This House Is Home 10
Owning a home has not -- as I imagined it might -- restored me to some idealized self-sufficiency. I am ineffectual. I can't even adhere to my own resolve to set aside fifteen minutes, once each week, to tour the house from corner to corner to check for signs of new problems. And now, I fear, it has cost me.
The house doesn't care; she has far more perspective than I will ever have. In her 125 years, the house has weathered hurricanes without me, blizzards the likes of which I have never seen, years of abandonment while rowdies trespassed. She stands something like she always has, her shoulders erect where more than a few of the younger neighbors' are stooped, her brow level and uncreased by worry where neighbors glower or grimace, her face elegantly made up. I am addled by worry, however, the good son, insulting her tenacity with my fear.
A roommate's unrequited departure has forced me to own responsibility for every inch of this space, and so it is fitting that the problem first came to my attention in his room. I have visited it only a couple of times since he left; the spacious room vacant in his absence echoes like a canyon, recalling my house-hunting past. It has that ghostly emptiness about it, implications of former occupancy far more haunting than a stranger's presence. It diminishes me.
But there I was, Saturday, in the room, granting access through the rear window to the porch roof for the Direct TV installer to do his work. While he fiddled with wires outside, I eyed the space suspiciously, cat-like, staking out its perimeter my nose impetuous skimming the floor. There, at the baseboard, the broad historic trim rimed by a crust of paint where missing quarter-round once bridged the gap to the sanded down floorboards, a spill of dust, wood colored, fine and imprinted with vermiform suggestions. Mixed with the dust, a few crumbs of what might be kitty litter, a pebble-sized husk of the same color difficult to identify, and a separate modest spill of dust the color of brick. The whole thing, all of the dust combined, covered perhaps six square inches along the baseboard in one line, but it pointed me toward a hole in the corner, a gap in the floor casually covered by a piece of old paneling, a non-fix solution formerly hidden behind my housemate's furniture, as was the situs of the dust itself until a few weeks ago. I removed the board, horror movie scared, and there, in the darkness between floor and the lathing of the downstairs ceiling, more sawdust, significantly more, as though from recent carpentry -- except there has been so carpentry performed anywhere near there in decades.
I covered the hole, resolving to probe it with a flashlight . . . some other time. I focused on the TV-related machinations occurring around me. Made some phonecalls to people kind enough to humor my irrational worry. Complained. Fretted.
Tonight, I opened the attic door to carry the boxes that held my Direct TV receivers upstairs to be penned with their kind. The attic also newly emptied of my roommate's things, it took me no time to spot it, the phenomenon that's plagued me since Saturday. Another spill of dust along the baseboard, more or less directly above its complement downstairs.
It's probably not termites, as there's no suggestion of them in the basement or on the foundation (though when this rain stops I have to look more closely, I have to look more closely). But someone suggested carpenter ants, and that seems plausible. A google search offers this:
There are several ways to recognize a carpenter ant infestation:
• Sawdust: If you see sawdust raining from your ceiling or from any indoor cracks, you have a problem.
Whatever it is, the sense of personal failure has married my fears about making it through another winter of exorbitant gas bills and together they are breeding anxiety of a depth and dimensionality I can relate to nothing I have experienced before, a sense that I'm in over my head. It's ebbed and flowed during my one-year tenancy of this house, but it's never entirely left me.
Like any problem, whatever this is will have a solution, one within reach, and soon I will turn a corner leaving behind this melodrama and the fear of what I don't know, as well as my general distaste at the thought of little beasties pulverizing my real estate investment, for the simple elegance of an affirmative solution of finite cost and burden. In the meantime, I will ignore the fact that "[c]arpenter ants like damp locations" and "can be found inside wood structures where there are water leaks: around windows, chimneys, bathtubs, sinks, and drains," since I would have thought that the dust I've observed is nowhere near any proper source of moisture.
But tonight, up too late, water everywhere around me probing the innumerable breaches in the shell that contains me and all of my earthly possessions, an imagined stirring in the walls while I fail to sleep, I am left to remind myself that I chose this, that it comes hand in white satin glove with everything I love about this Grand Dame of the Tenth Ward.
This weekend, in the spirit of testing out my new DVR, I recorded "Magnolia," I movie I remebered liking far more clearly than I remembered in its contours and details. That night, tired with myself after a long day of doing very little, I escaped into the film, which was far more elegant and moving than I had remembered, really quite extraordinary.
At the end of the film, while a freakish event sends virtually every character into the tailspin he or she has flirted with for the entire movie, the most self-possessed character, a child, he alone smiles in the face of the improbable. "This is something that happens," he says. And it is.
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