Friday, February 22, 2013

Never The Same

This morning, while the first cup of tea was  still steeping, I looked out the window to witness my neighbor lingering at the top of our driveway where his dog was making a deposit.  I felt a little cranky about this. Truth to tell,  it is not the first time I was not feeling the whole "love thy neighbor" directive toward JR.

Two years ago JR and his wife Scotch put their house on the market. There were few showings and no takers. The realtor mentioned they were a little light on curb appeal and maybe an upgrade would be helpful. JR poo-pooed that idea  and eventually the listing contract expired and that was that.   Except,  JR complained about it every time I saw him for the next year or so.  He found no logic in being advised to  improve a home he wanted to leave.  More than once he said, " I was in banking for 30 years! It is just stupid to invest in the past. It only makes sense to invest in the future."

Every time he delivered  this sermon I managed to refrain from asking what happened to his banking career. The neighborhood chat on that is he  got in a right juvenile temper up at the bank one day and walked out.  Next morning he got up, got dressed and went to work as usual . When he was still in the break room getting his coffee the president came over and asked why he was there. JR laughed saying,  "Good one!"  To his credit, the word is, the bank president pulled JR  aside to privately remind him he had  quit his job the day before and reinstatement would not be forthcoming. Subsequent trips to various law firms did not help either.

About a year ago, I went out to fetch the mail to find a service truck parked in my front yard.  One Day Bath Remodel!  was emblazoned on the side.  I felt a little cranky about the truck. Beyond that irritation, I was  truly horrified to think others would believe this designer would ever sanction  this cheaper than cheap service  or product in my own home or the home of any of my clients!

 Fortunately, before I had a stroke, JR and Scotch emerged  from their house with the driver and sent him on his way. Over by the mail boxes Scotch said,
" Fishy, what do you think about these bath tub covers".

" I don't have any experience with that particular product Scotch, what did you think about it?"
" It saves a bunch of money! You know our house started in the fifties and the original finishes are still in there. The bathroom  tiles are sorry looking and the tub is worse. These people can come take measurements one day then come back in a week with molded panels and voila! a new bath in a day."
" Do you like your Bathroom?"
" What do you mean?"
" Does it meet your needs?"
" No! It is awful. It always has been cramped  for one, nevermind two. Can you imagine sharing one small pedestal sink for 35 years?"
" No. Are you getting a larger sink?"
" No"
"Changing the floor or wall tiles you mentioned?"
"The light fixtures?"
" Any storage in there?'
" Wow. I guess I don't understand your "new bath" concept."
" Well the tub and shower will look new with the plastic wall panels and tub cover."
" Good luck with that Scotch.
When you have this done will you ask them to not park their trucks in our front yard?"
" It wasn't there very long Fishy, your grass is hardly laying down."

The next morning the phone rang. It was the neighbors asking if I would come look at their bathroom.
" You know JR, I am really busy and on my way out the door."
" Well come this evening when you get home."
" Can I call you later?"
" No, just come on over when you get home. We'll be here."

In my very first class in "Business Principles and Design Practices" architect Tom Kincaid told us to,
 pick up your pencils and write this down, " Real life 101: it is as important to know which clients to decline as it is to know which clients to accept."   I don't remember a chapter on how to reject your neighbor without causing friction.  Blowfish advised me to go do a  chatty neighbor consult and bail. I felt a little cranky.

Ultimately I went , looked, cringed and told the truth.
The bath was too small.  In fact would not pass code and would no longer be "grandfathered" if they wanted to make improvements. That meant, the space would need to be completely gutted and expanded.  Scotch asked if  I could make a plan which could expand the bathroom, not take any space out of their bedroom or the one on the other side of the bath, not take away already limited closet space and not expand through the exterior wall.

In hopes of making a gracious exit I told them it was a tough issue needing a specialist in Bath designs. I mentioned even if the footprint could not be expanded the function, finishes and fixtures could all be upgraded. JR mentioned if he was going to invest in a new bath he had to get everything he wanted or it would not be worth doing.  I recommended a  Bath design specialist and suggested they make a list of criteria to review during the appointment and made my escape.

It wasn't to be.
The specialist was " offensively expensive".  Did I mention my neighbor carries the nickname "Scotch" because of her thriftiness?
They ambushed me at the mailboxes and stated their intentions to "hire me to design a bath for them".
I declined.
JR said,
" Now Fishy, we know you are a pro and we are prepared to pay for your services"
"JR, I cost twice as much as those specialists you found offensive".
" Well then , we will accept your good neighbor discount"

" Tell you what.  Y'all cannot hire me.  But, I will come take some measurements and see if I have a plan to offer. If I do I will  recommend  a good builder and y'all  can take it from there." So I blocked out a morning to field measure half their house  then came back to my home office to pray for a miracle. That prayer was answered by an inspired solution to their issues both spacial and budgetary. It was an awesome plan which expanded the bathroom; even allowing for privacy for the toilet and two separate  sink vanities. I presented the plan  to them the next day. During our design conference  Scotch was elated and JR got quiet. Never a good sign. When I looked up from the drawing I was shocked by JR's appearance. I  have just never seen a grown man with his pouty lip our so far. N-e-v-e-r.  When I asked him  for feedback he whined,
" This isn't fair".
"What isn't fair?"
" You gave Scotch a bigger vanity!  Mine is smaller and in the same space as the toilet!"   Since for the past 35 years this man has had a sink and a toilet in the same room,
I was not sure why he found this "unfair".

Taking in  a big, calming breath I responded, "Actually JR, ownership of these sinks  has not been assigned to any one party. There is a slight difference in the widths of these vanities, but it is actually only 3". What has been planned  is  a bathroom expansion with two zones.  One has a sink, storage and a shower.  The other has a sink, storage  and a toilet. My thoughts are the sinks would be used as needed when in either zone."

Yeah, there was more lip.

Ultimately the plans  conference ended with me giving them the builder's card and them declaring their need  to think about the investment.  They did call the builder  so a week later I went on over there to meet with the builder to  review the plans with him and answer all his what if questions before he spent time on an estimate.   After that, when I ran into one of them out by the mailboxes they either waved and left or said they were still " weighing their options".  A few months  later the plastic bath cover up people were back over there. I think there might have been a problem. Not just because JR's pouty lip resembled Pinocchio's nose but  because their installation crew came back and back and back  every few days for weeks. My grass looked bad and I felt a bit cranky about it all.

I have never been able to think the same way about these neighbors as I did before this experience. I think it is probably pretty ordinary to have  thoughts of our  friends and neighbors evolve as we add history and learn more about each other. In  this case,  every time I see JR  I hear his whiny voice  in my head and wonder what kind of  man  pouts about a sink?   I could have gone my whole life and been happy to have  never seen that close up view of his lip or her thriftiness. This morning I was thinking I should take JR  a plastic baggie. To put over his head.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Learning To Be A Dinosaur

Last night Blowfish and I went to our favorite farm to table  restaurant for our "Valentine's" celebration. The darling chef/owner has figured  out a way to hand make a low sodium chicken florentine pizza for me. There is no tomato sauce and no cheese. There is a perfect combination of sweet cream sauce, spinach, pine nuts, chicken and a scattering of yellow pear tomatoes. Since all ingredients come from local sources, it could not be better or fresher.  Blowfish loves the roasted lamb lollipops and the diverse wine cellar.  A win-win on the where to go for dinner  issue. Because this is Valentine's weekend there was a wait.  Not bad.  Maybe 40 minutes or so  more than usual which gave me time to people watch.

Surprisingly what caught my attention was the young families. The ones waiting and the ones seated.  Waiting in line with us was a family of four; parents and two girls one about 5 the other about 8 or 9. The parents were deep in conversation with each other; not making any effort to keep their girls engaged or entertained during the wait. They did not need to. Once they joined the line, the Mom reached into her capacious  bag and handed the young one a Kindle. Her elder sister automatically assumed the role of tutor. Both girls were quiet, engaged and in no way a disturbance to their parents or any of the restaurant patrons.

Seated directly next to the wait area was another  family of four. Forty something parents with young boys. One about three the other not even a year. The youngest was  dressed in footed pajamas and seated in the typical restaurant wooden youth chair with a booster seat for babies.  When he first caught my attention it was because he was expressing his intense desire to be out of that chair. Parental efforts  to redirect his attention were not going well. Across the table from him, the three year old was oblivious to the commotion. He was busy with a smart phone. At this table the parents were seated across from each other, as were their boys. This gave each parent a hand for a child and a hand for their wine glass. Only all hands were needed to keep the little guy in the chair once he started  howling, bucking and rocking. A passing waiter said, " Here, let me fix this".  Never breaking stride he picked up the baby in the chair, walked around the table and placed him next to big brother who was still engrossed in the smart phone.  The transformation was instant. Baby was happy, big brother remained oblivious and both parents  could suddenly gaze into each others eyes in wonderment.

I knew, from a recent family trip, the impact of smart phones, tablets, e-readers and computers in the development of this  new generation. The youngest niece in the Fishy school is not yet two but has clearly mastered the differences of all the various smart phones of parents, aunts, uncles, grands and older cousins.  Not surprisingly they all seem to be  loaded with baby apps. This is big, big business and,
I believe,  a sweeping cultural shift. There is no need for Aunt Fishy to sing Old MacDonald's Farm, complete with sound effects and bouncy knee rides when there is a Peekaboo Barn app available from Appolicious for just $1.99.   Here an app, there an app, everywhere a smart app ... is the new tune.

Unlike many, I do not think this the downfall of mankind. If you think about  how people learn ;
visual, auditory, kinesthetic, sequentially or by repetition all are present in this format.   I get why this is effective, even addictive.  I also recognize every community is going to have to spend millions to upgrade classrooms. I understand 4'x8' SmartBoards  cost  about $7,000  more than a chalk board of the same dimensions but, if a learner has spent their first five years on smart apps how will they relate to words in chalk?

The waiting family of four were  eventually seated at a table adjacent to the booth Blowfish and I occupied.  The parents choose to sit together on one side of the table while the girls were opposite. The parents ordered dinner, the children did not.  Appetizers and beverages were delivered to the table for the parents. The girls played on.
The Dad of this family caught me observing and offered this explanation. They negotiate with their children. The deal was this: the  girls had fast food in the car on the way to the restaurant with the promise of game time with the  kindle and the smart phone while the parents enjoyed a  fine restaurant dinner . Apparently it gets expensive if  sticky fingers infuse the technology with foods and beverages.  The rule is this: the girls  can eat, and they can game, but they may not do these two activities simultaneously.  The Dad went on to say this  arrangement allowed them to really enjoy going out " as a family" more often. He went on to mention they were able to have far more "family nights"  because they had eliminated the costs of babysitters.

Clearly the concept of  "family night" has changed. I get it.  Here at the Pond we do not squat by our cave to enjoy our  just speared haunch  cooked over open flames.  I understand this newest generation will be very different. Young brains are being grooved as never before. I accept this generation will have skill sets I will never possess, will think in patterns heretofore unknown. Will, in fact, occupy a world unknown to me. It has ever been thus. The pioneers who built   log cabins  on their staked claims did not build  the steel and glass skyscrapers of  today. Progress is to be expected. Even eagerly  sought, anticipated and embraced.


Somehow while I was at dinner I kept having visions of my visit to  the Celsus Library of Ephesus. Now an architectural relic , once among the largest libraries  in all of  civilization.  The  proud home to over 12,000 scrolls. Maybe even those LOST scrolls some believe were rescued from the Library at Alexandria and others believe included the lost books of the bible. Because being there  was significant for me, I bought a painting, a water color, from an artist at the site. I remember her telling me  she painted the Library every day. That while the subject did not change,  each painting was different and her hope was to preserve in the minds of many, the lessons implied by the remains she paints. I thought it a worthy purpose.
 I still do.

Trying to sort my thoughts on the way home I asked Blowfish if he knew where all the boxes of slides were from his parents travels? He does not.  Nor does he know where the projector might be or if it works. I asked him  when was the last time he printed out photographs instead of storing them in a cloud. He could not remember in which year he last printed a photograph. I asked him if he still had the first letter I ever wrote to him? His answer, " Fishy, that is my greatest treasure! It is where it will always be, in the second drawer of the night stand next to my bed.".  This made me think of other treasures.  Will we be able to enjoy and review them in our twilight years?  We have video cassettes of important events in our family but will there still be a  way  to play them?  I have stored Mermaid's anamatronic BigBird  and all the story tapes as this is how she learned to read by age three.  No doubt the dinosaur to today's smart phone apps. My  fear is the day will come when there will be no way to play these as batteries will no longer be.

Today, I am listless.
I did not sleep well having spun like a top wondering if we are as smart as our phones.
If, as a culture in transition , we are making wise choices to preserve what came before. This is not a foolish question as teams of greats today cannot build a pyramid, or explain what did happen to dinosaurs or for that matter, scrolls. Are we multiplying our losses? Are we in the process of not just moving  into the future but also losing our past? How smart is that?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Haiku Monday: String

That thing on the string?
Is not heirloom runner beans.
Ahhhh!  Kite tail fine art!

designed to be a weapon.
Now? Walkin' the Dog.