This house has the unfortunate distinction of being a "Post War Era" home. When one thinks of great and lasting design periods, the Post War Era in no way comes to mind. These bland, featureless homes were designed and built in the late 1940's by local developer, Alan Elliot Brockbank, to satisfy a growing low income housing market. It isn't that the home is incapeable of being attractive, (if it were, I wouldn't have bought it) but all the potential beauty is hidden within all the cut corners. My job is to find all the corners they cut off, and glue them back on.
Like all low income housing developments, this one has a bad rap. People die here every day. I buy my crack at Smith's grocery store along with my milk & cheese. On a good day, a sweet old lady hands out heroin samples from behind her red and white checked tablecloth. She does it with a smile but who knows, she's probably high as a kite. When we registered to vote, we were asked to specify our party as either Republican Bloods or Democrat Crips. Neither Meg nor I feel comfortable with the Bloods pro war platform and the Crips just don't have the needed experience to run our neighborhood. We had no choice but to register as independents. Of couse the bullet proof windows on our house were a bit expensive, but with all the stray bullets flying about, we figured it was worth it.
Despite the neighborhood's reputation, both of my granparents put their roots down here, my parents did too, and now so have Meg and I. We represent a demographically large influx of young married couples moving into the area. One by one, dilapidated houses are bought up and repaired. When it's all said and done, some sell their homes and move on to the bigger and better, others find that there is something special here. (Besides free heroin Friday). Sadly, even with all the new life breathing here, not much has changed in the way the neighborhood is viewed. There are folks who still say it's one of the worst parts of the city, but for those of us who choose to live here, we all know better.
We bought our house from Rick, an old family friend. Rick was the home's second owner and lived in it for over 30 years. That type of homeowner stamina is rarely seen these days. Rick moved out of the house about 9 years ago, we bought it about 2 years ago, which means the house was vacant for 7 years. Houses do funny things when they are vacant, they seem to take on a life all their own. That life has an odor that smells more like death - with a dash of cat urine and a pinch of undiscernable funk. In order to resolve this problem, you essentially have to kill the house and then bring it back to life sans funk. The killing procedure requires gutting it to the bone and grafting in new parts, a long tedious process.
Before the surgery and even before the purchase, we took a tour of the old house with Rick. He had orchestrated many remodeling projects on the home and paid for every one of them with beer. At the end of the tour, I was certain that he allowed these fine craftsman to consume their payment prior to performing any work. Their signature was visible everywhere. Little did I know that as I dismantled the home, I would see their inebriated handywork in places that were once invisible.
The electrical work was a virtual time bomb. Water pipes had electrical current surging through them, lines were spliced with nothing more than tape to hold them together. The plumbing was an convoluted mass of lead, copper, and plastic pipe running mindlessly through the home. Even the new pipe, under the concrete basement floor was pieced together with rubber couplers, a plumber's equivalent of duct tape. The discoveries went on for days, each one trumping the next. In that time, Rick became the Rickster, a slightly more nefarious character than his straighforward counterpart. Like layers of an onion, once the Rickster was uncovered, all things previously viewed as "improvements" became suspect.
So on a cold January evening, I struck a match, and with a great deal of apprehension threw it into the small pot belly stove the Rickster had installed in the kitchen. It was a gamble of epic proportions. I half expected the house to burst into flames or at lease be innundated with smoke. I watched intently then went outside to check the stack only to see smoke pluming from the spark arrester just as it should. I let out a deep breath, a sigh of relief as I entered the now warming kitchen. I grabbed the new teapot that Henry and I had given Meg for Christmas and filled it up. I placed it on the stove and then sat near the stove myself. Soon, the radiant heat warmed my arms and legs as the muffled pops and crackles of burning pine filled the room. The timless nostalgic qualities of wood, fire and cast iron made me smile. For a moment, the Rickster went back to being just Rick, for he had done something right. Something I could enjoy without hours of backbreaking labor and sweat. I poured Megan, Henry and I a brimming cup of hot chocolate and we rose our glasses to Rick, this old house, and our new home.