Wednesday, September 13 2023
My brother Don called me from the vicinity of my childhood home at 9:30am and proceeded to bore me with a tale of some friendly guy up the street who once drove him home when he felt like he was about to shit his pants. Then Don told me about a medical problem that he's had for years that has recently gotten worse: his hands tremble when he tries to use them to do things. This is also something that afflicted our father. But I don't know if it's Parkinson's disease or not, since that's usually something that manifests when a voluntary muscle is at rest. Don was surprisingly gloomy about the problem, suggesting that it might be something that will eventually kill him. But what he said next was poignant for its deep ignorance of the possibilities of a human life. It was something to the effect of "If I have to go, I've lived a full and successful life." Mind you, this is someone who has never had sex, a significant other, a job lasting more than a couple hours, or (with a few brief exceptions) a place to live not provided by his parents.
After that, I tried to focus on why Don's speech is so hard to follow. It's partly the long pauses filled with staccato-like utterances of "uh," but its also the perfunctory effort he makes at enunciation. Perhaps he is so egocentric that he believes that if he knows what he is saying, the listener will know as well. I know that when I stop him and make him repeat some word he said that I couldn't make out, he always pronounces it exactly the same way (when anyone else would make an effort to slow down and enunciate more clearly).
One of the things suddenly making me less reluctant (if not especially inspired) to work on cleaning out the garage is the fact that, despite all the recent rains (it rained last night, for instance), the mosquito population seems to have dropped dramatically in the last week or so. This afternoon, mostly all I did was complete and install the three wooden brackets that will be supporting the long dimensional lumber that I've been stumbling over for something like ten years now (since the only place available to store it was as a 1.5-inch-thick layer on the garage floor). In making these brackets, I tried to minimize my consumption of wood by making them out of essentially two members: a horizontal one to support the lumber I'd be storing and a diagonal one to bear the load without introducing much into the space below the bracket. But to attach this system to the wall without having too much of a headache worrying about aligning with studs, I also needed something over the wall studs to support the brackets and keep them from pulling downward or outward. I'd made three eighteen-inch-long stud spanners, one for each of the three brackets, and cut notches into them to receive the complementarily-notched horizontal members. As for the diagonal members that would be bearing much of the load of the stored lumber, I decided to use an arbitrary length that I then accommodated in the horizontal members with birdsmouth cuts, of the kind that are cut into the bottom of rafters so they'll sit solidly on the top of a wall plate. While I could've broken out a scientific calculator to figure out the angles of the birdsmouth cuts, I decided to use a more straightforward and entirely interactive method to figure out what those cuts would look like. So I attached the horizontal member to the wall as it will end up when I am done, that is, sitting in the notch of a stud-spanning plate on the wall and held up at the other end temporarily with scrap lumber and shims so that it was perfectly level and not too easily disturbed. I then took the piece that I'd decided would be the diagonal member and laid it up against this arrangement so I could trace its end into the horizontal member, a right triangle that would be the birdsmouth. I also traced along the top of the platform below where it intersected with the horizontal member so I would know how exactly to cut that end of the diagonal member so it would sit flush on top of the platform with its sharp end tight against the wall. Once I had the birdsmouth in the horizontal member and the bottom cut of the diagonal member figured out, I use those pieces as templates to make the other two brackets as well. When I was done, I was a little concerned about how well these brackets were attached to the wall (since I was mostly just using three to four inch deck screws), so I fired some additional screws in as well and hoped for the best. Sorry if this is hard to visualize and not great storytelling, but it's the best I can do. I also took a picture so you can see what I'm describing below.
The other day Gretchen began a conversation with me by noting that there are lots of successful creative types in the Hudson Valley, but that none of them are people she knows well. Sure, she might know then in the context of the bookstore in Woodstock and they might even know her (someone, say, like Neil "de Grasse" Gaiman). But we're talking people who would, say, come over for dinner. (In terms of that, the most illustrious visitors we've had over for dinner are Peter Schickele and AC Newmαn.) This was all to introduce the fact that she now finally had a successful friend. The friend in this case is a man named Greg, a librettist for a number of successful musicals. (Greg is also an Oberlin graduate, and we've noted in the past that there are relatively few successful Oberlin graduates once you step out beyond Robert Krulwich, Jad Abumrad, and Liz Phair.) Greg is himself married to a well-known actor who Gretchen insists she's seen "in things." Tonight Greg and his husband had us over for dinner at their log cabin in Olive Bridge. (I wondered if it was the log cabin we looked at in Olive Bridge early in our house hunt 21 years ago, but it didn't yet exist back then. Also, since Greg is in a same-sex marriage, I joked that perhaps he was a "Log Cabin Republican.")
Greg's cabin was off on a lightly-traveled side road on a piece of semi-swampy flatland south of the Ashokan Reservoir. The cabin had a large imposing front full of huge windows (this was where the great room looked out from), though the amount of indoor space wasn't any larger than that of our humbler-looking Adirondack cabin. Greg is a smallish and very fit 45 year old and his husband is a small, thin man about 65 years old (he looked like he might weigh 130 pounds). The husband is, we were warned, obsessed with cabins and wanted to give us a full tour of his immediately. It's a nice place and they've done great things with it (though the husband kept referring to things that had been there when they bought it with the disparaging term "Home-Depot-grade). The most interesting thing I learned on the tour was that log cabins are difficult to heat because the thick wooden walls are better heat conductors than insulators. As we looked out of the various windows, we saw first an adult female deer grazing and then a speckled fawn watching us without alarm, two things we rarely see because we're mostly surrounded by dogs.
Gretchen had been unsure whether there would actually be a meal, but after grazing on roasted mild peppers and Japanese turnips, it turned out that Greg had made a huge pot of chili. It had beans in it, but it was mild and full of so many other vegetables that I would call it more of a stew. It needed salt, but it was very good and I ended up having thirds. While we were eating, Gretchen and I told some version of our love story, which we often end up having to tell as an explanation for how we met in college but have only been together two thirds of the time since we met.
Then Greg and his husband told us the story of how they met and became a couple. What was most astounding about that story was that the husband had been essentially in the closet for his entire life until they met about fifteen years ago, when Greg was 30 and he was 50. This is, in fact, his first public relationship. What makes this especially odd is that the husband has been in theatre his entire life. Surely he must've known many men who were out in that world. But it was only after meeting Greg that he put effort into pursuing a relationship with someone. After that, the husband had to come out to his family, fairly traditional people from southern central Europe. They were a little disturbed at first, but they managed to come around eventually. "You just never know with people," Gretchen agreed, and then she told of how surprisingly homophobic her own hyper-worldly leftie parents had been back during Gretchen's five year relationship with Barbara.
We'd been eating out on the porch, but once we were done with the chili, we went into the great room and ate some fancy cookies Grechen had made while discussing things like the ongoing Hollywood writers' strike, which is impacting the husband's acting career much the way covid had before. But since everyone in the industry is in the same boat, so to speak, it just feels like something that has to be waited out.
Amusingly, given how well-connected these two men are, they were anything but name-droppers. Whenever one of them mentioned something wildly famous that one or the other of them was somehow involved with, they would mention it as if we didn't know anything about it. This included the sitcom Fraiser and the zombie franchise the Walking Dead.
The new wooden brackets holding up the dimensional lumber over the large platform-like shelf on the garage's east wall. These are unpainted, whereas the old platform is painted white. Note the birdsmouth cuts in the horizontal members of the brackets. The platform beneath, as you can see, is also supported by diagonal supports from below, but those supports do not fit into birdsmouth cuts; they're simply bolted onto the sides of the structural members of the platform.
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