After years of trying to hide the litter box in the house, Alex decided to make a house for the litter box. A piece of furniture really, but at cat-size-scale, a small house.
I’ve come to learn that when Alex has a plan, she can’t sit still or sleep until it’s set into motion. This one was mapped out during an early weekend morning while I was trying to get those last magic moments of slumber that are as elusive as they are enticing.
I put on a baseball cap to cover my bedhead and stumbled downstairs. I’d learned that once a plan is set into motion, it must proceed effectively and efficiently…. as in pronto! I poured some strong coffee into a metal travel mug I’d collected at the one-too-many work conventions I’d attended over the years and headed to our SUV, or rather FUV: furniture utility vehicle.
We drove across the leafy suburbs of Atlanta and parked in front of a house for sale. This clued me in to the fact that whatever we were picking up was going to be either free or really affordable. People in the middle of a move don’t have time to argue over the price of a piece of furniture. They’d rather sell it, or give it away, than have to drag it to the curb or to the dump.
We left with a few bucks still in our pockets and a brown dresser or cupboard or credenza: I still have a hard time telling the difference, but I am learning.
This brown thing actually had some nice details to it, but unfortunately it was not going to match our style. I say unfortunately because I’m generally in charge of the sanding. So once home, we got dusty and brought this piece down to its bare wood.
We then set it up in our foyer where Alex could work her magic. Alex is an artist by birth by study and by nature. Everything she does has a certain style. Put it this way, her handwritten to-do lists could be wedding invitations; the cursive is that pretty. So when she says she’s got a project idea, I may grumble about it before and during, but I’m always pleased after.
A few days and a few cat paws and cat noses in paint later and…. Voila, Le Chateau de Merde, which in English means shit-house.
Sounds prettier in French, non?
For Part 1 of this story, check out the link at the bottom of the page
Atlanta is a tree city, and despite the clearcutting homebuilders who try to get every inch out of a new subdivision, it’s even more a tree suburb.
Tree-cutting services are as prevalent as pecan pie and you can’t go a week without receiving a notice of their services or an unsolicited knock on the door to announce they’re “doing work in your area and willing to give you a deal.”
Alex and I are more tree lovers than tree cutters.
Back in LA, there was a giant tree near the rear corner of our property. The tree not only provided shade, but blocked the view of a telephone pole, large junction box and the house behind it. The tree had probably been there before the houses were built in the 1960’s, surviving la nina winds and earthquakes. But it couldn’t survive our new neighbors.
Immediately after moving in, these people cut down this beautiful old tree and created a huge hole in our landscape and our hearts. They had the right. Even though much of the tree blessed our property, It was officially on theirs, not ours.
From then on, we referred to them as the environmental terrorists next door.
When we moved to Atlanta we had a backyard without a neighbor in site. There was an empty lot next to us that went down an incline so steep that no builder wanted it. So we had a gorgeous 180-degree view of old growth hardwood trees.
Lo and behold the price of the neighboring lot went down severely at about the same time that we had zero extra cash to protect our peaceful view, and that was that.
After the dust settled and all the trees next door were cleared for the new house, at least we still had our favorite ancient oak that sat just inside our property line this time.
The oak tree was 12-feet around at the base and probably 100 feet high with a canopy that could of had its own zip code. When we first moved in we thought about using one of its large branches for a swing, but the closest branch to the ground was too high for a regular ladder to reach.
We thoroughly enjoyed our oak tree and its seasons. The sound of its leaves rustling in the summer wind, the show of its colors in the fall, and the different wildlife it attracted year-round: a deer giving birth to a fawn under its shade, a woodpecker using it to find lunch, and squirrels that liked to use its large trunk for a kind of racetrack game of chase going round and round and round.
One day I walked outside and heard the loudest clammer of birds I’d ever heard. I looked up and it was like the canopy was alive. Hundreds of birds had decided to take some kind of break up there. I took out my phone for a video and as I pointed it toward the tree they all took off at once.
When you move to Atlanta you don’t think about hurricanes. You think tornadoes, thunderstorms, the occasional ice storm, but not hurricanes.
Well, we had one come up from Florida a few years ago and it didn’t stop until well past Georgia. I couldn’t sleep that night with all the wind outside. Then I heard a crack, thud and rumble. I looked over at Alex and she was surprisingly still deep asleep. I got up to go to the bathroom and as I looked through the top of the bathroom window I noticed a void in the sky where there once was none.
I ran downstairs and looked out the back window. The oak had fallen.
We didn’t have the heart to just have someone come out and chop it up and take it away. We were hoping someone would want it for furniture, maybe give us a tabletop from the trunk. We had a few interested parties but they wanted us to pay them- quite a bit- to do it.
So the tree and its giant root ball sit in the corner of our back yard. At least the wildlife is still enjoying it. There are even a few trees rooting now from the root ball itself.
A designer getting their own section in a big box store is like an artist taking up residency in Vegas. They’ve sold out to offer up their hits, whether the hits are still relevant or not.
With all due respect to Chip and Joanna Gaines, the modern farmhouse look that they took up residence with seems to be on the verge of being passé.
Now I actually like most of that look- the clean whites mixed with warm woods, the blacks and bronzes, the old mixed with new- but I have to draw the line at interior sliding barn doors, especially when it’s used on bedrooms or bathrooms.
Bedroom and bathroom doors should shut snug, so any untoward sights or sounds stay in said rooms. The sliding barn door is not much better than a Japanese shoji screen as far as that goes.
There’s a reason fads catch on though and the interior sliding barn door, on paper, seemed pretty cool. I mean originally I think the idea was to repurpose old wood, but it’s become the avocado-colored stove of the movement. I can just see future kids talking about how they lived in a farmhouse style house: “Did you have the metal roosters?!” “Pieces of wood painted with sayings?!” “Floor to ceiling to floor shiplap?!” “Sliding barn doors everywhere?!!”
The moment I felt the farmhouse movement had really jumped the shark though was walking through a big box store and seeing a bathroom vanity with a sliding barn door under the sink instead of a properly shutting cabinet door.
As the Fonz probably said after he jumped the shark, “aaaaay?”
I never followed up to see if Kozlov’s kids made it any further than peewee hockey, but the NHL does have quite a few family dynasties: from my ex-host family the Fletchers, to the Hulls, Parises, Sutters and Suters.
I walked into Gold Medal Sports as a young Junior hockey prospect, the sound of a skate sharpener emanating from the back of the shop. Two young towheaded boys ran past wielding wooden hockey sticks like light-sabers. From out of nowhere came a stocky man with the same blond hair as these two kids. He flashed a mischievous grin. This was the owner of the shop and my new coach, Bobby Suter; he of the 1980 gold medal winning US Olympic hockey team.
The gravity of meeting someone that was part of such a historic moment didn’t hit me right away- maybe since I had just been to my own Olympic training camp- but it would hit me later.
I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin that summer of 1985 driving past two large lakes on either side of the city. A dock with boats and college kids walking around in shorts and T-shirts made it feel like one big giant summer camp. This was the end of the heavenly slice of thin summer pie that Madison was served yearly as a treat for putting up with such long hard winters.
With the good weather, we began our training outdoors. Coach Suter’s brother Gary joined us for dry-land drills. He had just signed with the Calgary Flames and was using this opportunity to prepare himself for the NHL. Gary was only a couple years older, but he seemed to be more of a grown man than any of us. His solid physique was a lot like his brother’s. It was probably bitter-sweet for Bobby to watch Gary’s playing career take off, just as his ended. But Bobby wasn’t alone: many of his Team USA mates didn’t make it to the NHL.
With the change of seasons came our first game. Madison’s lakes weren’t yet as frozen as the sheet of ice in our home rink, but they would be. We lined up for the national anthem. I looked at the flag, then over at Coach Suter who’d stood on a podium some 5 years earlier listening to this anthem with 19 other amateur hockey players who had done the impossible by beating the professional Red Army team from Russia and taking gold from the Fins. As the song soared I thought I saw a teardrop in my tough coach’s eye.
Years later, when I was with Easton hockey, I was at an LA Kings practice the day before a home game against the Nashville Predators. The Pred’s bus pulled up and off walked a kid that looked just like Coach Suter. My boss introduced him as Ryan Suter.
“I met you as a little kid in your dad’s hockey shop,” I told him. “I almost had to call you out for high-sticking.” He then gave me the same mischievous grin as his dad’s—the same one they both would flash on the ice just before taking someone hard to the boards. Like father like son.
Not long after the Kovalchuk whiff, I got a call from Slava Kozlov. “my kids need some equipment,” he said in his thick accent “and Kovy wants to try your skates. He wants them personalized like my VAMOS skates.”
We’d made Kozlov skates with VAMOS stitched into the back of the boot. I know, he’s Russian, but he wanted “let’s go” in Spanish on his skates so we put “let’s go” in Spanish on his skates. Kovalchuk’s personality however was a little more reserved, the opposite of his own playing style really. He just wanted his initials and his number on the boot: IK17.
Now, usually I would meet with the player in person and measure their feet or even have them step on a large piece of graph paper and draw an outline of each foot, but I knew this wouldn’t be the case with someone like Ilya Kovalchuk.
I called my boss and asked his opinion. “What size are his Bauer’s?” he shot back. “10.5 is what it says in his skates, but you never know.” “True, that could be a fake number to try to keep a company like ours from getting him to switch.” We didn’t put a flex on pro sticks for this very reason. “Let’s just make him a few different sizes, see what he likes” I was advised.
So, a few days later I had 4 pair of different sized custom skates to bring to Ilya Kovalchuk. Things happened fast for top tier players. Their next practice was that Sunday, and I planned to be there.
Being a pro rep, you could pretty much be working during the hockey season any day, any time. Once I got a call from a player during a game I was watching at home on TV. It was in between periods and he wanted to discuss the nuances of his recent batch of sticks. Actually, he just wanted to complain about them, the nuanced part was left for me to work out. Another night, my boss and I were having dinner when he got a call from a player’s agent who’s skates had basically broken mid-game, during a 2 on 1, when he was the 1: the result again of that delicate balance between equipment expected to be lightweight but also strong and of course responsive.
I found myself driving to the Thrashers practice rink that Sunday morning in good spirits. The skates looked great and with 4 sizes we’d definitely find a fit. It was normally about a 45 minute drive across the northern suburbs of Atlanta, but I had underestimated the church traffic in the bible-belt. I arrived with Kovy’s skates with only about 15 minutes for him to try them on before practice.
Equipment manager, Joey, was a nice guy but not a huge fan of carbon skate boots at the time- too hard to stitch he rightly complained- but this was the only material to approach the light/strong/responsive expectations of the day, so here we were.
“You’d better put yellow skate laces in them,” Joey said without much encouragement. I scrambled to take out the white laces that most player’s used and strap in the yellow that Kovy preferred. God-forbid he try on a pair of skates with white laces, I mean I wasn’t asking him to wear the white laces in a game or anything. But this was all part of the job, I had learned from experience, so I quickly changed out all 4 pair.
Kovy came into the equipment room about 10 minutes before he was supposed to be on ice. He tried on the first pair and he gave me a shake of the head- too small. The next size up I figured would also be too small so I skipped a size. These he liked. At least I thought so- he gave me a nod of the head.
Joey piped in: “Do they have to be baked?” he asked, meaning put in a skate oven to help mold the foot to the boot, “because we don’t have time for that.”
“They can be baked, but they don’t have to be baked,” I answered as I went into one of my personal anecdotes: “The first time I used these same skates, brand new right out of the box, I forgot my socks. I’d never skated without socks, even in my oldest most worn-in skates, but I did with these because I had no other choice, and it was like wearing a pair of house slippers, they were that comfortable.”
Sales pitch finished, Kovy just nodded again. He handed the skates to Joey and told him to bake them.
Because it was so close to the start of practice, he didn’t skate in them that day. In fact, I never did find out if he actually ever skated in them, but I did get a call from his buddy Slava Kozlov not long after: “Kirky, my kids are asking about their stuff?”
It wasn’t really a quid pro quo, more like a quid pro NO as far as the Kovalchuk skates went, but at least I knew Slava Kozlov and his kids would be using my equipment for the foreseeable future.
We sold a set of something to a guy on Craigslist the other day. He left carrying one cardboard box and one plastic bag with all the items in the set. He texted later and said he was missing something and he had checked the entire box. We reminded him there was a bag as well- he insisted there wasn’t- so we ended up texting him a picture from our Ring doorbell of him leaving our house carrying both box and bag. He subsequently found the bag in the trunk of his car.
Before Ring doorbells, Nest thermostats and automated assistants like Alexa and Google things were simpler weren’t they? There was a sense of community and oneness we seem to be missing today. People had to look out for one another a little more.
Case in point, the Honeywell Winter Watchman, which I found amongst our parent’s old relics. At first glance, I had no idea what this thing did. It plugs into a wall and has an analog dial with the numbers 30, 40, 50 , and 60 on the face.
The instructions on the back were too small for the naked eye, so I took a picture with my cellphone and zoomed in. Here’s what it says:
Plug the Winter Watchman into an electrical outlet located on an inside wall
Plug lamp cord into Winter Watchman (leave lamp switch on)
Set temperature dial 10 degrees below setting of your thermostat
Test the system by depressing the red button to light the lamp
And here’s the best part!
5. When the room temperature drops below the Winter Watchman setpoint, the lamp will light to warn your watchful neighbors to investigate
So, basically if you’re in a cold climate and going out of town, this thing lights a lamp in your house when the inside temperature drops 10 degrees below what you set your thermostat to. Additionally, you have to coordinate with a “watchful neighbor”, hoping they aren’t out of town too, when and if this happens, assuring they have a key and haven’t lost it, and they remember when a lamp lights up in the window of your house to take action. What kind of action it doesn’t say on the Honeywell Winter Watchman.
These days I can just rely on my virtual community: Nest, Google, Ring, Alexa, Apple Home. If I can just figure out which one to communicate with which one…. Ah, hell, maybe I’ll just go get to know my neighbor instead.