(ALSO CREAKIER, MORE FORGETFUL
AND CLOSER TO DEATH)
Robert's birthday is April 14. Mine is April 17. We celebrate a tradition in our marriage of Robert giving me boatloads of thoughtful and perfect birthday/anniversary/Christmas gifts and me giving him things he already has several of and/or he has never had any interest in owning. This birthday I had an additional financial limitation necessitated by not having any income (my unemployment is now Gone With the Wind). I decided to take on some projects he had been planning but dreading doing, including installing a real door between his finished basement office/music room and the rest of our basement. We had a nice door that we wanted to use -- a heavy, solid-cherry one that used to be in our downstairs hallway. Robert liked it because it had a textured glass panel, beautiful wood, and antique hardware.
The main stumbling block to installing the door down there was that the basement door frame was not plumb. We had actually talked to several carpenters who had all kinds of ideas for ripping things out and installing a new frame. The door would fit within the frame, but there was a one-inch difference between the top and the bottom of the side of the frame where the hinges would have to go. We never got anyone interested in doing this job for us, so as a stopgap I installed an old screen door by screwing it to the outside of the frame. Then, to keep air-conditioned or heated air in that part of the basement, I covered the screen with big sheets of bubble wrap secured with duct tape. It looked like crap but it was certainly functional, except that every time you swung open the door, it smacked into the hanging light fixture behind it.
It became my goal to fix this problem and give Robert the professional-looking office that he has always envisioned. I fussed and fussed about the door frame, until I realized that if I would only turn the hinges around and screw them into the side of the door frame as I had done for the screen door rather than to the inside where they're supposed to go, I didn't have to change the door frame!
So I tried to do that by myself. But while holding it in place with one hand and reaching for the screw driver with the other, the door tilted and crashed to the ground, hitting me on the wrist and causing some interesting bruising. Of course, the glass panel shattered.
I had to go out to buy something to replace it with. I was worried about trying to put in such a big piece of glass so I bought a sheet of Plexi, thinking that might be easier to handle. Home Depot wouldn't cut it to size for me because you have to use a special saw blade, but the guy told me how EASY it is to do. He said, "You just score it with a knife and then snap it off! Easy as pie!" So I bought a sheet and brought it home. Just to make sure I was doing it right I looked on the 'net for a video showing how to do it. All the comments were from extremely angry men, complaining about what an impossible thing this is to do, and what big fat liars they have working at Home Depot.
I tried the score-and-snap method. What a disaster! I worked on it for hours and ended up getting a blister on my hand from nipping microscopic bits off with a pair of wire cutters, because of course, the cracks hadn't gone all the way through or had veered off course. It looked as if a badger had been chewing on it, but I eventually got it the right size to fit into the door. Because this new pane wasn't privacy glass and that was one of the reasons Robert liked the door, I found some film that was supposed to make the Plexi look like a stained glass panel. I put that on, then really messed up the pretty wood on the door trying to get the little surrounding pieces of wood off so I could install it.
It's up! I keep telling myself it looks better than a beat-up fifty-year-old screen door covered with bubble wrap and duct tape, but not by much.
I also moved the light fixture, reupholstered a chair, painted a rocking chair, cleaned out his office closet and put in some recycling bins that he can use for storing cables and wires. I hung artwork and moved stuff around, got him a cake and some used DVDs and promised to make him some curtains. Robert was happy. Mostly he was happy because he HATES doing stuff like installing doors and cutting glass and moving light fixtures. [Robert adds: I also LOVE sitting on my ass, watching old videos, and eating cake!]
Robert's gorgeous, professional-looking music room!
On MY birthday we got up early to prepare for our big day at the recording studio. We have been taking training to be voice-over actors, and this was the day they would record our demo tape. Each recording took about two hours to do, and the product won't be ready for a few months. When we finally get our demo discs we'll send them out to people who might need a voice actor. It might be for something as exciting as playing an animated character, or as boring as being the person who says, "For Lisa Smith, please press 2. For Yvette Jones, please press 3." The demo will end up being just two 1 1/2 minute long tracks on a CD, but they cost us each about two thousand bucks! But that's show biz . . . .
We did the recording in Schenectady, about a two-hour drive. Then we drove home. I got to open my presents before going out for our birthday dinner. I got a new quiche pan, a new frying pan, a new flour sifter. The best gift was a laptop computer that I can take to my new job!
MY NEW JOB
Yes! I am a five-dollar-an-hour dog nanny to Annette and Casper! The job starts Monday! I'll keep you informed!
PROOF OF THE EXISTENCE OF GOD
I had invited our friend John Mendelssohn, over for dinner. He is a very talented musician and web designer who knows a lot about setting up a recording studio, which is something we need to do in order to get VOX HUMANA, our audio book recording business, off the ground. He offered to come over and look at our equipment and give us advice on software we should buy, etc. He declined my dinner offer, which I thought at first was a bad thing because I had purchased some gorgeous-looking veggies. I had planned to prepare a beautiful, fresh fennel bulb, some tightly budded broccoli and some lovely ears of corn. I know that corn isn't in season now so it probably came from Argentina, but I decided to get it as a special treat. I bought six ears.
It would be a lie to tell you that I am a great cook. Because I am a fabulous cook. Everything I touch turns into a culinary masterpiece! So after John left I made dinner for just Robert and me. I split the fennel bulb to discover that the inside was full of holes and had turned black. While preparing to steam the gorgeous broccoli I had to change knives because it was like sawing firewood to cut through the stems. They were dried up and hollow and as tender as two-year-old bamboo. I never had such bad broccoli to work with in my life! Finally, the corn was pretty but had the consistency and flavor of soggy talcum powder. I only managed a few bites. Thank God John turned me down!
So you ask, "Franny, is the existence of God proven by he fact that He caused John Mendelssohn to have other dinner plans so you were spared the embarrassment of a truly inedible meal? Are you THAT hungry for the peace of a Grand-Plan-for-All-Things that you grab at such flimsy straws as this to support your non-conformist spiritual beliefs?"
NO! The existence of God was proved to me when, just as I was sitting upstairs wondering what the heck I was going to do with FOUR EARS of fresh corn that I had no intention of eating, Robert said, "Franny, come here!" I joined him at our front door to see two of the fattest and boldest raccoons I have ever seen, sitting on our front porch like expectant Trick -or-Treaters.
Take THAT! Non-believers!
(Robert begs me not to encourage critters like this onto our porch and insists I feed them at the bottom of the porch stairs. I feed the ground hogs [known by you Michigan folks as woodchucks] by leaving treats of stale biscuits and wilted celery at the entrance of their burrows. I put chicken bones in the garden for skunks. I hope this makes that squirrel-hating lady who lives next door CRAZY!)
PICTURES FROM POMPEII
As promised, here are a few gems from our trip to Pompeii. I have always wanted to go there and I know a lot about it. When I brought up the idea of using one of our few days in Rome to go there, Robert was hesitant. But our good friend Carolyn Carroll's family is from the Amalfi Coast. The Carrolls had recently visited them, and they showed us their slides of Pompeii. That got Robert interested. [Robert amends: No, I was always interested, and always sympathetic to the idea. The only issue was whether we wanted to see Pompeii rather than Rome for a whole day. I loved Rome, but I think we chose right.]
We investigated various means of getting to Naples from Rome but found nothing inexpensive. There are tours you can take but they cost a fortune, and include a bunch of crap you have no interest in and they don't permit much time in the ancient city (Carolyn and Steve spent over six hours there, and still didn't see everything). But our other option, to figure out train schedules and maps and ground transportation on our own, was just too much hassle. We would have preferred being able to do what the Carrolls did, to wander around on our own, and we would have loved to spend hours there, but we couldn't. So we bit the bullet and signed on for a tour.
We were picked up at our hotel and got on a nice bus for the trip. Our guide was ridiculous. His name was Fabio but you would not have any problem confusing him with that OTHER Fabio. He spoke about six different languages and repeated things in Spanish, German and Greek, as well as Italian and English, but his English was amazing. He added a vowel to the end of almost every word. "Here-ah you see-ah the ancient-ah Roman-ah walls-ah, built-ah by the Emperor Justinian-ah ---" But he was friendly and nice. We became friends with an interesting Greek couple we met on the tour, Effie and Spyros. He is a professor in Athens. We hope they'll come and visit us in New York soon!
Anyway, after a not-that-good luncheon that took way too long and featured a bad singer crooning "O Sole Mio" at us, a quick tour of the city of Naples, and a boring stop at a cameo factory (read, crappy jewelry shop) we finally got to go into the ruined city of Pompeii. We had planned our trip perfectly--the week before the start of the regular tourist season. That meant we were able to walk around ancient Pompeii (it is acres and acres and ACRES and ACRES of excavated streets and buildings!) and not run into many other people.
With only two hours to spend there, we didn't get to see many of the best preserved and grandest houses with their fabulous murals (such as the Hall of Mysteries) but we enjoyed what we saw. It was a real experience to walk on the streets of a city frozen in time since the year 79AD. The level of ornate design everywhere was incredible and it was easy to imagine what it must have looked like then, when the paint colors were fresh.
My foot, on the streets of Pompeii
I was particularly impressed going into a bathhouse that, because it employed Roman arches, is the only building with a roof that didn't collapse under the weight of the ash and pumice stone that rained down on everything that day. Here's the ceiling:
Even the mattress of a metal bench was preserved.
These "strong men" divide little cubbies where bath patrons left their clothing.
Most of the art treasures found in Pompeii have been removed to museums, but perfect copies have been left in their places. The remaining objects and plaster castings that were discovered (like the famous and tragic chained dog, and some castings of people) are kept behind bars in this "antiquarium."
My favorite things were a very small mosaic of doves, stealing pearls from a jewelry box (here is is, with Robert looking down at it--I wish I had taken a close up of it) and the famous "Beware of the Dog" mosaic, laid in the front hallway of a house.
These are the remains of the counters in a storefront. Things like olives, pickles and wine were kept in the round wells.
These are pedestrian stepping stones (the streets ran with raw sewage...ick!) that allowed chariots and carts to pass. You can see the ruts carved by cart wheels.
Above is Vesuvius, as seen from Pompeii. I picked up a handful of the pumice stones that litter Pompeii everywhere, and which, with tons of ash, are the reason the city is so well preserved. They are lightweight, about 1/2 inch wide. But when you hold the cold rock in your hand and then look at the great distance from which they flew, you remember that what the residents of this city dealt with was not the light pitter-patter of pebbles, but a torrent of burning missiles.