When we bought this house I planned to take care of it. It was bigger than any place we ever lived, and the guy we bought it from looked frazzled when he was showing us how you do everything, and a small part of me thought one day, I’m going to look like that too.
They were ex-military ops, he and his wife. The wife was one of those air marshals who flies in plain clothes and then kicks ass on the plane if something goes wrong.
We went to look at the house the first day it came on the market. I was so sick of looking at houses; I’d just gotten a new job at Starbucks but it got overshadowed by this, another house to see. It had a pencil sharpener bolted onto the cabinetry in the laundry room and I made a snide comment, look! It has a pencil sharpener, I’m in!
In our offer letter, Dawn managed to work in the fact that her dad had just died and would have been happy to see us in a house like this. Specifically, this house. I guess it brought tears to the eyes of the air marshal, and we got it. We also specified we wanted the chickens.
The chickens were allowed out free range style, but only during daylight hours. And because there’s no fence, the chickens would go across the gravel road to the neighbors, kicking up garden beds and shitting and doing god knows what else. And the guy across the street (Keith) had a new hunting dog that was fast as lightning, like a brown streak in a bell, and I was pretty sure that dog would get one of our chickens and I’d have to explain to the kids, and that would set off some testosterone thing between Keith and me.
Instead I think a hawk got one, and the other one we gave away.
Gathering the chickens for the coop required following them around the yard pretending not to follow, and then going in quickly to grab one. The one that got killed was especially cunning though, and more than once I tried catching it after I’d been drinking and slipped on the grass, and it probably looked like a scene from Benny Hill.
The chicken coop is now jammed full of crap, a good place for spiders.
Not long after we moved in, I bought a John Deere tractor and the first time out, had a can of beer so I could put something in the cup holder while I was riding it looking cool, thinking man, I’ve really arrived.
And then I was out cutting the grass every week for many months, a part of it that’s kind of a hill so it’s unsafe to ride on a tractor, and requires a push mower…and then all the edging, the emptying of the clippings, the maintenance of the tractor, and so on. And we asked Keith across the street if he’d recommend his guys, and then we hired them to come do ours twice a month.
For years I tried to keep the house sorted, the carpet clean from kids and animals, the pictures on the walls straight, the lighting dim to hide the details. And I didn’t have to go on medication for it, but one day I just stopped caring. I remembered my mom and John’s artist friend Barry Blend who lives in France, and what a sty his place was, but how much he painted, and the fact his house just looked like an artist lived there, like anything was possible, anything, except for cleaning.
So maybe that’s where it starts, the art: it starts with outsourcing the lawn work and accepting imprecision…the crooked pictures on the walls, the odd stains on the carpet, the dust, the animal hair.
The former owner’s name was Scott Young and for a while, the trash and recycling bins we wheeled up the road still had their name written on it in capitals, YOUNG, and I thought that meant something more for me than just the name.
It reminds me of the end of the film, The Shining, where the camera zeroes in on an old black and white photo, of guests at the lodge from many years ago, before Jack Nicholson’s character took his family there and tried to kill them, and you realize, Jack Nicholson’s character was always there, like some spirit that just changes forms. And I had to pause at times in the mirror and regard myself, and remember Scott Young, and tell myself to slow down. And to avoid further comparisons between me and that caretaker role from The Shining, especially in wintertime.