Mr. Wow and B—Love It Or List In Hoboken? (A History of Our Homes—and Quite a Bit More!)
Longtime readers of Mr. Wow might recall that from time to time he has complained about the condition of his home. (Yes, I know—what hasn’t he complained about?)
Recently there have been some changes on the home front that have given me hope. I’m not tossing my hat in the air—although why such an action is considered a sign of happiness I’ll never know—but I feel…better. And that’s as much as I can ask for or expect at this point.
Some background is needed. My mother was something of a neatfreak, and so was my “older friend” of many years, Jack. So, I was pretty neat myself. I didn’t leave clothes on the floor or the bed, I scrubbed out the bathroom, and kept a fairly organized environment. And then I spent my first night with B. (This was years before we were “official”—I was still living with Jack.) I was horrified. I mean, eventually I was horrified. After the sex. I had never seen such clutter. It was beyond clutter. The kitchen was scary.
I washed dishes and tried to straighten up. I admonished him for living in such chaos. (Of course, this was back before I drank, and I also shook my finger at him like Carrie Nation over his beers. It would be funny if I hadn’t eventually developed a drinking problem myself.) Maybe that was why I was always trying to lure him into hallways and alleys. I didn’t want to see his place again. (Or I was just a danger-seeking slut. You decide.)
We’ll fast-fast forward the intervening years, which for anybody new to this site can be found archived. So, let’s pick up in 1977. B and Me (I like that better than the grammatically correct B. and I.) were in Chicago. He was there working, I was there because I loved him and wanted to change my life. I was jobless. And since I was, it was my responsibility to keep the apartment neat. It was an uphill battle. But we didn’t have much, so things never got out of hand. Detroit was our next stop. (“Are you kidding me?” I said when I got off the bus from Chicago to Detroit—B. had flown ahead. “This looks like Berlin after the war!”) It was actually a nice place, if only it hadn’t been in Detroit. I was still jobless, and unlike our year in Chicago I was unable to get welfare. It wasn’t a pretty period. The majority of the apartment was fairly neat. Once again, that was my “job.” But there was one room B. used as an “office.” After a few months it looked scarily like his old place in the Village, where we first connected. I didn’t even attempt cleaning that. Also, I was coming to learn that B. didn’t want his clutter un-cluttered. He didn’t want it touched. No neat stacks, please. (And he didn’t say “please.”)
After a mostly miserable year, I decided that love was not enough—not if you live in Detroit without a job. I wrote to my mother and asked her to send me some money—enough for a bus ticket. I planning to leave. Not just B. and Detroit, but I was willing to leave books and scrapbooks and photos—my own few possessions–to get away. Luckily, this wasn’t necessary.
One afternoon in downtown Detroit, near the ironically named Renaissance Center, we were almost mugged. B. declared suddenly, “We’re leaving Detroit!” And within two days, he had secured us yet another destination—Hoboken. (“Hoboken?! Now you’re taking me to Hoboken?!”) Our first apartment was a small ground floor spot. Nice. Huge kitchen. Again, I was supposed do the cleaning. However, I wasn’t so sanguine anymore. For one thing, I was eligible for welfare, so I took it. But I also took it upon myself to wander into a little thrift shop down the block. The people who owned it were nice (crazy, but nice.) I offered my services to help them out and before you knew it I was opening and closing the store and going out to flea markets! (These were some of my best experiences. I was/am good with people, it was fun.) So, I had some money. A fortune, as far as I was concerned, and I contributed what I could (very little, but I did my best.)
And while B. appreciated my efforts, he didn’t appreciate them enough to help out cleaning-wise. Once, I attempted to make a point about how unnecessarily sloppy he was. I did not, when I dealt with the bedroom, clean his side of the bed, which quickly became a mess of a mass of beer cans and overflowing ashtrays (he smoked then.) I thought I was being very clever. Not. B. flew into a rage. We rarely argued, not because I was so placid, but I felt I never had enough authority in the relationship to argue. And he would not accept that kind of aggression from me—or anyone, for that matter. (He has his own issues from an unhappy childhood.) In the end, I lost my little battle, and cleaned up his side.
But as our year in this space drew to a close, I had developed a passion, an obsession, with the house in which my thrift shop employers lived. The top two floors on an old-fashioned brownstone. Massively high ceilings on the first floor, a marble fireplace, a great staircase. It was on the same block—so convenient for moving! This couple kept saying they were going to move, and I knew the rent was miniscule, even for that era. I made it clear that I wanted, almost expected them to recommend us to the people who owned the entire house (they occupied the first two floors.) I tormented B. I was convinced this was our “dream house.” (Oh, and the bathroom had a huge club-foot bathtub and a skylight.)
My campaign was relentless. At one point, they said they were moving, we packed and then at the last minute they changed their mind. When they changed back, several weeks later, I was so possessed—and fearful of their flaky nature– I went over to their place (my place, as far as I was concerned) and packed “for them.” This rightfully outraged them and almost queered the deal. Eventually, however, they were gone. (No, I didn’t kill them. But I won’t say it hadn’t crossed my mind.)
So, despite the drama, we were in. I remember our first night there, sitting in the almost empty living room, with those high ceilings. I thought, “Wow, maybe it is too big for us?” Of course it wasn’t. And in many ways it did become our dream house. B. was sufficiently motivated to build some nifty shelves (there’s really nothing he can’t do!) We entertained. We decorated the place lavishly for Christmas—those ceiling were perfect for stringing glittery garlands loaded with ornaments. And my own life was changing. By then I had met my boss and had began working, outside the bosses office (I would come in two years later) Checks were sent when my work was acceptable. I was still selling knick-nacks in thrift shops, so there was more cash. But by the time I was putting in a nine to five job, I was less willing than ever to be the only person who cleaned. B.’s desk area was a disaster, and it was right next to the door, the first thing to hit my eyeline when I got home. What had been his darkroom initially, upstairs–we were young and pretty and took lots of pix of each other—turned into a storage space, almost impossible to move around it—a lost room.
I developed a “career”—I traveled, I went out, my life got bigger. Also I was increasingly able to contribute and even go to the theater (we saw a lot for quite a few years.) I became less pliable, more argumentative, more willful. Some of this was a positive assertion of my own place in the relationship. Other aspects of the “new me” were childish and self-destructive.
I put myself into terrible credit card debt, despite B.’s advice that I pay each bill in full. He took it upon himself to write out my first credit card bill in total—I had no checking account, I just gave him the money. I was outraged. This was MY money, and MY life and I’d pay MY bills as I wanted—who was he to control me? He said, “fine, go ahead.” (As ever, you were an asshole, Mr. Wow.)
Still, B. was as averse as ever to a simple argument and resolution, which led me to having to use humorous repetition of a complaint as my way of getting through. This was exhausting. But it did work.
My drinking was slowly increasing. B. was loathe to admit I had a problem—“it’s your work…it’s your friends!” he’d insist. He had his own issues in that area, which could be frightening. (I myself was sloppy and dangerously casual about flirting in situations I might not be able to control after a few more drinks. In the age of AIDS I was risking both our lives.)
As a result, the house began to suffer. I would clean but with a savage resentment. And then I wouldn’t. And then would—half ass.
There were also problems with the house itself. Massive water and leakage problems. Year after year. Our bedroom ceiling literally sagged. The living room leaked disastrously—once on the TV and all our electronic equipment. (We came home from the theater one rainy night and were rightfully shocked.)
The owners of the house—a mad old pair—were always saying they wanted to move and sell the place—to us! At first this seemed unrealistic. But in time, B. had wisely saved and invested. It could have happened. We both still loved the house. And how great if we had the entire thing. I could put B. on the ground floor with all his shit. But it seemed eventually they were not serious.
The house grew ever more tatty, especially with the cats (remember, we always had cats) ripping at the carpets and such. I had a bi-yearly monologue with B. about keeping the place neat, and he would listen dutifully and…nothing.
Finally, after one especially destructive bout of water damage, B. announced suddenly—as was his eternal wont—“we have to move!”
I was still devoted to the place but agreed we’d never own it and maybe, yes. We went house-hunting and found quickly our current digs. It is on a series of blocks that are very old. The houses appear tiny, like doll houses. But inside, though narrow, they have a good amount of space. And B. made sure we got the house with the most extra space—it had been built out. It was charming. We both loved it. Moving was pretty much a breeze. Three blocks away. I carried a lot over, night after night. Construction was needed. Walls were knocked down, staircases moved and re-built. At one point we had a supremely cute guy, Dave, doing some work for us. Adorably personable. He and B. got along well. They chatted a lot. B. was never very social (all our past “entertainments” were my friends.) I was jealous. (Why wasn’t Dave chatting with me?”) I was so jealous I actually pulled a tantrum in front of the two of them. B. had to say “behave yourself!” That made me laugh. It reminded me of the big scene in “The Way We Were” with Barbra and Robert Redford. (“I won’t behave myself. I wanna get out of here!”)
And so our new life in our new house began. It seemed big enough. On the second floor I had my room. He had his room. The third floor was a large open bedroom suite. And the living room and kitchen on the first. But I soon saw signs of the old problems—I had insisted I would NOT move from the other place unless B. promised to clean up his act. He promised. But old habits were hard to die.
His room became cluttered. The couch in the living room became cluttered. The floor in front of the couch became cluttered. One weekend he went off to see his parents. I took it upon myself to straighten up the mess around the couch. I didn’t remove one thing. I just stacked. Mistake! He came back late. And had obviously been drinking. (Not that I blamed him. He’d been with his parents. ) I was upstairs, but I heard a terrible racket as he tossed around some of things (CDs) I had down there, yelling, how dare I move his stuff?! I slept in my room that night. We had no conversation the next morning as I picked up my CDs and took them to my room. He did not apologize. But—he never drank again. (And although I’d backed off the brutally excessive imbibing of years before, I was still a binge drinker. This was—and remains—an issue.)
But he did continue to clutter. The house then became a scene of much unhappiness. The death of our most beloved cat Nigel, at age 23…my diagnoses with AIDS…quitting my job a few years later…going back (at a much reduced salary)…suffering an extreme depression I can’t say I have ever escaped…B.’s early retirement. With his retirement came a massive influx of books, clothes, gadgets. Amazon was his favorite word. Every night–after a day in the chaos of my boss’s office–I came home to a grisly mess. More cats died. Some he spent thousands on trying to save, even when the vets said let it go. We had more water damage! (Neither of us are Pisces or Scorpio or Cancer–what was with the water following us everywhere!?)
I gave up cooking. Twenty years was enough. B. Stepped in and of course he is a fabulous cook. (There is really nothing he can’t do.) But the condition of the house and my general depression was overwhelming. Even with somebody coming in every two weeks to clean, the mess was overwhelming. And I didn’t think we needed somebody to come in. Certainly two men could take care of this small house without much trouble. But when I tried to prove that, by cleaning up day after day, after the cleaning woman had done her job, it was the same old story. He didn’t really care to mop and sweep and dust. But if I wanted to—cool.
Finally, I had one of my annual monologues—I hate the house. I hate Hoboken now. I hate my life. I am so unhappy. WE are so unhappy.” B.—“I’m not unhappy. This is your problem.”
Me: “Well, but…surely you don’t expect us to die here?”
B: “Yes, I do.” (At this point, I’d been so unhappy, depressed, complaining and a pain in the ass for so long, I don’t think B. appreciated the impact this had on me.)
His response sent me spinning to the point I was again planning to leave him. Again, with few assets. (I’d drained my paltry bank account paying off credit card bills and keeping up while I was unemployed.) “He wants to die there!” I cried to as many people as I could.
Later, I found out B. himself was depressed about the house, and its continual structural flaws. He felt pretty defeated. It wasn’t that he was content and being cruel. He actually tended to be far more affected by house issues than I was. My take was “We have a house, these things happen.” In most ways he is much more sensitive than I am.
In the midst of this, I began watching a lot of cooking shows. Though I didn’t cook anymore, they were oddly calming. And then I started on HGTV—
”House Hunters”…”Love it Or List It” and the rest. I also watched “Hoarders.” Sometimes B. would come into my room and ask what was I watching? “Hoarders” I’d say with as much tragic emphasis as I could muster. Well, B. never watched “ Hoarders” but he did begin to get into HGTV. A lot.
About two months ago, B. never one to change the tactics of surprise, announced, “I think we should have somebody in to clean the place out and re-decorate!” I was stunned and unbelieving. But as good as his word, a little team arrived and B. was on board with clearing out his mess. He exhibited almost no resistance to a lot of his stuff going out the door. He had made up his mind and that was that. (Which is what he told me years ago about me—he loved me from the start, he said, and decided we’d be together in time. No matter what. Determination is not to be despised! )
I was so impressed and excited that I cleaned out some of my own excess. And I immediately reversed my habits, inherited from B.—no clothes thrown about, etc. Then we confabbed on new couches and chairs and a fresh paint job and putting up photos and artwork we either had taken down during a flood or never bothered to put up at all. I was unable to contribute one cent to this, still “working” as I am without a salary. B. didn’t turn a thick hair. (His mane remains impressive, if a bit grayer than when we first met.) He has been the proverbial doll.
Today I walk into an entirely different environment. B. will never be a neatfreak but he controls his tendency to clutter. His own office is wonderfully clean and approachable. We have beautiful new furniture. I have a marvelous new couch in my inner sanctum of DVDs and videos and memorabilia. The massive third floor has been improved with cushions and pillows and paint and—we even make the bed now!
I don’t hate the house anymore. Hoboken? If I won the Lottery, we’d move. But I think I’d keep this house. It’s seen a lot. Maybe its history hasn’t been the happiest. But maybe we learn from living with, and transforming, discontent.
I am not content, yet. I have work to do on myself that only I can do. But, I can do it now in a home I love coming home to. And to a man whom I will always love and who knows me better than anybody ever will. So, I guess—who needs the Lottery?
PS—After this I have SO much shit to say about Alec Baldwin, Anderson Cooper and Our President!