Andy Harris
Sep 12 · 9 min read
(Photo by Markus Petritz on Unsplash)

One of my fondest memories of Metzgar Road is of the temperature. The house maintained a frothy upper-sixties despite mother nature interminably raging on about the heat.

In the face of a cavalcade of children and half-children whipping open and shut the sliding door, the air conditioning never relented. It stood strong to the task and deserves decoration.

Unlike so much else in that house. While neglected objects bathed in the cool wispy breeze of Mr. A/C, our temperatures rose in response to one failure after another.

Flies and spiders greeted us in the kitchen. Both waited by an empty trashcan, in anticipation of treats to come. The flies were rewarded, the spiders less so. One of the latter was kindly escorted outside by a guest.

I like to think he’s off in the woods doing things only an eight-legged creature can do. The fruit flies however committed to the zone. They locked in on the trash like spray-orange on a world leader. Yet they were the lesser evil in the kitchen.

The frying pans looked as if they’d survived the war. The larger one was bent, charred and almost seemed to cry at the horrors it had witnessed. Sorry to say we couldn’t alleviate its suffering. We threw it on the stove, made pancakes and enjoyed them with maple syrup (not the stuff in the cupboard — don’t eat that) and black chips from the pan I believe were a teary cry for help.

Its loneliness compounded its darkened past. There were so few other pots and pans with whom it could commiserate. Half a baking sheet, an impish abandoned pan wrought with neglect, and a surly pot that had no business being off the Target showroom floor. The plenitude of cups, plates and utensils couldn’t overcome the cookware’s hollow existence. This was a kitchen for consumption, not creation.

Fortunately, though the Mr. Coffee performed its task admirably — as long as you let it complete the brewing cycle before helping yourself to a fine cup of Folgers. I learned this the hard way.

I took too early, exhaustion giving way to greedy ambitions. I was beaten with a spatula. It could have been the haughty spider, but I believe it was a friend. Point taken! A mistake I made only once (that she knows of).

This could have been averted had the Keurig machine come stocked with edible coffee. It was stocked to be sure, but with cups whose “best” days passed during the Obama administration. The gingerbread flavoring was an enjoyable if not odd taste in July but unfortunately it wasn’t sufficient to consume the flaky expired dust sealed in each cup.

The oven had also sustained injuries. As if neglected for far too long and afraid of being forgotten, it refused to be turned off. There was no convincing it, not even repeatedly hammering the off button would persuade it. We heeded lonely cry for help and came to an agreement.

To support it in its time of need we left a small child on the stove tasked with speaking sweetly to the trembling appliance. Periodically, when it drifted into a sleepy lull, the child would try a sneak attack on the off button. We left her with a few juice boxes for her mission.

No one knows how long she was there but when she emerged hours (days?) later, covered in stove grease we knew she had accomplished her mission. Well done!

(Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash)

The adults turned away from the culinary wreckage. There’s water to enjoy! I ran toward the deck, reaching an arm back to shut the screen door. It wasn’t interested in facilitating my jaunt to the pool. The grumpy metallic frame had already bent itself into an awkward angle making it nearly impossible to open or close. Touché, screen door, victoire à toi!

I pushed on undeterred and prepared myself for pool time. The spacious deck held everything we’d need for a sunny day. Broken lounge chairs, sooty grill, a wasp nest and an adorable glass table for the sunscreen.

To that I leaped, taking only a few splinters from the untreated deck floor. “Slow down there!” it seemed to cry. I listened, but a few children didn’t heed the call and were similarly wounded.

Covered in plastic lubricant and sheltered from those damnable UV rays, I thought about rolling over the deck rails to the pool directly below. But I gave in to my senses and the cajoling of concerned mothers.

Instead, as a brave adult, I scurried down the stairs, past the wilderness of untamed flowerbeds towards the great basin. The ladder was sturdy in appearance only. Its capacity to bear weight was more appropriate for a chipmunk than a grown man but I pushed on, teetering dangerously on my ascent.

The thrill was tangible — I could almost smell bodily liquids pouring from my cracked head onto the slate below should the ladder buckle. What a rush! Half out of excitement, half out of fear I jumped into the luxurious water.

How rash of me to not first test the algal waters! One might think a five-foot-deep pool seated in the sun for hours a day would be warm. One would be wrong. Those water molecules were only a slow dance away from forming a block of ice.

No problem I thought, screaming hysterically underwater, I’ll extract my shriveled manhood from this above-ground dungeon. I tried to climb out over the rails but they came apart in my hands. I was forced to confront my foe the ladder once again.

Fortunately, the children didn’t hear or weren’t troubled by my yelps. They took their pool turn in stride, with the physical negligence only a child can muster.

At this point, a quick dip in the hot tub would have been welcome. There’s nothing quite like a summer day in a hot tub trapped in a basement. Fortunately, none of us had to contend with that strange arrangement because it was broken.

I’d been notified in a phone call received minutes past our 4pm check-in, as I hurled down Route 209 through the rustic scenery of liquor stores and fast-food chains. No worries, there was a partial refund! The vacation was saved. We carried on, barreling down on our three-day home.

I considered a canoe ride on the waters at the edge of the untamed lawn. It looked a grand idea. If only the waters in the photos had survived through to the summer. Maybe it was global warming or maybe someone had posted pictures from a particular time of year giving a false representation of waterfront property.

Now in July, the canoe held more water than its surroundings. The dry field, replete with dead trees, mirrored a broken Bastogne after the Battle of the Bulge. The canoe had survived the war but not without injury. Bivouacked here in early ’45 it was left at the edge of the lawn for the rest of its days.

I gave up on my aquatic adventures for the afternoon and joined friends on the deck. They had wisely established a triage camp for splinter and wasp stinger removal in the corner. They worked around a massive metal hammock rack, the vestige of a dream of peaceful swinging. Fortunately for our purposes there was plenty of space because it lacked an actual hammock.

We posited that this was likely due to the shuttering of hammock stores downtown. We thought deeply about the state of American small business as we extracted foreign objects from our bodies.

I readied for a shower to wash off the plastic and regret. I’d heard rumor there was hot water. Children whispered of it in the morning as they poured from their lair, thinking they were quiet and alone. They didn’t know I’d moved to the couch because my friend made more noise sleeping than awake.

Perhaps they used all the hot water. It’s possible a small army of children under ten voluntarily took showers. It’s more likely though that the hot water heater had capacity more suited to a hand than body washing. I never bothered looking.

The cool, crisp temperature of the shower water sped me along but the water pressure slowed me down. I could have bathed more quickly with a gallon jug and a dixie cup.

Yet it was comforting. Perhaps it was the silky shampoo and soap they kindly provided. Or maybe it was the biblical quotes on the shower curtain. I read them all, with cold driblets leaking over me. I learned much about the error of my ways and emerged a cleaner and better man.

Unfortunately, there were more passages from Psalms than towels, so I was left doing jumping jacks to rid myself of moisture. But lo and behold, there was fine reading material to occupy my time.

The sermon on proper sewage etiquette taped to the toilet was riveting. Paragraphs of red and black type exclaiming the grievous consequences of flushing (GASP!) non-organic material were profoundly moving. I’m so glad they were on every toilet, giving me the opportunity to reread their sage message with every urination.

The basement bedroom was brilliantly lit by a ground-level window no larger than a football. Such a striking contrast to the upstairs bedroom. With no blinds, that couple was woken each morning by Apollo creepily smiling inches from their faces.

My window’s quaint aperture was doubly troubling as I worried whether I could escape through it. The bedroom door had closed easily but seemed to only want to operate unidirectionally. It fought me passionately. I pulled on its hollow self; it warbled under the strain. Eventually, it gave way with an incredible pop. Freedom!

I had won the battle, but the war was far from over. Each night, when I woke up to reread the Great Sewage Treatise, the door exploded anew.

That evening we made a fire on the patio. Fortunately, we had a fire pit to put it in. Some scrambled to secure cushioned seats, some were left standing. Their victory was short-lived though as they found themselves sitting on fabric sacks saturated with avian discharge.

I enjoyed the swing, rhythmically pushing off from the fire pit. I thought about times I’d shared similar moments with someone special. This time though I swung alone. Perhaps it was my failures in relationships, maybe it was the broken swing that threatened to topple me backward, or maybe it was the pungent odor emanating from my thoroughly unbalanced internal systems. We may never know.

Back home I’m still reading the warning messages the rental company issued months ago. I’ve made it through a few chapters but lost my place and had to start over a few times.

It’s fascinating reading. I imagine this is what a child feels like being told to not put a fork in the electrical socket. A list of demands written for a wide audience, this massive document was our greeting message. A nice way to say, “Welcome, enjoy your stay.”

Now that you’ve given us nearly $4,000 we’d like to bludgeon you with all the things you can’t do. There should have been an index for the fines. It was hard to keep track; I had to constantly roll through pages of email chasing after children yelling, “No, don’t do that! It’s $400 if you don’t refold that blanket!”

I think one or two children were left toiling in the mines to pay off their fines. Had we caught that clause beforehand I’m not sure we would have agreed to the rental.

In the end, though it was a great vacation. Time with old friends is valuable beyond words and can never come often enough.

Even if you have to argue with a rental company for six weeks only to be shifted into a different home because they double-booked your first choice. Even if that partial refund couldn’t offset the fine for not correctly stacking the forks in the drawer.

Our trip was dampened by a house that had given up on life and kept us awake sullenly shuddering in tearful neglect. But in the end it was the people, not the place, that mattered. We plan to meet again next year in a house that’s loved. And bring a few more friends.


The Bigger Picture

Oddly specific. Universally applicable. Submit your writing to biggerpicturemedium@gmail.com.

Andy Harris

Written by

Sometimes I write down the words floating in my brain.

The Bigger Picture

Oddly specific. Universally applicable. Submit your writing to biggerpicturemedium@gmail.com.

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