Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: my wife Anne and I keep rolling with the punches as the Coronavirus saga continues and we’re forced to adjusting our boundaries and personal thresholds in the face of what I call “the interim normal“. Among several changes I neglected to mention in Chapter 1 or Chapter 2 was that our church moved to online services effective March 15th. Once boasting a membership over 2000 at its peak, and located squarely within the very first Indiana town to confirm a positive COVID-19 diagnosis once those started happening here, our church knew they couldn’t procrastinate taking action. Thankfully the IT infrastructure needed for such an undertaking was already in place. They’ve been recording and sharing sermons online for years — an audio-only stream back in primitive times, now with value-added video today.
For the past nineteen years my wife Anne and I have maintained firm boundaries between work and home. Home is our refuge from work, our earthly reward for jobs properly done, our container of collections and comfort, and our humble haven for our hearts. Work is an intrusion we’ve allowed inside only in extremely rare circumstances.
In this new era, our ongoing worldwide catastrophe, effective this week the line between work and home is one of many luxuries we’re no longer afforded.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: in recent weeks we’ve been sharing the stories of our annual road trips that we undertook before I launched MCC in April 2012. Starting from the beginning and working our way forward, so far we’ve covered 1999 to 2005; our 2006 trip to Wisconsin and Minnesota was remastered before its 2014 sequel. That brings us to 2007, another year that brought two major changes to our lives. They didn’t affect our travels, but they gave us better reasons to want to return home.
If you’re unlike me, your idea of a fun afternoon is inviting your friends to come over with their laptops, their ethernet cables, and all their favorite games that were meant to run at DSL speeds. Everyone gathers around the ethernet wall hub like Scouts around a campfire, plugs in to the same jack, boots up Windows XP, pops in their CD-ROMs, and has themselves a grand old wired time.
I’m assuming that’s what the previous owners of this house did. Or maybe they taught Applied Computer Science classes from home to all the neighborhood latchkey kids. Or they weren’t sure which jack the phone company would endorse but they figured you can’t go wrong with “Bigger is Better” or “Holeyer is Holier”. Maybe they were anticipating the one magical day when Internet Science would let you could hook two ethernet cables to your PC and double your processing speed. If only that had ever been feasible, perhaps RealPlayer would’ve been watchable.
Say! You, there!
Has this ever happened to you?
You’re at home trying to live or rest or hobby or whatever other normal things you do when you’re not working, unless you work from home and every day is an existential struggle over the Duality of Man, and then suddenly one day you realize you have a hole in your ceiling. Sometimes if you’re lucky, you’re present in the room when the hole is punched and you know exactly what to blame and how to swear vengeance properly. Most of the time, it’s a gradual process that may or may not have begun with a water stain that turned malignant. Still other times, you’d swear that hole wasn’t there when you left for work that morning, but now there’s a surprise ceiling hole and an innocent-looking family holding a football with everyone’s fingerprints on it. Whatever the cause, no two ceiling holes are the same, but the heartbreak is universal.
If you’re a renter, ceiling hole repair is as easy as 1-2-3:
1. Call landlord.
2. Complain about hole.
3. Watch your stories till hole is gone.
If you’re a homeowner with a home-improvement skill set, it’s not so simple, but you’ve probably got it covered. If you’re a homeowner without a clue like me, it’s a conscientious burden, it’s a drain on your heating bills, it’s an eyesore that has to be hidden from guests, and it might as well be a geotechnical engineering project for all you know. What do you do?
There’s the highway (i.e., abandon the house)…or my way.
My son is a high school senior preparing to transform into a college freshmen as of fall 2013. This weekend we took a road trip to the city where he’ll theoretically spend the next four years learning, growing, and becoming greater than his parents. Our family mission: scope out potential apartments for him. Due to the long list of issues that living on campus would present (on which we won’t be elaborating here — suffice it to say this is our family’s decision), his only hope for avoiding a seventy-mile daily commute will be to negotiate off-campus housing. To that end, I found a lead on a pair of potential pads at shockingly competitive prices in a wide market that’s nearly sold out as a whole for the upcoming semester. My wife and I, dutiful and curious folks that we are, drove my son up there for a pair of apartment showings to ensure we wouldn’t be exporting him and his possessions into Avon Barksdale’s prized Towers from The Wire.
Like first-world anthropologists stepping tentatively into the native habitat of an otherworldly culture, we three ventured into each of the two available cribs, whose current tenants would be finishing their current leases in time for my son’s arrival in town. None of us knew what to expect and hadn’t really prepared ourselves. Judging by the conditions we tiptoed around, neither had the tenants.
I spent the first thirty-five years of my life in rented dwellings. As a child, making holes in the wall was a major no-no. The adults were allowed to hang a few nails for photo display purposes, and for one calendar. Otherwise, I was informed countless times that the big bad rental management frowned upon holes. Wall holes were bad. The way I was told left me with the impression that if the maintenance men ever came inside to repair something and discovered holes in the wall, we’d all be in big trouble.
For the longest time I couldn’t nail my own photos or other display items to the wall, nor was I permitted even a tiny exception for thumbtacks or pushpins. The posters in my bedroom were affixed with Scotch tape that turned dusty and yellow over time, and frequently had to be augmented with even more tape as adhesion faded. After around fourth grade or so, when it was clear we weren’t moving anytime soon and the management really didn’t care that much, I was finally allowed to graduate to tacks and pins. The anti-hole conditioning never fully faded, though.
When my wife and I became first-time homeowners in 2007, I discovered that this lifelong admonition had become a mental block. She and my son had home improvement ideas a-plenty for the new place, now that we wouldn’t be beholden to the oppressive rental guidelines imposed by The MAN. Every time I heard a suggestion that required wall holes for anything except photo frames, I balked. Even though this is our house and our property, I still cringed inside at the very thought. After careful negotiations (i.e., when I tired of their justified badgering), I relented slightly and allowed my son to hang shelves in his room. He did a decent job with them, but every time I entered, I had to avert my gaze and avoid thinking about them.
In a later year, it was decided that the blinds left by the previous owners ought to be replaced with curtains. That, to my regret, would require a curtain rod. That, to my escalating dread, would require drilling holes in the wall for mounting the brackets to hold the rod. My research showed that extra-long nails were not an acceptable substitute. The courage it required for me to buy a drill, learn how to use it, drill the necessary holes (with manufacturer instructions in hand — I was leaving nothing to chance), and mount those curtains is quite the epic tale in my head. Even if it seems like nothing to you, the Viewers at Home, it was a considerable win against that blasted childhood mental block.
That pitiable block recently became an issue again. Today I think I conquered it at last. I think.