Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Living The Big Sky Life: Home Improvements Impart EnLIGHTenment

The incident surrounding the construction of “The Door” proved to be an irreversible turning point in my partnership with Chef. I can say in hindsight that it proved to be substantially more divisive than the now infamous hair affair. Yet unlike my unwavering long time stance on the subject of hair care, “The Door” wasn’t even a conceptual consideration until a year later - when our move from the Unabomber bungalow to the home on the range fatefully set the stage for the second act in my big sky life.

Courtesy of: www.Commons.Wikimedia.org
But there was plenty of other big sky drama to be had long before that curtain came up. Just dealing with the daily demands of keeping a house four times the size of our previous residence was dramatic enough, even in the mildest of seasons. Add to that the looming angst that came with constantly trying to minimize the perilous side effects of an unpredictable (and usually rising) water table, our lives basically felt like a simmering pot that was always on the verge of boiling over.

Living in a big house on ten acres meant there was always something that needed to be done; there was always something that needed to be fixed. We all have our strengths, and unfortunately for Chef, being handy or mechanically inclined wasn’t one of his. He was, in actuality, quite the opposite, and one of the several nicknames I affixed to him over the years was “the un-handyman”. His desperate desire to possess the kind of handyman skills one would think a prerequisite to live on a property like ours was evident, but he just didn’t have it. I can say with all sincerity, however, that it wasn’t for lack of trying. And Chef’s heavily dog-eared copy of “Home Improvement for Dummies” was, without question, a faithful companion for every do-it-yourself repair job he ever attempted. But alas, his honey-do list was infinite.

Perhaps a bizarre saving grace in all of this was the fact that my ex-husband had been a building contractor, and I had paid attention. It was not uncommon to find me standing over Chef in the attic with a flashlight, not merely because he needed light to see what he was doing, but because he needed me to provide him with step-by-step illumination on how to properly wire the new lighting fixtures we were determined to install.

This reminds me of one of my mother’s big sky visits. We’d been living in the ranch house less than a year, and had done quite a bit to open up the kitchen-living area because a 360˚ view was simply too good to waste with unnecessary impediments. By the way, demolition duty ultimately proved to be the perfect outlet for a very un-handy man to shine.

One fine fall afternoon during her visit, my mother and I were playing a game of cards at the dining table which happened to be unsurprisingly situated in the dining area underneath one of the new ceiling fans Chef and I had installed months earlier. At some point during our card game, Chef breezed into the kitchen for a little break from riding the lawnmower. He walked over to the refrigerator to retrieve an icy Heineken, then he bellied up to the kitchen counter directly behind my mother, and between sips, began to chat with us about some of the recent home improvements.

As the three of us conversed, one thing led to another, and eventually we got to talking about the off-center installation of the ceiling fan whirling with a muted hum right above our heads. From my seat at the dining table, I could see the faces of both my mother and Chef as we all gazed upward and silently stared with pondering mouths agape at the imperfection being contemplated.

Chef and I had been scratching our heads about the flaw from the moment we noticed it in the process of replacing the light fan fixture. Why any builder would intentionally install a prominent light fixture’s electrical box six inches off center when the room demanded it be dead center was a complete conundrum to us. And of course, once we’d become unavoidably aware of the defect, it became glaring, and then it was too late. We couldn’t not notice it now, for it was predictably the first thing we’d see the minute we walked into the room.

My mother, on the other hand, was unmoved by the problem. She casually offered up her solution without even batting an eye while looking up at the crux of the matter and saying, “Well, just move the box.”

The solution was so obvious that I was ashamed I didn’t think of it myself, and admitted as much on the spot. With some relief I might add, because moving the box was not only an “oh duh!”, but very doable with my skill-set.

Chef apparently didn’t hear the same thing that I heard because his face began to redden with anger, almost as if he’d been personally attacked, which I found puzzling at the time. My mother was oblivious to Chef’s reaction partly because he was standing behind her and she couldn’t see him; but primarily because she had no reason to be sensitive to his disproportionate reaction for she’d said nothing detrimental or critical. Quite the opposite, in fact. She’d merely offered what she thought was a common sense solution – and a good one at that. But did he ever let me have it that night in the bedroom when he directed his upset toward me as he dramatically re-enacted his interpretation of my mother accusing him of being inept by mimicking her remark in his snidest voice, “Well, just move the box, YOU IDIOT!” What??? Was I invisible, or did he forget that I was there and witnessed what really happened?

I suppose, when you distill it all down, we hear what we want to hear, and insecurities do have a way of filtering our perceptions and slanting in-coming commentary to fit those perceptions.

I think my mother’s “attack” that day somehow morphed into the mother-in-law equivalent of the old hair affair; and while it rankled Chef’s sensibilities almost as much as my hair commitment, it motivated him to get the box moved the minute she left town … indubitably with my help. What we learned up in the attic that day on our mission to “just move the box” was that some careless electrician didn’t measure out enough Romex during installation and lazily popped the box through the ceiling when the wire ran out, even though it came up short and six inches left of center.

When that melodramatic episode eventually burned itself out, it boiled the issue down to this final reduction: Hand me a screwdriver, and I could replace all of the electrical outlets, light switches and standard light fixtures within the house. Hand Chef a Henkel knife, and he could be deadly … Death By Chocolate that is. Trust me, it was a killer cake, but it was the fresh raspberry sauce that made it soigné.

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Living The Big Sky Life: What About Steve?

No sooner had the basement of our Montana Unabomber bungalow been stacked with the last of my moving boxes, when I got a phone call from a long-time girlfriend back in Huntington Beach. She steamrolled right over my obligatory “Hello” and got straight to the point, “You’ll never believe what I just found out about my cousin, Steve!” What else could I say to an intro like that except, “What about Steve?”

Now my girlfriend and I go way back - so far back that her nickname, ‘Mamasan’, has practically overridden her real name in my vernacular, and vice versa (her nickname for me is ‘Dudette’). She goes just as far back with Chef since the three of us grew up and went to grade school together in the “land of the beautiful people”. I always believed that Mamasan was in her own way one of the “beautiful people”. And boy, could she attract those beautiful boys to her like bees to honey – a true force of nature.

In contrast to her nickname, Mamasan came from a large Italian family. She had two pesky little brothers that we were known to boss around on occasion, and plenty of cousins, four of whom grew up and went to high school with us in Huntington Beach as well. The oldest of the four cousins was Steve, but many of us simply called him “Scope” instead. He was one of the “beautiful people” too.

My history with Scope goes almost as far back as my history with Mamasan and Chef. Scope was about three years older than we were, so he tended to hang with an older crowd, although there were some overlaps. One big overlap was my first husband, the deadbeat-cum-sperm-donor that the courts refer to as the father of my children. His name, by the way, was Steve too.

Scope was a highly skilled finish carpenter, a musician, and all around free bird who went with his own flow. He could build just about anything in my opinion, so when my first husband (the other Steve) and I were enticed to move from California to Colorado in 1978 during a Rocky Mountain construction boom, the free-spirited Scope wasn’t too far behind. He even stayed with us in Littleton for a while before eventually landing an opportunity in Vail, where he lived for several years thereafter … until the Colorado construction boom ultimately came to a crashing halt in the mid-80’s when the mid-west energy crisis hit, and interest rates bordered on usurious while property values plummeted, which pushed the banking system to the brink of collapse. Sound vaguely familiar? Scope ultimately made his way back to The OC where he managed to marry his wife, Karen, and secure a nice job with a local university.

Until Mamasan’s phone call that day in Whitefish, the last I knew of Scope was that he’d left his job at the university and taken to the road. He and Karen had decided to sell everything, buy a motor home, and roam the country like nomads for a couple of years. Apparently the last of Karen’s two sons had graduated from high school, and they no longer felt any obligation to stay put. And with Scope’s skill-set, there was little doubt he could find work anywhere they chose to land along the way.

Mamasan couldn’t contain her excitement when she learned of her cousin’s coincidental relocation to Whitefish, Montana, and understandably couldn’t tell me fast enough. And he didn’t just settle in Whitefish, he moved into a house they’d purchased only two blocks away from the Unabomber bungalow – and all of this within a month of my arrival. Imagine Scope’s surprise when I showed up at his front door unannounced the next day.

Part of me was secretly relieved upon hearing Mamasan’s sensational news. Maybe I wouldn’t be so isolated after all. I liked the idea of knowing someone other than Chef in this remote locale. Although Chef knew of Scope while growing up, the two had never met. The same was true of Karen and me. I’d heard plenty about her over time, but we’d never met either. Clearly Scope and I were the common denominators in this mix.

Scope did a much better job of blending into the cow town of Whitefish than I did, and with relatively little effort I might add. Maybe the time he’d spent in Vail helped him learn to better synchronize with the idiosyncracies of the small town mentality. I suspect it helped that he had always been in possession of a somewhat laid back nature, in a relaxed hippie kind of way.

Courtesy of www.MuseumOfGamingHistory.org
Six months down the road saw Chef working regular dinner shifts and Karen working evenings in a retail job. Scope and I thought it would be fun to spend some of our mutually free evening time learning something new, so we signed up for weekly country swing dance lessons at the Remington.

Little did I know though, Scope couldn’t dance - not even a little bit. And here I was afraid I’d be the ball and chain who’d weigh him down on the dance floor since I knew for a fact that I couldn’t dance. Not the country swing anyway. I had a history of drunken cowboys storming off the dance floor at ‘The Little Bear’ in Evergeen, Colorado because I was unable to follow their lead without damaging both their feet and their pride. Well, dancing with Scope was like dancing with a big plank of wood, but his stiff moves didn’t seem to matter so much since he didn’t know how to lead anyway. In the end, those lessons did absolutely nothing to improve our swing, and it was hard not to get a little discouraged. At least no one got hurt…

Big Mountain from my back porch
…which is a lot more than I can say about snowboarding with Karen up on the Big Mountain. Personally, I think the Big Mountain has one of the best bunny slopes I’ve ever experienced. It was the perfect place to learn a new snow sport, and what made it even better was the fact that access to the slope and its chair lift was free.

When it came to snowboarding though, the first thing I learned was that being able to ski well offered me no edge when it came to learning how to ride a snowboard. And believe you me, to know the agony of defeat is to barely tip the front edge of that snowboard with your big toe, and inadvertently bring all downhill movement to an abrupt halt, which unto itself is no big deal and to be expected. It becomes a big deal, however, when the signal to stop doesn’t reach the upper half of your body until your face smashes into the snow like a speeding missile plunging to earth.

Suffice it to say, my adventures in snowboarding came to a very ugly end one afternoon after finishing up what I thought was a pretty good day of bunny slope practice.

Karen and I had decided to make our way to the car straight off the slope by gliding along the catwalks leading to the parking lot, because frankly, who would willingly walk that kind of distance with a bulky snowboard slung over their shoulder if they didn’t have to? Well, I almost didn’t make it to the car alive.

I was caught off guard deep in the woods by a sneaky patch of sharp ice which threw me off balance, and caused the edge of my snowboard to tip and catch. My upper body continued to propel forward unhindered at the speed of light until my face stopped all momentum with swift finality the second it slammed onto the icy earth beneath me. I literally saw stars … after I heard the back of my skull crack from the force of the impact, that is. No one witnessed my mortifying and quite undignified face-plant, but everyone got to see the damaging aftereffects all over my battered face for weeks. Nothing says “I’m done with snowboarding forever” faster than a black eye; a busted and fat lip; a scraped, bruised and bloodied face; and a concussion.

In reconnecting with Scope like I did, it wasn’t long before I realized that my big blast from the past was to play a big part in my future when we ultimately hired him to build our licensed catering kitchen. And what a fine and trusty co-conspirator he proved to be when I requested that he secretly build me “The Door”…

Living The Big Sky LifeTM
© by DK King