Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Am Woman

After we got rid of my uncle Jim's car, we moved on to the condo and all the mess associated with that. Painting was first on the agenda. I had never painted ceilings before so I was in for a real treat.

On the third day or so, an enormous glop of paint went directly into my left eyeball. It felt like my eye was burning off and I was screaming bloody murder. I don't know how I made it to the bathroom to wash out, and it really took many rinses before I could open my eye or see anything. The feeling of that crap in there was freakish. I kept asking my dad if I was going to go blind and he couldn't help but laugh. It was water based paint and he assured me that it will come out and there was no need to rush to the hospital. I was fine by the end of the day and resumed painting a smaller room, holding the roller quite farther away. I felt like I failed in my remodeling duties and since I was championing this project, I had to save face. I could handle it. My dad didn't want to spend time over there at all, so I became the apprentice carpenter to get this over with.

A lot of the work was genuinely fun. The process of cleaning out and getting rid of and re-building made me feel healthier, positive, and productive. It was incredible to see change that is brought about by effort and hard work. It's therapeutic to have this tangible meaningful success. There were days that were extremely difficult but doing this act of physical labor brings about a lot of good I didn't know I had in me.

The best thing about this whole experience is that for a while, I wasn't as affected by family drama. I had a plan for every day. I woke up knowing what we were setting out to accomplish and we were able to brush off a lot of other garbage to focus here. It felt great. This was finally something I did with the family that felt worth it. Each day when I returned home, my uncle on my mom's side would see me covered in paint and dirt and filth and smelling like a man, and he would laugh. He didn't believe that I would actually do this but once I did, he seemed impressed.

If there is anything I've learned from this experience it's that each project will take at least twice as long as you plan on, and there are always unforeseen complications that may have you re-doing a whole lot. Painting seems like no big deal but the preparation takes a great deal of time. Setting down drop cloths and taping takes forever! And you forget about the little things: walls need to be cleaned of dust and dirt, you must take out and put tape around the ceiling lights, remove molding from the ceilings and floors, you find nails everywhere and rip your fingers open with them by accident, removing light switch covers and outlet covers takes forever, removing doors has to be done first, turning off the power so you don't get electrocuted in the bathroom is necessary, etc.

I learned how to build a wall with 2 x 4s, size cut and install dry wall, remove carpet on stairs, apply real primer (which is a total necessity as we later found out,) remove tile, remove cabinets, re-wire electricity, find out how to size cabinets for a kitchen and who has the better deal, (since we went to 6 places!! One in Wisconsin!) how to recycle an unusable washer and dryer, the proper way to use a saw, using an electrical sander, hand sanding, and the biggest pain in the ass: removing wallpaper. Oh my god that was sheer hell.

A lot of this isn't terribly complicated, just time consuming. It's also hard to prepare for things that will go wrong. And they will.

We wanted to "de-dungeon" the place and make it warm and cheery, so I decided on what was supposed to be a light tangerine color for the living room/dining room area. Unfortunately the large window doesn't get nearly as much light as I had assumed and the room now looks a very serious canary yellow. Oops. How does that happen? It didn't look so bold before we did the whole room. But hey sometimes you've got to be bold in this world, so yellow it is. That and Dad refuses to re-do this even though I lost sleep over it.

The thing about primer is that it covers up all the shit. For example, if your clearly depressed uncle thought that his office should be a hideous charcoal grey/brown/puce/shit color, you need at least two coats of primer to get rid of it. Otherwise, the new beautiful blue won't stick and the shit will run through.

Each time you fix something in a disastrous house, another area instantly becomes glaringly offensive. During this process my friend A asked if there were still traces of my uncle, or if we could feel his presence. I had to say yes, definitely. Fresh paint on walls only illuminates the brown blinds and shades from a smoker, the dust dirt and debris stuck in door frames, the lack of caulk, the dead bugs in the window frames, the feathers in the bathroom exhaust, and general extreme neglect everywhere.

Dad had this whole plan that we were going to take down the kitchen cabinet doors and sand, re-varnish or paint, then simply put them back. Sure, except that the whole kitchen was stupidly laid out in the first place, emitted the smell of obviously rotting wood, and was just plain awful to be in. I didn't want to nag, but I felt that the whole kitchen needed to be gutted. It wasn't until we had re-painted other rooms that he saw it too. And smelled it. And was no longer in denial about it. The kitchen had to go.

Fixing the kitchen ended up being a personal triumph of mine. Many steps were required to figure it out, but we got there. First we pretended to be interested in the two foreclosures down the street and spied on them. One was completely rehabbed and selling for a measly $114. The other had a vintage kitchen and stained carpeting in the bedrooms and selling for a whopping $109. My dad was totally depressed over this and couldn't believe what we got stuck with. He kept moaning that all we will get is $114 and to get that we have to do a ton of labor to compete. But, I felt like hey, we could really make that kitchen amazing. The nice place had a perfect design and to get there we just needed to remove a large stupidly placed cabinet. He said it was impossible because our gas line for the stove was on the opposite side as theirs and we wouldn't have enough room for the counter. Not so. I realized that we could keep most of what we had but merely move everything over a few inches and get rid of a couple things that impeded the space. We would have the same design as that rehabbed condo, but with appliances on opposite sides. We could also add a lazy susan, which would give us only one blind corner instead of two.

He looked thunderstruck when I said this. He started measuring and drawing and soon enough we had a great plan. We compared six places for size, price, and design for the new layout. FYI: Ikea was not the cheapest as expected. Soon enough new gorgeous cabinets were ordered as well as a new built in microwave with an exterior hood above the range, and a dishwasher to replace the non-existant one. All in all it was a major upgrade, and didn't cost a ton. Sometimes it really helps to have another set of eyes.

He kept telling me that the kitchen floor was in good shape and he was going to leave it. I thought it was hideous but I wasn't going to make a problem for him. If he wanted to salvage something here then that's up to him. However, while I was scrubbing the wallpaper glue off the kitchen walls and he was preparing to install the new cabinets, things changed. Out of nowhere I heard an enormous ripping sound. I was in mid-sentence and thought we were in a conversation when I look over and see that my dad had spontaneously ripped out that disgusting linoleum floor. It was like he just couldn't stand looking at it anymore. Talk about therapy.

Removing wallpaper was by far the most disgusting job in our project. Fair warning: if you are putting wallpaper in your home then guess what. You are a fucking idiot. Don't cry to me when you get sick of that stupid design and find it to be filthy and greasy and stained from cooking or your kid's crayon drawings or whatever mess you get on it. I warned you.

The wallpaper in our condo has been there for probably my entire life, or longer. Uncle Jim bought this condo before my parents were married and despite some sort of remodel he did 15 years ago, the wallpaper may have stood the test of time. My dad tried a solvent to get it off, a steamer, water, scraping, etc. We were going to just put up quarter inch dry wall, but after covering all the basement paneling, he was sick of it and thought this would be easier. Ha! He managed to get all the actual paper off, but we were left with the glue. Whomever put that shit up in the first place did a sloppy haphazard job with globs of goo everywhere. Once we found a solvent that worked for this crap it took three entire days to get it off. I was exhausted.

We found a section that had a mural from the 1950's on it. My dad thought it was totally cool and I kind of wanted to keep it, but the wall was in such bad shape it really had to get painted over. We knew we did a good job when we could finally see the mural in its entirety. What an unexpected bonus!

Once the kitchen was finally painted a beautiful pale honey color, my dad finally had something positive to say about this experience: "It's a miracle. My god, I don't believe it. It's a miracle."

I can't believe how much money we saved by doing this ourselves, and I can't believe how satisfying even the smallest change can be. I know that if I didn't help my dad with at least some of this, it could have taken up to a year. While he is still working there on his own, I'm glad I got to help out for a little while. The accomplishments did wonders for my self esteem, especially after being around so many family members that constantly put me down.

I am strong, I am invincible, and I still had time to bake.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Demons

I awoke with huge anxiety yesterday morning, to the point that I had to put my head between my knees and breathe slowly until I could get up. It was nightmares that did it to me, two in a row believe it or not.

The first one was about a trip I was taking with my uncle and grandma. I was driving them home from shopping and we were supposed to catch a boat to Canada, but I missed the exit on the highway and figured we should just go home. Upon arriving home I took packages out of my car and they proceeded to put them back, and an argument ensued on the way in which I locked the doors. I said I needed something from the other side and they started screaming about how I was wasting time and we could still make it to Canada and the only reason they were doing this was because of me and I was ungrateful and Uncle knew the way and why didn't I let him drive.....the screaming was what woke me up finally.

But I fell back asleep and my second dream landed me in a hospital. This time my uncle and my mother were there with me and presumably we were in the hospital because my grandma was in there. I don't remember why my uncle was screaming at me in this setting but he elevated his anger to the point that he hit me in the face, which caused my mom to scream more and also take a swing at me. So I woke up in a total panic attack and had to give up on falling back asleep. I don't know why any of this happened but my intuition is telling me that he blames us for all the trouble Grandma has to go through, and all three of them have severe anger management problems, and they are all disappointed in me.

Ok, so that's my hypothesis on them. But what do the dreams say about me? Something is upsetting me enough to enter my dreams and cause panic at 5am. Is it simply a reminder to stay 2000 miles away? Is it a prediction of what is to come? Or is it just a reflection of what has been on my mind lately due to hearing of all their grievances back home? I definitely spend way too much time worrying about what they all think of me when I really shouldn't care. I shouldn't let their screaming infiltrate my brain and my independence no matter where I am. If people want to scream their heads off insulting you endlessly then you have to decide that it's their problem, not yours. Of course I have not yet been able to do that and have sought help numerous times.

Something I'd like to learn in the next year is how to remove focus of exterior influences and solely concentrate on what I want to do. I felt so tense and achy all day yesterday, the dreams nearly ruined my entire day. I didn't know if I could make it to a yoga class but I forced myself and I was in for a pleasant surprise. It helped to take myself away from all those thoughts and pay attention to my movements. Amazingly a handstand seemed easier than ever before. The pose still needs work but my body gave me this gift today, maybe so that I could spend some time up-side down and gain clarity. The only thing that stopped me before was the brain saying "no don't!" at the last minute. But it wasn't there today. There was no little voice nagging at me this time.

My friend S is a triathlete and when I expressed to her my dislike of running, she said that she used to hate it too. But then her trainer explained that we hate these things because we decided to. We decided to give ourselves a hard time about it and make it impossible to succeed. And then when we try to get past it, it feels like a forceful anger inducing crazed attack on the body. She says these are the demons in our mind telling us how to think of the way we do things. We have to silence them, or brush them away or let the running unfold into something relaxing over time without even thinking about it. I may have finally reached this hurtle today with the handstand and I nearly cried tears of joy right there in class. I couldn't wait to get back home and try again.

Handstands are supposed to have the following benefits: getting over fear, increased clarity, improved digestion, increase of blood circulation, core strength, and greater balance. Since all of these things are destined to bring about sweeter dreams, I am committed to practice handstands. I am feeling pretty lucky to have found the exercise that I love. It improves my quality of life and helps me get rid of exterior influences and demons. I realized yesterday that I started what will be a lifelong practice. I completely forgot about my bad dream for the rest of the day and had a restful sleep last night.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Even the smallest project can take so much longer than you expect.

I started knitting a blanket a year ago, it is still unfinished.

I left the passport agency to pursue school and that is still undecided.

I helped take apart/remodel a condo, and it is still unlivable.

I get very very upset when I feel broke and unaccomplished, and I often dwell on those thoughts way too much. In truth, since 2011 is nearing an end, I know I have accomplished a great deal. It's surprising when I really think about it, and really good to know that I was useful and helpful and gained wisdom and stood up for myself a few times when things got crazy.

I am not proud that I hung up the phone on my grandma that day. I agonized over it for an entire week, and of course I was the one to initiate the first phone call back. However, I knew it was wrong and downright crazy to scream and yell at me like that. She didn't understand the point I was trying to make, or any point I ever try to make, and she went ballistic. It's a common quality on my mom's side of the family to scream whenever they want to say anything. It has come to a point where just being around them sends my entire body into a cringe. I always cower and walk away or argue just to be shot down, and it is never worth it.

Surprisingly one of the best things I have ever done was hang up on her because I learned that I can illuminate the bad behavior that way. It also allowed me to exert control and maintain sanity. It's never a mature response, and I worried that she would be overcome by such disrespect that she wouldn't get why I had to do that. I never in a million years thought that she would apologize to me, but when I finally called her back she did.

When I was back in town for a wedding there was a day where I decided we were getting rid of Uncle Jim's car. Dad had already taken it to a mechanic for an assessment and found it to be a death trap. The damn thing reeked of cigarettes and was so filthy and rusted it was overwhelmingly depressing just to sit in it for a half hour. A high school near my parents have an auto shop for students so we donated.

While my dad and I were in the process of various paperwork signing, my mom called about a hundred times. She and my dad were to meet with a contact at a non-profit about job searching that afternoon. We thought we would get back in time but definitely cut it too close. As we were about to leave I called to tell her where my car keys were so she could get there first. She answered the phone just screaming. SCREAMING about how I fucked her over and this was important to her and now they'll make a bad impression and it was all my fault and on and on and on, without me getting a chance to say anything. So again, my brain said, "turn it off," and I hung up.

I have no regrets about this action. It is ridiculous to let anyone barrage you with insults and abusive behavior. I'm not going to let it happen again. I am especially not going to let it happen when I am helping out in the first place.

I can't help but be reminded of that scene in The Holiday where Kate Winslet's character tells her ex-boyfriend that she's pretty sure she's got gumption, and slams the door in his face. Yes, yes yes.

About a month after all of this I was working for a previous employer in a high stress situation. It was a particularly bad night because we were all over-worked and over-scheduled and dealing with an insane amount of traffic to get where we needed to go. I was coordinating all transportation for a major event and needed to get people to several places all at the same time. Some people involved reacted badly when they found out there were stops along the way to our destination that evening, and refused the service only to wait longer for the next ride. Very stupid. When I finally had a driver available to pick up my boss at the office, she completely freaked out that there were other guests in the car. Furious, she screamed bloody murder at me telling me that this was embarrassing and unprofessional.

She had no idea that people refused to get into a car and caused a delay. She didn't tell us that a guest changed their fight itinerary causing a driver to wait 45 minutes at the airport for nothing that evening. She also didn't know that one of my drivers got lost 3 times and didn't know how to get to the event after she picked up 14 people in her van. She also didn't know that I had just gone from venue to venue to venue to hotel to hotel to event to hotel to event when I realized that I desperately had to pee and I hadn't eaten anything in 7 hours. Yet, despite this terrible schedule and bad planning it was somehow all my fault and I was getting an earful. My shock caused me to do something wildly unexpected. I don't know where I found these words at this very moment, but I said: "I did a great job today. You're welcome. I'm hanging up the phone now." And I hung up.

I was petrified at what I had done. Is it even more unprofessional to point out the insanity of your boss? I sat at a table shaking and barely able to eat what was put in front of me. Our event host talked me down and assured me that I did the right thing because my hands were tied, and there was no way I could have pulled it off better unless I had more staff.

Later that evening he came up to me and asked if I would go down and talk to my boss outside. As soon as I saw her there were tears in her eyes and I felt so bad about it all that we ended up hugging and getting teary together. Even as it started to seriously rain outside she wanted to stay out there and talk and go over everything and insist that there wasn't anything wrong with the schedule, it was that we had to communicate more often. I thought oh my god she really is insane. But honestly, she's a pretty awesome passionate person and I admire how much she can handle. However, I might have been the only person that bothered pointing out to her that we have limitations and some things can't be perfect, period. There comes a point where even the most workaholic managers could display some grace and be grateful for those trying their best to help.

I think we have to remind people and I certainly have to remind myself often that hey, I'm here. I'm in this too. I'm trying to help; I am trying to be of service. I've worked hard to get projects finished. I'm trying my best to accomplish goals and keep my head above water.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Make It Stop

I hung up on my grandma once this summer. It was the day after I arrived back in Seattle after my uncle's funeral. The previous evening I felt a surge of emotion that had me going to her for comfort. It was all too much at once. I couldn't go to my mom because she was generally in a foul mood. She had taken to only screaming rather than talking, and was utterly taken over by fury due to the circumstances of Jim's death and the secrets he hid.

Each day of family being around became too much for me. My dad's other brother came over to Jim's place to "help" with a little cleaning and sorting of documents. For some reason he brought his wife and mother in law who proceeded to rifle through all the kitchen cabinets and park directly in front of the china cabinet. They were clearly staking their claims. They stayed for about an hour looking through things and clearly trying to find something specific. I assume they didn't find it. My cousin took my uncle's hard drive and came back claiming there was nothing on it at all. When he returned he also brought his wife, and asked her what she wanted. I couldn't believe it. I knew they were contemplating divorce, and did in fact divorce about a month after all this, but hey take what you want from the dead guy! It's only my grandmother's heirlooms, but what the hell. Might as well have a free for all.

I couldn't figure out how a dead man's home, which he didn't want anyone inside of in the first place, became a party of sorts. My uncle with his entourage was just going to sweep in and blow us away. Even my aunt was going through old tax documents and claimed that since she used to be an accountant she could help with his late payments. She boasted about how she had to look all of them over and she would have to go to the IRS with it since she believed he stopped paying taxes years ago. Of course when they left the place, she didn't take anything with her and didn't even bother to help with a thing. She just wanted to see the information.

I was sickened. I felt my blood absolutely boil throughout that day. My dad's face was stony and I could tell he could have reached out and strangled his brother if not for all the witnesses. But what could we have done? I've replayed this event in my head over and over and I wish I said hey get the fuck out right now, or only my uncle and my cousin are allowed in here and no one else, or hello? He just died in here a week ago why are there so many people in his place? I didn't invite my relatives from my mom's side over there during this time. I certainly didn't claim to be of use and then walk away. How did I get stuck with family like this? Who the fuck do they think they are?

During the funeral itself I listened to my cousin talk about how he was very close with Jim. I don't know if he wanted to one-up me or what but I got that feeling. He was saying that he intended to come into Chicago for the 4th of July anyway and was going to stay with Jim. Really? He was going to stay with our uncle who could barely walk across his own tiny kitchen, couldn't catch his breath, and was living in filth? They were so close that he didn't know of our uncle's recent hospitalization which had my dad spending the night at the hospital? Come on. I like my cousin, I really do. Or, I want to like him very much. He is my only cousin on planet earth and we do have a great deal in common, but then.....I don't know if I like him at all. We're pretty much strangers. And after listening to him talk about how much he loved Jim and will miss him and how close they were, I really wanted to punch him in the face. At the funeral he endlessly talked about himself and how amazing he is and branding and product recognition and social media marketing and entertaining account managers and blah blah blah. I admire that he is very successful and he is happy with it, but I don't know how to talk to him and I admit that he makes me uncomfortable. I'd rather be cousins with his ex-wife.

We briefly talked about why I gave up on Jim long ago and my aunt and cousin totally didn't believe me. I could see it in their faces. It was a classic case of ignore the problem and it doesn't exist. My cousin did agree that Jim probably just hated women and that was all their was to it. Of course my aunt claimed that he wasn't so bad and she never noticed him treating women badly. In fact, didn't I know that Jim was in love with her sister and wanted to marry her? Oh sure. Of course he did.

I confronted her about not being invited to my cousin's wedding. I was talking about how I didn't understand why we are always the black sheep in this family and why everyone treats my dad so badly. I told her we were pretty shocked about not receiving an invitation. What happened next was pretty beautiful. First she claimed that they did not send any invites and they just called people. She was sure that they called my parents. I told her they didn't. Then she got my cousin and said: she thinks we didn't invite them! He said oh no you were invited. We just didn't have your address. Couldn't you have sent it to my parents? They've been in the same spot for 25 years. We did! We sent them invitations. They didn't get it. Oh well it must be V's fault. She was the one in charge of all that stuff. (V was my cousin's wife) That's it. Blame it on the wife.

And then there was the vase. It was decided that my cousin and I would split everything in the china cabinet between us. Our parents agreed on this, but then my uncle changed his mind. He kept asking my aunt what she would like. She claimed not to want anything but then said that she wanted the crystal paperweight. And she wanted my grandmother's bible, especially since it didn't mean anything to us. Then my uncle wanted porcelain flowers. Then he wanted the vase that the flowers were in.

What? I don't think I am the normally the type to behave this way but as far as I'm concerned all that shit is mine. Mine. I allowed my cousin to take what he wanted but that was the deal. My aunt and uncle already have all the crystal and porcelain and silver they want. I never received any heirloom from my grandparents because guess what. My uncles and aunt STOLE it all after their passing. I didn't get a piece of jewelry or a book or anything that I could have kept for sentimental value.

The way this happened was that after my grandmother passed, my dad was not welcome in his parent's home. My uncles refused to let him inside claiming that he was a bad son and a bad Catholic and he didn't deserve anything. Of course the only uncle left claims that he had no idea about this and wasn't involved with it. It was between my dad and Jim.

This was a bold faced lie. Jim told me that my grandmother didn't have any jewelry and what she did have they gave to the church. Total bullshit, as we knew that she liked amber. Years later he found some old costume earrings and a rosary with marble stones that he gave me. The earrings were total junk. And, about ten years ago before they moved to the west coast, my aunt invited me over saying that she had something to give me. It was a sweater my grandmother hand knitted in the Celtic knot style. She said that she had several and didn't have room for them all but that I could have this one. It was too big for her anyway. She told me that she was going to keep the one my grandma wore the most often for sentimental value. She also showed me a porcelain bird in her china cabinet that she claimed my grandmother asked her to keep safe.

So, everything went to the church except for the things my aunt wanted? Am I to believe that my grandmother would rather her daughter in law have these items over her only granddaughter? Specifically, these very girlie items which could be given to my future family? Is it really because I was some heathen child and should I have been a Catholic she would have cared about me? Once I found out about the sweater and the bird I realized that there might have been several things that were taken from me. Seeing some of them in Jim's place made me territorial. And crazy.

There is no doubt whatsoever that I don't really care for china cabinets or porcelain or crystal. A lot of it is tacky anyway, but I couldn't get over the principle of the whole thing. My aunt and uncle agreed that it was all to be split between my cousin and I, and then they proceeded to lay claim to things. My uncle consulted a lawyer he knows while in town and started making demands of my father in the way to handle things. My dad refused outright and when my uncle tried to become a joint executor of the will, he was shot down due to living in another state. What a shmuck.

So when my uncle had gone back home and called reminding us that he wanted that vase, I went into a fury. It was decided that we would conveniently forget about it, or send him a smaller one. Frankly I did like the vase and would have put it to use, but the vase became this symbol for everything wrong. We started to argue about the stupid vase. My grandma said not to give him the vase. My uncle said that the other uncle will respect me more if I decide that it's mine. My mom said that I should cut him with: "I'm sure Grandma J would have wanted me to have it."

The experience sent me into tears and I went to my grandma to seek help. I just couldn't understand why he would call just for a stupid vase, on my dad's birthday no less, and still make demands. It had me wondering once again how I share DNA with these people. In the end, my dad caved and sent the vase over. And this is what I don't like about my dad: sometimes he can be a doormat. I'd like it if he took a stand more often. There are certainly things worth being entitled about. I can't figure out why he would let his brothers treat him like that all those years ago. Wouldn't you just shove them out of the way? Get into a physical fight? Get a lawyer so you are protected from them? Or never talk to then again, funerals or not? Other times I think he just doesn't like confrontation or doesn't want to be bothered or maybe just doesn't want to sink to such a level over something so stupid. Who really cares about the vase itself? There will be other vases and other knick knacks that might someday end up in a garage sale anyway. I guess it was the turmoil of being around these awful people and drudging up old memories and ugliness. Maybe the best thing to do is wrap up the dirt and send it away.

It was all too much. The day after I hung out with Grandma I was leaving to go back to Seattle. I noticed my mom acting very strangely around me and hugging and kissing me too much and asking if I was ok a hundred times. I drank a few greyhounds in the airport and had a decent sleep on the plane. I called my mom when I arrived and she said that she was worried about me because Grandma said I was hysterical about the vase. What? I was upset about my uncle and what a lousy person he is and all of a sudden I am hysterical? That is ridiculous.

I called Grandma the next day to thank her for her help, and tell her that she shouldn't have told my mom about our conversation. She immediately wanted to talk more about it and argue that she had to tell my mom because I was so miserable. I told her that I cried for maybe two minutes and just wanted to talk, there was no reason to tell my mom I was hysterical. She kept going on and on about it and I got even more upset that I bothered to tell anyone my feelings at all. I told her I didn't want to talk about it anymore and she completely freaked out. She screamed and screamed at me that I was a baby and I couldn't handle anything and I never told her not to share with my mom and I was a baby and didn't I know what a child I was and what kind of a child is 32 years old and on and on. I couldn't get in one word and I pulled the phone away and then she was still going on. Out of nowhere a very clear thought in my brain said: "MAKE IT STOP," and I hung up the phone.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Operation De-Dungeon

After enduring the wildly sexist and ridiculous comments from my uncle, I proceeded to become an apprentice carpenter out of nowhere. We inherited a condo that no one wants and we didn't know what to do with it. While Uncle insisted that he would "work hard" to get the place in order, he never bothered to come over or offer any real help. It fell on my dad and I to do everything and if I didn't help, he would be stuck with this burden alone. Initially he wanted to sell and get rid of it as soon as possible, but naturally with any home ownership unforeseen complications arose everyday.

Problem 1: the place was in horrific condition, especially since my uncle died in there and wasn't found for days.

Problem 2: two others of the exact same condo unit were in foreclosure down the street, and were in better condition

Problem 3: a neighbor that was pre-approved was extremely interested and wanted to buy the place as is for an abysmally low price; too low for my dad

Problem 4: my mother set out a campaign to get me to move in there since at least it's paid off, and she actually believes the value will go up. I am both tempted at times and at other times think it is totally ridiculous/impossible.

Problem 5: emotions/conflicts with the family greatly increased due to this new home ownership, and everyone wanting to get their way with it despite not lifting a finger to help. Various arguments happened throughout the process on topics such as me buying it, (hell no) me moving in, (don't think so) renting it out to make money, (dad is dead set against that one) fixing it up to sell, etc. Screaming matches about money and lawyers and handling this properly, (so we don't get screwed by my dad's other brother) were a daily event. It sucked.

Problem 6: everything costs WAY more than you plan for.

It's really weird when a person's death becomes about everyone else and their desires to make money or acquire stuff. I know this happens to everyone, but this is some major horse shit to deal with. After the funeral my uncle in San Francisco called on my dad's birthday not to wish him a happy birthday, but to be sure and remember that he wanted that Waterford crystal vase.

I escaped all of this for about two months, but came back in town in last August to stand up in a wedding and help with the condo projects. Of course it was way more than I bargained for. My parents weren't dealing well with the circumstances, and by that I mean they were avoiding it, and I felt the need to step in.

In the course of a few weeks I did this: wrote and sent out all thank you cards, arranged for donation crews to come in and take the furniture, got estimates and donation info about his car and eventually got rid of the gross car, got estimates and hired a cleaning crew, (which took 6 ladies 6 hours to do the job) did major drop offs to Salvation Army, viewed the foreclosures down the street to get ideas, decided on the first leg of strategy for remodeling, and designed a new kitchen.

I did this. Me. I did this without help from a man, in fact I did this to help all the men who couldn't handle it/didn't want to. Obviously my dad was involved but I arranged all the pre-remodel events, and then we made remodeling decisions together. I may have pressured him into the remodel at first but later on I heard him say that he couldn't sell it the way it was, and he didn't feel right about showing it at all. There is therapy in this type of work and I think it helped everyone a great deal to see the place transformed.

We called it "Operation De-Dungeon."

Friday, December 2, 2011


Last summer an idea popped into my head to send my uncle Jim the series of His Dark Materials that I recently finished. It was possible that he would have liked it, but since the subject matter could have offended him, I changed my mind. That, and I didn't feel like being so nice.

About three months later, Jim passed away. The death itself had me wondering whether having love and friendship in your life is the secret to good health. If no one loves you, do you simply expire? I felt like it was my fault. Like I killed him.

Of course it's ridiculous. We have to believe that people live their lives the way they want, and if they want to change it is well within their capability. I've convinced myself slowly that I didn't kill him. However, no one had a nice word for Jim. Family flew in from all over and we had a simple service and a lengthy drinking session, but no one said anything nice about him, including myself. My dad couldn't get over the fact that no one even had a nice memory of Jim, and he wondered what would people say about him when it was his turn. It was an incredibly weird and sad experience, and it was the first time I had ever seen my dad sing and and first time I saw him stagger from too much drink.

This death has affected me much more than I would have thought possible. Going into his home and having to deal with an endless mess of messes was unbelievably depressing and shocking and anger building. How could he have lived like that? Was it clearly depression? Couldn't he have reached out to someone?

And yet, he told his neighbors that all his family moved away. He hated us. Going through his paperwork we found that he stole my dad's inheritance by signing the deed to my grandparent's house over to himself. He kept all of their life insurance money to himself and claimed at the time that it was given to him, and not to split between the brothers. This was only a piece of the drama we had yet to uncover. There were other lovely horrifying things to be found in his place, and we had to do all the clean up.

The place was remodeled about ten or fifteen years ago, and seemingly never touched since. There were rolls of dust over nearly everything, especially on the light fixtures. The shades and blinds on the windows were once white but became torn and an eerie shade of brown. The kitchen cabinets emitted a smell of spoiled milk and had areas of obvious rot. A layer of thick grease covered everything in the kitchen, even the floor. The linoleum flooring in the basement had torn and was easily lifted right off. He had piles of paperwork dating back to the 70s and 80s stacked up in closets and on the floor nearly everywhere. This was left for us from a man that ran his finger over our refrigerator to point out the minuscule dust to my mom, and blame her for not keeping up with her home.

I flew back and forth twice to be there for the family and for a friend's wedding. It was the first time in a few years where I thought that Chicago was the place I should be. There was so much to do and if we waited it would have taken a year to fix the place. But the emotional turmoil of it was tremendous. I was grateful to be going back to Seattle in between rounds of organizing, cleaning, moving and fixing.

While in Seattle, my mom's brother came to visit. I call him "Uncle" in real life. He didn't plan this vacation but since he had the time off I suggested that he come out. I've never done anything nice for him really, but he is super nice to me despite his grating personality. He bought me my first bike when I was little, and my first ipod, and to this day he gives me a wad of cash for Chanukah. He loves me.

However, this uncle is also a disastrous pain in the ass. At least he is generally a nice person and is just a little dim-witted. Or, a lot actually. It's possible that Jim's death prompted him to visit me. It was nearing Uncle's 60th birthday and since Jim died at 61 he must have been considering his mortality. Maybe he wanted to get out of town and enjoy himself a little. He is a truck driver for Coca Cola with long hours and a horrific work load. He always takes overtime if they have it, and due to my grandmother's demands and lifestyle, he rarely has time to himself.

We did all the touristy stuff: whale watching tour, Boeing factory tour, WNBA game, Snoqualmie Falls, buying fruit at Pike's Place, and I tried to get him to eat sushi but it was a definite no. I even waited patiently and made suggestions while he tried on shoes. (something I have done for many men, you impatient ungrateful fuckers) It was nice to get at least a little time in beautiful nature after all the stress of the funeral, but Uncle caused me some stress as well.

This uncle is alone and awkward just like Jim was, but he has a job and a gym membership which automatically make him more social and healthy, and slightly easier to be around. Slightly. He is hugely high maintenance. He smacks your arm each time he says an sentence, he doesn't know how to order food off a menu, he doesn't know how to operate a laundry machine, he doesn't know how to book a hotel room, he doesn't know about etickets, he doesn't know how to politely ask for help; he simply makes demands, and he is an extreme chauvinist pig.

We got into an argument regarding Jim and his home. I was telling him of what a mess the place was and how shocked we were that he lived like that for years. His response was simple:

It's because he didn't have no voman.

Are you kidding? If he was married she would have been a slave.

I have dis theory that voman is supposed to do voman's work and a man do man's work.

But if you live alone, it's all your work.

Why he own a home then? Too much for one person.

That doesn't make sense. If he cared he would have taken care of it. Housework is every one's work anyway.

Housework is voman's domain. You can't go into a voman's kitchen and touch anything. Kitchen is for voman. Man is supposed to do jobs like paint the house.

But housework needs to be done every week, you don't paint the house every week! Besides anyone can paint a house, what's the difference!

Come on! Aviva you're not gonna get dirdy. (he laughs)

What are you talking about? I helped Dad paint their place and I'm going to help him with Jim's.

We'll see about dat. I paint something every year, house needs a lotta maintenance. You gotta fix something every year.

Well I agree, but Jim could have done several simple things all the time to avoid living in filth! It's not that hard to get rid of dust or sweep once in a while. Why couldn't a man do that?

He shoulda clean car on weekends. I clean da car. Cleaning car is man's responsibility.

Ok but it doesn't take all day to clean a car.

Oh I can take all day ona car! You should see how nice I fix da car!

With Uncle there always comes a point where a gunshot to the face would be more welcome than continuing a conversation with him. I endured many hours of "men are like this and women are like that" conversations with him over that week, which I can't comprehend. It made me think that people who live their lives without a companion miss out on too much. He either watches too much tv, or spends too much time with my grandma and his brain warped.

At some point he noticed that Seattle is very gay friendly. He argued with me about how two people of the same sex couldn't be proper parents because one person needs to be a mom and one needs to be a dad. This kind of shit makes me want to jump off a building. I tried to explain that I don't believe in many assigned gender roles and he totally didn't get it. I also pointed out that women raise kids alone without a man all the time, and he just thought that was wrong too. I guess you can't get into a head like this.

What you can do is avoid politics if at all possible and talk about weather and food and airplanes and basketball. I feel like I did the right thing overall. He is a lonely awkward guy and at least I took a week out of life to help him have a real vacation.

This was a good lesson for me too. The books I wanted to send Uncle Jim popped into my head for a reason. It was an opportunity to do something nice for someone, even if he might not have appreciated it. I feel like when you get a chance to do something nice you might as well do it, otherwise why did the thought cross your mind at all? It will make you feel better as a person and you never know where either of you will be in a few months anyway.