

when they lowered her casket into the ground, everyone stood by watching, tearful and sad, while the Rabbi said a few final words. then we heard a boom that brought the service to a standstill. it was a big boom, too, one that seemed to shake the entire sky. everyone looked around for the smoke, certain that a bomb went off. but all we found was a blown tire on one of the cemetery’s golf carts. it had popped without warning or reason right as dirt was being thrown on top of the casket.

“she went out with a bang,” everyone laughed. that was exactly her style. it was the Kravitz way.

goodnight, great-auntie. you were a fighter until the end. i hope you’re enjoying a happy reunion with your sisters, brother and parents. be sure to tell my grandma i said hello.

standing sister is my grandma Zhenya; from left: Fanya, Riva, Manya, Moosya

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The Home-Improvement Chronicles: Wet Cement (Weeks 7-8)


door to nowhere: with the deck demolished, the time had come to work on the ground floor of the house, which isn’t much of a floor at all. it’s just a small basement with a washer/dryer, toilet and sink, plus a hallway for storage. i’m pretty sure people were living there once upon a time, given the toilet and sink, electrical outlets and cable TV hookup.


churning: the plan was always to stucco the ground floor instead of covering it with siding as 1) it was cheaper and 2) it would make the house look like it was sitting on a big rock.



prepping: the east facade of the house is the only way to access the basement, so it was the center of most of the stucco work. beyond demolishing the existing stucco, the concrete walkway also had to be torn up. then came the chicken wire (and four-legged inspectors).


east facade: this area is the trickiest part of the house, as it’s the only side that butts up directly against a neighbor — and i mean “butts up directly.” there’s barely five feet separating me from my (incredibly patient) neighbor Abel and his family. we can thank 1920s building codes for that.


setting the step: i’m going to need to get used to that as there was never a step there before. i always had to lunge into the room with my laundry basket. also, the old door never managed to stay closed.


sloping stucco: this part of the house was tricky as well because of the slope — and the crawlspace and the window and the laundry chute and the water line. but the crew is super rad so they worked it out.



the compulsion: the strangest thing happens when there is wet cement on your house. you become overwhelmed with the compulsion to write your name in it — and i mean seriously, totally, obsessively overwhelmed. i tried to talk myself out of it, as it’s really a tacky thing to do, but the compulsion kept gnawing away at me until i was at its mercy, stepping toward the cement with glazed eyes and knife in hand.


yessss! i approve of this home remodel. © 2011


new drainage system: one of the many awesome things my contractor did was install this sweet new drainage system that will funnel all of LA’s many inches of rainwater to the street. the drain is at the end of the sloped east facade walkway (where i etched my name), with the hose emptying at the edge of the front yard. this is a vast improvement over the former drainage system, which was nonexistent.


scaffolding: once the stucco and cement had dried, scaffolding was erected all around the house in preparation for the next, most exciting phase: siding!!


smells like money: though if i went with the pretreated, fire-retardant redwood like i had planned, it would have smelled like a pile of money instead of just money like this untreated cedar alternative does.


so so ready: the siding took its time arriving, causing a work stoppage that drove me slightly bananas. as of this writing, it’s day 66 of Operation: Home Remodel, and i cannot wait for this shit to end.