Never mind: it was 50 degrees, the sky was the bleak, mustard-gas grey that covers BCT from November to May, and the wind was ripping in from the river at about 20 knots. As I walked the miserable two blocks to work, I was focused almost entirely on how stinking cold it was. There was just a small voice in my brain whispering "what a wimp! It's only 50 degrees!" It didn't matter - I was freezing.
My shivering may have had to do with the cough, sneeze and runny nose I contracted 14 minutes after arriving in BCT. It may be from the mustard gas, I don't know, but this is one of the little treasures of living in BCT.
That and the leaves from the massive old oak trees that surround our house. There are four of them. Each of these trees is at least 70 feet high, and each sheds its own weight in leaves each year. The leaves poured down on our house and yard in the months we've been in Hotville. I spent a day in October trying to fight back, but it only postponed the inevitable.
The entire time we were home in BCT over the Thanksgiving week, it rained. This is not uncommon in BCT; in fact, during the mustard-gas time of year, November through April, it is the norm. Except when it is snowing and sleeting. The gutters were filled with oak leaves (again, for the googleplex infinitieth time). And the solid week of rain plus the filled up gutters equals one thing: you guessed it, home-and-self-improvement projects.
The first project was the physical and spiritual battle I go through when cleaning leaves out of the gutters on the second floor roof. I used to do roof-repair for friends when I was young. Now that I have had family members fall and almost kill themselves (one from a roof, one from a scaffold), I hate roofs. In order to clean the second floor gutters, I crawl the last few yards down the roof on my belly, saying Hail Marys continually as I crab-crawl from one side of the roof to the other, removing the gargantuan clots of decaying leaves and acorns from my gutters. After a half hour of this the gutters were clean again, I had some spiritual growth, and I really wanted a whiskey.
Of more consequence is that when the gutters are fouled with leaves, and the rains come down in buckets for a week, water wicks up from the helpless gutters into the asphalt shingles, soaking the roof like a wet mop. At some point the roof begins dripping down into the second floor plaster ceiling, like that same wet mop as you walk across the kitchen floor. Thing is, your kitchen floor is made for that, but our 80-year-old plaster ceiling is not. And VOILA! Home-and-self-improvement project number two for our vacation week: stripping the bubbled wallpaper off the ceiling in our bedroom.
This involved hooking up a garden hose and bringing it up to our bedroom, placing plastic drop cloths on the floor, and spraying the ceiling. Once it is nice and wet the wallpaper comes off grudgingly - a process begun by nature, through the saturated roof, but finished by Mrs. Optimist in one of those outbursts of home improvement happiness that is uniquely hers. I fill the role of the unenthused but persevering partner in most of these home improvement stories. This was no exception.
Late in the evening the night before we were to drive home we finished stripping the paper and determined that the ceiling probably has to be dry-walled, not skim coated. Of course, this means we did not need to strip the ceiling, but how would we know that until we had stripped it?
Of course. That is what home-ownership is all about. Rain, oak trees, gutters, Hail Marys, wicking, dripping, and wall-paper stripping. And the desire for a whiskey.
Which is why I love renting. Which brings us back, happily, to Hotville, where we arrived late in the evening after a very, very long ride begun at zero freezing dark thirty a.m. in BCT. Yes, sweet Hotville, where we rent a lovely apartment. Check that - we actually live in a lovely apartment for free, as part of the Department of Ginormousness sending me to this foreign and exotic climate to teach Ginormous employees how to think and act appropriately Ginormously.
Our trip was uneventful, which for us, is eventful. After packing our little SUV in the early morning cold and darkness (I was reminded forcefully what it means to have your fingers get so cold you cannot tie a knot) and driving a few hours, the sun began to shine. It shone so brightly, after a while, that I took my jacket off. And then I began to perspire a little. Then I realized that we were traveling south, and it was indeed getting warmer and warmer. Much warmer and much warmer.
And I thought to myself, What a Wonderful World. Yeah.