The Button

Was it Friday or the following Tuesday? I don’t remember. September was a bit of a blur. A friend quit her job around the middle of the month, and after that, all hell broke loose. I cancelled my trip to Berlin and Prague (and I was looking forward to my trip to Berlin and Prague). But it had become obvious that I needed to figure out some serious shit, and, like, immediately. I called P., who took me out house hunting a couple of times, but she kept showing me ugly houses and then even uglier houses, and would occasionally ooh and ahh and I could never tell if it was for my benefit, because I was so unexcited, or if it was to reassure the other real estate agent.
I saw myself reflected in the seriously shiny gray Formica of the curvy cupboards in the dining room, floating on an acre of white shag wall-to-wall carpeting, hovering above the sunken living room, and escaped, stumbling, to take one more look at the view of the tennis court from the oversized master bedroom. I decided two things: first, that we needed to go outside; second, that I needed to stop working with P. as soon as I could manage.
When did I indicate that this was the kind of house I was looking for?
I started over with another agent, M. M. understood that I needed to see three or four houses a day until I found something, and we weren’t screwing around. Our lease had a month left.
The first day, M. and I met at the first house on our list, but we got there before the listing agent and couldn’t open the gate across the driveway without the code. It was a narrow, wooded lane, and for lack of something more important to say, I asked, “When did it become fall?”
“Just today,” M. answered. Leaves blew around her navy chinos. Soon, she’d have to start wearing socks with her loafers again.
The second house we saw looked like a French chalet from the front, but around back it was a great, brown, plywood box. At least it had a nice pool.
I picked up my first acorns in front of another brown house, overpriced for what it was, with a decent patio and pool, cheery, light-filled bedrooms, though the kitchen was uninspiring. A black lab lay in a wire crate in the living room, not making eye-contact or noise. I wondered if he was on drugs. He seemed so sad and withdrawn. My dogs sleep in crates, and eat their meals there, but when someone comes home they look at people, make noise, and ask to come out.
The acorns I found were perfect little giants, with the caps on, some green and others brown. They were so lovely and intact. I used to want to be able to eat them as a kid, until I got one open, and did. I shared one with M. She accepted my gift without condescension.
The last house M. showed me that day was a humble, tan and brick house, low slung, with a steep, wood-shingled roof. It was on a very quiet, dead end road, surrounded by woods. The front doorknob was tricky to open. We walked into the front hall and there, beyond the entry, was a large living room, fully furnished in chairs with needlepointed seat covers that might have been made by the ghost of my grandmother N. The kitchen was large, with cherry cabinets and 80s vintage appliances. It wasn’t anything special, but it was clean (really, really clean), with spacious rooms, hardwood floors, and, you know, potential. We headed upstairs. There was a small white button on the wall by the front door. I ignored it, and looked at the rooms upstairs. There was an upstairs room with a sloping ceiling that seemed like it wanted to be my sewing room. It had a lot of ugly wallpaper, but also a lot of closets.
the button
The next day I finally got in to see a house I’d been waiting to get into for over a week (some bullshit about renters not leaving until Labor Day). It was special, with a rambling floor plan and a lot of interesting things like a pretty view, a big porch, and a workable kitchen. There was a fireplace in the master bedroom and an obvious room for my sewing stuff. Bonuses like a workshop and an apartment over the garage. But it was more money, and the neighborhood wasn’t walkable. To be honest, its woods were creepy.
I arranged another visit to the bland house that reminded me of my grandmother. I brought the Bacon Provider to see what he thought. My husband was unimpressed. He saw six kinds of ugly wallpaper, thirty-year old AC units that needed replacing, and clunky old storm windows. The owner had already moved to a condo, leaving furniture in only a few rooms. So, while my husband wondered if we could agree to a price, he voiced his suspicion that we might be able to make a deal with a quick closing.
We headed upstairs. There it was again: that small white button on the wall by the front door. I’m not sure why I might have thought it was a doorbell. Or if I thought it was a doorbell. It obviously wasn’t a doorbell. It was some sort of other button. I pressed it without thinking as I went up the stairs. The house was practically empty. What harm?
The real estate agent M. caught up with me on the landing. I asked her what she thought the button on the stairs was. “That’s a panic button,” she said. “You didn’t press it did you?”
“Oh no,” I laughed, meaning, “Oh, shit,” but sounding like, “Oh, of course not.”
Then I said,  “Well maybe,” and then I added, “Well, if I did we’ll find out if it worked.”
It did work. A local Bedhead Hills policeman was at the door, within minutes, his hand on his gun and a look of concern on his face. The front door was sticky and hard to open. I explained that it was my mistake. M. gave him her card. She pointed to me, “She’s a child.”

Our Irene

Sunday evening we made it home with equal parts of technology, stubbornness, and the kind of stupidity that is sometimes called courage.  The cat was soon sprawled on the table, having finally stopped meowing. The dogs were twitching in their sleep on the couch, dreaming of the lightning and thunder they heard that morning, or all the dogs they played with, or whatever things dogs dream of.

We had had weekend plans for a while, and went ahead, leaving a day’s more extra food for the cat and warning the dog kennel that our dogs might need to stay until Monday.  Even though cats are independent, I felt a little sad and worried about the cat, all alone in the apartment, and I did wonder about the consequences of the power going out, high winds, and flooding.  A few weeks ago, we had been invited to spend the weekend upstate with new friends. Now, the weekend had nearly arrived and (then) Hurricane Irene was approaching. The media presented scary scenarios involving 120 mph winds whipping through the tall buildings of Manhattan, flash-flooding in the streets and blocks of power outages. Upstate with new friends seemed like a better option than riding out the storm on our own in a tiny, temporary apartment.
Friday afternoon, after dropping the dogs at day care, we headed out around 3 p.m., but found gridlock within blocks of all the Manhattan escape routes. We let the GPS navigate and we made our way north, taking two hours to get out of the city and up onto a freeway.  Arriving after dark, we had a nice dinner and rushed to bed. 
Saturday was pretty nice weather-wise, although very humid, and our hosts provided pleasant and comfortable array of food and activities. Sunday morning, we slept in a bit, but woke to house-shaking thunder and lightning.  Soon we found the storm had been downgraded, and we put on our gung-ho caps and decided it would probably be okay to make our way back to the city.  Had we been paying attention, we would have also learned that people in Columbia County had been asked to stay off the roads.
We drove from Chatham, New York to Pine Plains, hoping to arrive in time for our usual Sunday riding lessons. It was raining really hard the whole way, but it was not windy, and the roads were mostly empty.  I think most people had more sense than we did. 
The further we went, the scarier it got.  We saw drainage ditches overflowing with fast-moving water, ponds that had doubled in size, roaring creeks and rivers, and standing and flowing water on roads. Within ten miles of our destination, we drove to a spot where the Taconic State Parkway had just been closed.  It was flooded on both sides with the scary brown water you never want to drive across.  The gung-ho caps were flung off, and we started arguing about how to proceed.  I am always very stubborn about turning around, but not turning around was not an option.  We turned around.  Then, we took the first safe-looking road we could find to get off the Taconic, and let the car’s GPS do the rest. The barn was damp and drippy but still had power.  I think they were somewhat surprised to see us.
After riding we visited our oldest son at Bard College, where classes were scheduled to start Monday.  While much of campus has no power, his dorm room was an exception as of yesterday.  There was still a lot of water everywhere, and some downed trees.  We tried to leave in time to make it to Manhattan without it being completely dark. The GPS had to re-route due to traffic information four times, and we made it to the city with only a few scary moments.  It was just getting dark, but our power was on.  The only casualty of the storm we saw in our building Sunday night was the elevator, which we already did not trust.  It was parked on the ground floor, with the mysterious letter “C” where a number should have appeared on the panel. The light was on in the elevator car, and the door was opening and closing, opening and closing.