Items in back of the truck: large wicker chair, small wicker table, trunk I've been carrying around since college, 2 bags books, 5 assorted plants, 1 rug, 2 wastebaskets, 1 tool kit, 1 comforter, bag of linens, 2 cases N/A beer, printer, computer, phone charging cord, box of house files, set pots and pans, baggie green beans, 2 bags Zabar's coffee beans, 1 bottle water, assorted clothing
This is before the Home Depot stop, the Stop 'n'Shop stop, etc.
For reasons I can't understand, there will be a truckload coming back, too.
Do I know how to carry shit around or what?


my mantra

Lil Abner famously remarked, "As any fool can plainly see—as ah can plainly see." Ah find this comforting, as ah sit surrounded by rough calculations, unintelligible measurements, mysterious lists of abbreviations and do-it-yourself tomes. The learning curve is steep. Load-bearing, mitres, pipe clamps, RU, quarter-round—ah don't even know the vocabulary of building, never mind the techniques.
And so ah have a mantra: Morons do this.
And if a moron can do it, ah can do it, too.


land o' lyme's

It's that time of year again. The sparrows are probably building nests in the corners of my porch (boy are they going to be displeased when I turn up with my new jigsaw), and the swans are likely scouting the pond. I doubt the daffodils are blooming yet (Island correspondants: please feel free to correct), but the sap is rising. I can feel it.
Also, due to my southern swing, I've already begun giving my own personal sap for Lyme's disease tests. Practically everybody on the island has had it at least once, ditto for folks in Connectict and Westchester County. For more info about it, check out the CDC's site or Harvard's. And if you find one of those itty-bitty ticks on yourself, don't listen to your physician.


photograph by Oceangurl


wally's world

There used to be this hardware store on the island. Everybody called it Tiffany's, because a nail cost more than rubies and emeralds. The owners finally sold the building, which now houses a boutique that probably has a similar markup. Then for a while, there were two hardware stores on the island. One was a branch of a mainland business and the other was independent. Now just the independent one is left. The prices are beyond rubies and emeralds, but we go there anyway, because when you want a screw, you want a screw now.
But on each trip to the island, I do the Home Depot run. I also go to Wal-Mart. And Super Stop n' Shop. These are the places that are running everybody else out of business. Sometimes I worry about that, but mostly I'm selfishly trying to cut my own costs. I have one friend who claims never to have set foot in Wal-Mart, but since he sends his wife daily, that's hypocritical.
There are no Wal-Marts in New York City—yet. And there is an organization devoted to making sure there never are that has an ad showing a godzillalike Wal-Monster attacking Staten Island. Clear Channel refused to mount it on their outdoor billboards. Meanwhile, everybody who wants a Wal-Mart (or Ikea) goes to New Jersey. We used to go there to Home Depot, too, but now there are two in Manhattan. You can't pick up in your truck, though.
And, yes, I've seen the hollowed-out town squares and I know about the starvation wages and the prison labor and the racism and all the rest. What should we do?


screw it yourself

The piles of linen, old books, rugs and wicker in the corner testify that this blog is about to morph into a home building and repair site. I'm not going to neglect drama, romance or gossip, but the metaphors will change. I need a description at the top of this page that encapsuates that sore-thumb, bleeding-bank-account, help-quick-turn-off-the-water-line ethos. A description of my own little reality show.
"Extreme rakeover!"
"Defining the word houseproud for generations to come!"
"Living proof that chicks shouldn't use power tools!"
"The do-it-yourselfer's guide to the difference between a screw and getting screwed."
Hmm, the screw metaphor has some possibilities. Any ideas?


in the zone

The note from The Architect was the fist significant setback: “Alright, alright, enough of the good news. Just received a letter from the island Buildings Official saying a special use permit from the town is required. Ugh. You cannot do this without a lawyer, because you can royally screw up your own use of the property as well as that of generations to come. The special use permit is the most complicated (read cumbersome) application and review by zoning. Goes something like this: Submit application month 1; assume it's put on the agenda for public hearing #1, month 2; conservation and planning all get to throw in their 2 cents over the course of how ever many months it takes to get by them; then back to zoning (presumably with blessings from all other committees) and public hearing #2 takes place. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.”
So I hired a lawyer. He said I can’t be prevented from building in the end and talked about expediting the process. There was a lot of discussion about third Mondays and fourth Fridays that made me black out, but the upshot was that he thought it wouldn’t take an interminable period of time.
Which is good, because interest rates are soaring and I’m already in hock.
And I bought $600 worth of power tools. Dolores thinks I should pose for a calendar with a different power tool every month. I think Citichild would be more marketable, if less authentic.


jello roll

“Would you like congealed salad with that?”
I guess so, if only to find out what congealed salad might be. Can’t say it sounds really appetizing, but then that duck’s blood glop in Chinese restaurants isn’t as bad as it oughta be. And, hell, when in Alabama, make like the locals, especially when your relatives are the locals.
I was sitting with my father in the Café Royale, one of the only things open for business across from the courthouse in Talladega. It is in that very courthouse, my aunt relates, that my great grandfather Nathan Christopher Columbus Camp, at age 93, slipped on the marble floor next to the spittoon, hit his head on a radiator and died or, she says, “He’d be with us yet.” (This is the same man who, in his eighties, went to his great nephew, the doctor, and told him that he thought there was something wrong with him because he couldn’t have sex more than once or twice a week. Need I add that the same blood runs through the veins of the man who sits next to me at the Café Royale, ungrayed at 84. This is not the same side of the family whose matriarch got down on her knees during the Civil War to pray, “Dear Lord, please protect us from the Yankees and the Baptists.”)
But back to congealed salad. It turns out to be a kind of jello square filled with fruit of an indeterminate kind and topped with a frosting of a sweet, whitish substance. Over the years, the secret of the white stuff has been closely guarded. However, when pressed, the waitress bent over and whispered that given the contents of the trash, she suspected lemon jello, cream cheese and Cool Whip.
A taste test proved that quite possible. I still think they need another name.


claudia's surf city, ozarks

I'm bummed. I don't know why I wanted to buy a gas station in the Ozarks near the Eleven Point River. I mean, the price was right: $24,000. But it's not like I need another piece of property or can afford it or even plan to live there. "You just want to have it, don't you?" asked Citichild. Well, yes. I did. In fact, by yesterday I sort of had my heart set on it and was hoping someone would just give it to me. Dangerman said he'd chip in ten bucks. I would never have to stay in the Honeymoon Suite in the Ramada across from the Wal-Mart in West Plains, Mo., again—an easy savings of $500 a year. And that was good, especially now that the Ramada is under new management. But then I got the word: the future Claudia's Surf City, Ozarks branch, has been sold. The closing is Friday. Oh well, let somebody else sweat lead bullets about the probable EPA nightmare that lurks under the surface of that innocuous-looking yard. Wouldn't my logo have looked great on that wall, though, with the surfboards and refirgerator out on the redneck patio?
I guess the gas-station fetish got started earlier in the trip when I visited the UCM Museum (say it out loud) in Abita Springs, Louisiana. It's a way-cool roadside attraction in the old style, created by a wacko conceptual artist and his friends, among them my cousin, who contibuted a Christmas wreath made of a piece of chainlink fence with paper cups stuffed in it. The museum has the Amazing Bassigator, funny animatronics and just stuff encrusted all over the walls—bottle caps, cell phones, motherboards, mosaics, signs and sayings. My cousin and her friends have a few other pet projects, too, like the Queen Bee Social and Pleasure Club which swarms in beehives and stingers at such occasions as the local Mardi Gras parade with its decorated lawn mower floats (definitely look at these pix). The bees used to smear honey on nice lookin' drones and then lick it off, but they aren't as nasty now that they're mama bees.
The UCM sensibility threads through it all. I scored a Freud action figure there, as well as a Van Gogh's ear air freshener. I knew I was gonna love it as soon as I saw the entrance, an old, old gas station.

the gas station that got away



country queen

Every time I go on the road I have, perforce, to listen to country music, which I mostly revile—nothing else is on the radio but Christian (yuk) and Clear Channel (OK until you hear Foxy Lady for the second time in 15 minutes and get suspicious). The last memorable tune for me was She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy (how on earth do I remember that?). This time it was My Give-a-Damn's Busted. The song is by Jo Dee Messina, who by chance grew up in the same house that the Beauty Girls (below) are posing in. Every so often, Jo Dee asks Sis if she can buy the house for her mother. So far, Sis has refused. The one time I met Jo Dee I gave her greetings from Sis, and she (JD) said, "Tell your sister to give me my house back." Harsh. But maybe with BUSTED Jo Dee will be able to offer even bigger bucks and Sis will succumb. I doubt it, though, the Beauty Girls would fuss.



I'm back. First I will pay the bills. Then I will deal with the latest—and most serious—housebuilding setback. Then I will write about all the cool things I saw on my spring loop. If I can find the notebook that I wrote all the cool things down in. Has anyone seen my notebook? The little yellow one with the bees on the cover?


rules of the road

I'm in my fourth state of the day, and I have learned the following:

All roads are under construction.
There has been a lot of rain everywhere.
Everybody has dogs and cats.
It is turkey season.
Clear Channel is almost as bad as Christian radio.
Everybody has a family member in Iraq.
All motels have wireless.
Everybody but me hates Mexicans.
Real estate prices have soared everywhere.
Except in the East, this is a lawless land.
Use cruise control.


flowers that bloom in the spring

The windsheild wiper blades were fried, and as I tore through the downpours, I couldn't see much. Finally got them switched out, and then the weather shifted to 40 mph gusts. But yesterday was lamblike, as the queen of Alabama wildflowers led us up the foothills of Cheha Mountain (tallest in the state at 2,000-something feet) on the Nubbin Creek Trail in the Talladega National Forest. Looking for wildflowers is different than birdwatching, although one also carries binoculars and writes species down in a little book. The wildflowers are fixed in place, so eventually you can always see what the experts are pointing at. We walked through forests of blueberry trees, mountain laurel and oakleaf hydrangias (the only place they are native). Things were just leafing out. But then, with sharp eyes, you could spot a trailing arbutus, or "mayflower", with tiny, waxy white or pink flowers, the yellow face of a halberd violet or a tiny purple iris just coming into bloom. And after five hours of solitary hiking (and one inadvertant dip in a whitewater creek) communing with the wild, it was a shock to see a clipped and cultivated white standard poodle headed towards us down the trail. Woof.