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I'trêm breit vulaçozão ye spalla eiátlin nelöffnes pieqi aummit su berwegr'ra'ao.

The Pope in Our Kitchen

Saturday, Oct. 2, 2004 -
Apóslâmin ida corbalanyrtne 'lsão rohl'daathiém vá nença iroyssÿrd.

"Well, that answers that question," said the Fiend, eyeing the unmistakable pile in the middle of the cracked linoleum floor.

"What question?" I asked.

"Does a bear shit in the kitchen?"

"You think it was a bear? A bear did that?" asked Jer, his face wincing with distaste.

"Only if he was a hairy middle-aged man with a beer gut," said I. "No bears 'round here—biggest predators in this area are coyotes, maybe. But that's not dog shit. It's human."

"Mountain lions," offered the Fiend. "Mountain lions are the biggest predators. They come down from the higher elevations when there's a drought. Deer come right down into suburban areas, looking for water, and the mountain lions follow the deer."

Like I haven't heard that before, in various foothill communities from San Diego to Mendocino. But I've never heard of a mountain lion who could open a door with a padlock, and I said as much to the Fiend.

"The padlock's missing," said the Fiend.

"And I've never heard of a mountain lion who'd steal a padlock," said I. "What? Y' think he ate it?"

The kitchen door had been ajar by half an inch, and had easily opened with a push. The door's handle was an ornate hunk of iron without a lock—a security problem that had been solved by the house's former tenant, who had drilled two big eye screws into the door and the doorframe, and had threaded a bicycle cable through the eyes, and had fastened the cable with a padlock. We found the bicycle cable, sans lock, on one of the kitchen counters.

"Um, right. It's human," agreed the Fiend, gazing at the turds (which appeared several weeks old and blessedly dry—hey, small blessings are better than none). The look on his face was both wry and doleful, and utterly cute, and I wanted very much to kiss him—but not in the presence of doo-doo.

"You needed to replace the floor anyway," was Jer's offering of comfort.

This conversation took place in the kitchen where, in a few months, we'll be cooking our meals. The kitchen's in a forty-year-old house that can be best described as a "modest* suburban ranch", even though the house has never been part of a ranch and the nearest suburb is at least twenty-five miles away. Three miles away is a minuscule (and slightly fictitious) town that might be better known in the real world as Santa Margarita, or Casmalia, or Cambria, or Guadalupe, or Los Alamos, or Los Osos, or Nipomo, or Sisquoc—but we'll be referring to it as La Graciosa and pretend it was named after a Spanish mission: Nuestra Señora de la Graciosa del Titerero.

We had been idling 'round the neglected garden when the Fiend had discovered the unlocked door. Most of the garden was lost under a thick carpet of dead yellow grass, but such a meadow has its own beauty. The straw-like grass, prostrate after a long waterless season, flowed over the dry ground in gold and gray eddies. Only the skeletons of the rose bushes, the tough glaucous leaves of the irises, and the overgrown junipers, dusty and ragged, seemed sad. Delight could be found in a spectacular clump of Shaw's agave or in an elegant coffeeberry. Pittosporum eugenioides and tobira were two blithe shades of green, one pale, one dark. A pineapple guava was a dense, thriving ball of flock-backed leaves, six feet tall. When I was here in midsummer, petals from its flowers were like perfumed sugar on my tongue. The sturdy montbretias were in full bloom then, trimming the house with a rickrack of rust-red cookie-cutter stars. Naked ladies came in August, bare-stemmed pink lilies in nodding rows. In the spring, the Fiend sez there will be haphazard colonies of naturalized narcissi, with snails making lace out of their white coronas.

The house belongs to the Fiend; it's part of the property he owns in partnership with his father and brothers (a five-minute walk will bring you to the ridge above this creek). By the end of this year, this house will belong to us—Jer, the Fiend and I—in the sense that it will be the place where we belong. It will be home. You can tell from the pictures that we'll be living well out in the boonies. Our only close neighbor will be a gentleman who breeds mules, and we'll be separated from him by a small vineyard† and a wild half-acre of olive trees, the last grove of a ranch abandoned decades ago. But civilization won't be far away. Several Central Coast towns will be within a half-hour's drive, which will make the house convenient as the northernmost hub of Yard Dogs, Ltd.—and Jer's commute to Cal Pollo del Mar University will be only 45 minutes, which means he can come home every day and sleep in our bed every night. (We'll be able to fit Bert Convy's bed into the master bedroom as soon as we knock out a couple of walls and, regretfully, a closet.)

The Fiend has never lived in this house. A Locally Famous Potter, the sister of our mule-breeding neighbor (let's call her Loc Fam Pot, and he shall be Edmund), was renting it when the Fiend bought the house, and she continued to rent it until she got married two years ago. The house has been empty since. It needs some work to make it livable. For instance, there are no toilets in the two bathrooms, just steel plates bolted over the holes in the floors. Which I daresay was a grievous disappointment to our squatter (but I don't even want to guess why he—or she—chose to squat in our kitchen, rather than shittin' in the woods with the mountain lions and the bears and the pope). The kitchen floor now needs to be scoured and razed, but it was already in bad shape before it was scat-stained. Loc Fam Pot had chipped away parts of the linoleum in an ill-considered attempt to remove the old floor—she had intended to replace the floor with red ceramic tiles she had picked up at a garage sale. She gave the tiles to the Fiend before she left on her honeymoon, a conciliatory gesture for the ruined floor. The tiles are really quite gorgeous, with a deep, lustrous red glaze, very shiny. They're small, only three by five inches, but we have five crates of 'em. The Fiend's gonna use them for the kitchen and the dining room, with the odd black tile here and there, with a black border and a black splash 'round the walls. He's also gonna tile the wall behind the stove, and do a red splash with black trim behind the sinks. The effect will be slightly nauseous until we have the time to strip or re-paint the apple-green cabinets.

~

* Just under 1,500 square feet. The closets are few, the bathrooms are dinky, the hallway is claustrophobic. The living room is square and ample, the kitchen is narrow but adequate, the dining room will be very intimate if we try to seat more than six people in it. Smack dab in the center of the house is a puzzling eight-by-eight foot room with no closets or windows or electrical outlets, just a light fixture in the ceiling. Our best guess is that it was a nursery or playroom for small children. We'll be demolishing the walls that separate it from the master bedroom, which will then become rather palatial, despite the dearth of closet space.

† They're Syrah grapes, we've been told, grown for a rich man's vanity. The rich man hires a Santa Barbara vintner to make his wine for him. He sells a few bottles to tony restaurants in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and gives cases of it to friends like Oprah Winfrey and Steve Martin. And to our mule-breeder. Edmund gave us four bottles of a 2002 vintage. As a connoisseur of beer, I'm a philistine in the wine cellar, but if a red wine smells of wood and tastes of bread—as this one did—I like it.

<~>
Apóslâmin ida corbalanç 'lse nesgla ugaró-cham sa cru ogrulho batãoltha alémvásde.

last eleven:

Resurrection - Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Arts and Letters -
Friday, June 17, 2005
Domestic Obsessions -
Tuesday, April 5, 2005
The Kindness of Strangers -
Tuesday, April 5, 2005
Gone -
Saturday, April 2, 2005
Coming Back, Little By Little -
Saturday, April 2, 2005
Effing Around -
Thursday, March 31, 2005
Explicably Yours -
Wednesday, February 9, 2005
Things Too Innumerable To Mention -
Sunday, January 30, 2005
Mr. Armstrong -
Tuesday, November 23, 2004
The Pope in Our Kitchen -
Saturday, October 2, 2004



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