I sit here in the small rented house I share with some of my sons in Pacific Beach, San Diego, and I ruminate about home. At the end of my memoir on my hippy travel days, “World Without Pain: The Story of a Search” I said this: “Home was an abstraction from which one commenced a particular phase of the journey, not an absolute.” The quote aptly describes out situation. We are all aware that this is temporary accommodation, that eventually we will move on, individually or together.
We rented the house unfurnished. It has two small bedrooms and a small living room, all with deep wall-to-wall carpeting. The carpeting is a mixed blessing; it conceals the dirt but as we haven’t a vacuum we have no way to deal with what’s buried in the pile. The bathroom is miniscule, but the rudiments are there at least. The toilet, though, is the size of commode you see in children’s public stalls, rather unsuited for the size of full-grown male adults. It has a tendency to clog when my sons lay good-sized manly turds, and it can sometimes take twenty minutes or so of vigorous pumping with a plumber’s friend to free the pipe once again. Nothing to do about that.
The kitchen is decent; it came with all the necessary appliances, including a microwave. In addition, there is enough room for a table and four chairs. The table serves as my office now. In the beginning, when we first moved in sans furniture, we slept on the floor and ate our meals hunched over the kitchen counter; this went on for weeks. I’ll get back to how we solved our furniture dilemma.
A door through the kitchen leads to the garage, which we have converted into another bedroom. When we first rented the place, before two of my sons arrived, the garage was rank, full of dust, cobwebs, and junk. All alone in the house one day I took a ladder and rags and hot water and a bottle of Pine-Sol I found laying around and I scoured the garage from top to bottom. Afterwards I used the garden hose to slosh the filth off the floor. When I was finished I wiped snotty dust out of my nostrils for hours, and the shower water as it poured off me was black in the tub, but the garage was transformed. Now it’s been turned into the largest bedroom of the house, quite a satisfactory man-cave.
We have a patio in the back as well, and at first we envisioned stocking it with patio furniture, but that hasn’t yet materialized. One thing we did acquire, though, was a barbeque. I saw the ad one night in the free items section of Craigslist, and my son and I hopped in the car and raced out to a distant suburb to check it out. After finding the barbeque and ascertaining that it was in decent shape, we realized that it wouldn’t fit in the car. We spent hours in the dark alley taking it apart, then hours more at home reassembling it, but in the end we had a working barbeque. That’s our only item of backyard furniture. Otherwise the place is populated with flies, spiders, and other insects. The spiders especially are ubiquitous. Shortly after we arrived someone moved into a small unit nearby and spent hours and a lot of energy cleaning out his tiny garden; in the end he had some serious festering spider bites. He claimed the spiders were brown recluse, a very dangerous variety, but supposedly they aren’t found this far west. We never bothered cleaning our garden, but not because of the spiders. Actually, at first we didn’t have time to do anything about it, and afterwards I realized that the gardeners hired by the landlord who took care of the patch of garden in front also came around the back and swept up the leaves there too. The aggressive spiders did bother me for a while. One evening I went outside for some air, and by our outdoor porch light I saw the reflection of an enormous web with a big fat spider hanging in the middle that stretched from the roof of our house all the way down to the ground and blocked the way to the alley in back where the garbage cans were. That freaked me out some, I must admit. In the morning I swatted it down with a broom, but for a few nights I had nightmares about spider webs.
I mentioned Craigslist before. Craigslist free listings and garage sales have been the means to at least rudimentarily furnish our house. Our kitchen table and chairs, couch, two desks, two bookshelves, and a fan for the garage have come from garage sales – good solid furniture at ridiculously low prices. And apart from the barbeque, which is still working efficiently, we obtained for free a solid wood TV stand with cabinets which was standing out in an alley.
This is a peculiar American phenomenon, this recycling of furniture by offering it for a low price or even for free, and many people avail themselves of it. The practice even extends to clothes and other items. Americans reading this will figure it’s much ado about nothing, but I remember wondering, when I was living in Greece, why there was no such channel for used goods there. In the midst of great financial hardship it would have helped many people cope. But there is a perverse pride involved, a pride against accepting used items. Where it comes from I’m not sure, but Americans don’t seem to have it, and this is a strength of American culture, a practicality that manifests itself in certain strata of society. All right, of course there are the snotty few who would turn up their horrified noses at the thought of such a thing, but for most it is normal practice. I mean, why not? If you need to move on and you can’t take it all with you, why throw it away? Why not pass it on to others who can benefit? I’m not aware of the situation in all of Europe, though I suspect it’s similar to Greece, but Greeks could use a lot less pride and a lot more cooperation in this area.
Anyway, that’s our home. As I said, it is makeshift. We hesitate to invest too much in it because we know it won’t last. When we are finished here and moving on we will doubtless give most of the furniture away, as it has been given to us. We all go about our business knowing in the future things will take another turn, but for now the arrangement suffices.