I have had quite some time to contemplate the empty house these past few days. During this time I have reflected on the obvious, the almost-obvious, the somewhat-obscure and the completely-incomprehensible. As I was sorting through these reflections I came to realize that there are things which we take for granted even though their existence relies on a very delicate balance between forces that could tear them down should the balance be disrupted. I know that this sounds like pseudo-intellectual crap about self awareness, inner meaning and purpose, so let me put your mind at ease. I have come to realize basic, tangible, physical truths which are as sound and concrete as bricks.
Just to give you a taste of what is coming I’ll give one simple example which illustrates how seemingly deep reasoning can be replaced by logic which is simpler than yesterday’s news. Remember the quote ‘A man without a dream is like a fish without a bicycle’ which appeared about thirty years ago in one of the ‘MAD’ publications? Even since I was a young, shy, insecure and inquisitive child I have admired the sophistication of this statement which meant absolutely nothing to me. Most people would have simply waived it aside as a mediocre joke and moved on with their lives not me. It hounded me for years. How could something so deep be put in such simple terms? Mind you, this was not like ‘Life is like a bowl of cherries’ which we all know meant absolutely nothing. This was something about the relationships between man, fish and bicycles.
Well, I finally figured out where what it means. It occurred to me when I was staring at Osmo’s smashed bicycle, which is lying peacefully outside the house waiting for a grandiose replacement. Here’s what it really stands for:
– A man’s (dream) house is his castle.
– A man keeps bicycles outside his dream house (just to keep it clean and pretty).
– A man can put fish in his dream house (to make it pretty).
– If the man does not have a dream house then he has no where to put the fish.
– If he has no where to put the fish then the fish cannot have a bicycle.
– A man without a dream (house) implies that (his) fish don’t have bicycles.
– Therefore a man without a dream is by definition like a fish without a bicycle.
It’s all so beautifully simple. So what does all this have to do with anything? The connection with reality comes from contemplating the complementary statement: ‘Is a man with a dream like a fish with a bicycle’? There is no definitive answer to this question so I will leave it alone. However it seems somewhat obvious that: ‘A man with a house is like a fish in the sea’ That one is pretty straight forward. Or is it? If you take a fish and drop it in the sea will it feel at home? Somehow we tend to think that this is the case. No fish has ever attested to the contrary. However we know that most of us would only feel comfortable in our home-sweet-homes, which gets you to think about what makes a house unique?
The more I thought about what makes a house unique the more I began to realize that the uniqueness which makes it ours could also cause it to crumble in the hands of others. At first this seemed like a philosophical point which lacks practical implications. After all when would it be that our house would be in the hands of others? The thought seems to go against the very definition of the house being one’s castle. This was true before people realized how much fun it was ‘to trade houses for the summer’ Indeed what a friendly, financially sound, mutually beneficial concept where two parties agree to swap their residences for an agreed upon period of time. An invention of the all-too-fast moving jet age which distributes S.A.R.S. to all and puts one’s very own home in the hands of people from far away lands.
Given all the time and the empty rooms I could possible (not) want I began to contemplate what it would mean to our house to be in the hands of people who were not intimately familiar with it. The more I thought about it the more I came to realize that unless I documented the special attributes of our house-sweet-house, it could very well be that all we would find when we come back are bicycles without fish. After all when you give someone your car it has an owner’s manual in the glove compartment. When you lend a camera you provide the user with oral instruction accompanied with the ‘instructions in the TIK’ So why is it that when you pass your entire HOUSE into the hands of strangers you do so with only as much as a key? Shouldn’t there be a little more to go on? Is it all that obvious how to use, operate, trouble shoot and protect everything which we have build, gathered, bought or received over the years? Not likely. Just like every appliance which has a ‘quick start’ guide and a complete ‘owner manual’, a house should have one as well. At least the ‘quick start’ guide should be passed along with the keys to the castle in all cases where strangers will have sole access to the properly for more than a few minutes.
Once you thing about it, its not that hard to write a short, yet definitive quick start guide which describes how to live in the house you live in when you are not living in it. The quick start guide to every house needs to include those things which have a high probability of drawing attention and could trigger wrong responses from an uneducated tenant. In order to figure out what these things are all one needs to do is list the bare necessities of life in descending order of precedence. For each item on the list one should review whether or not the house provides the item in a manner which is either identical or closely resembles the way it is provided in the majority of other houses. The larger the discrepancy the more there room for concern and a need to provide special instructions in order to avoid disaster.
I came up with the following prioritized list of the life sustaining factors in a house:
4) Shelter from the elements and place to rest
5) Clean and dry clothing
6) Means of communication
I figured if we have these covered there is a very high probability that we would get our house back very much like we left it. As I began to review these items I was quite amazed to realize how unique our house is in these aspects.
Let’s start with the ‘Air’. What could one possible have to say about air? It’s the oxygen that one really cares about and our air is just like everybody else’s it’s got the 20% or so of oxygen and the rest doesn’t matter. You want more air? Open a window. What else is there? It’s what could be hiding in those remaining 80% that you need to worry about. Every few days the smell of the burnt chicken spreads through the house and a light cloud of smoke begins to form along the ceilings. After a while the smoke dissipates, and if there is a lot of it, we open a window. To us, the legal owners this has ceased to be an issue for concern. However to a newcomer this could seem like the attic was on fire. Not knowing where the attic is (how could they, they have no manual), an alarmed co-resident could, go forbid, call the fire department which in turn would be on site within minutes well before the smoke and smells could dissipate. If this happens at night the first thing they would do is disconnect the electricity to avoid a worse hazard as they begin to spray the whole place with water. Now if we are lucky, they would search for a fire with their flash lights, find nothing, and leave after turning the lights back on. Supposedly no harm done, just a bad scare. If they do turn their hoses loose I hope Ilana’s statue gets to go first. But would that be reason enough to lose the piano, and the books? On the bright side, all the frames which were washed from the sea would get another drenching which would only add to their authenticity
Note that this always happens when its dark outside and the lights are on. Why? Because this is when the mosquitoes and the moths land on the halogen lamps and begin to fry, starting gentle plumes of smoke going for a few hours, very much like a Buddhist temple with incest burning. Only thing is that us Jews don’t burn incest in our temples, we burn insects in our house. So the first thing to keep in mind is that when smelling smoke the first thing to do is look at the halogen lamps. There is one in the living room and one in the family room. It really doesn’t matter which is which, they both have halogen lamps in them, exactly for that reason. If the smoke is coming from either all is well. This is the tradition at our house, and for all you know it’s the same thing in yours. There is one more thing to be aware of the fire alarm. If you neglect to open a window the smoke will spread through the dining area toward the hall way leading to the bedrooms. This is where the shit hits the fan because it will wake the smoke alarm. When the smoke alarm goes off it is too late to open a window. What you need to do is grab a pillow and smother the smoke alarm with it. By doing so you will block the smoke and the detector will be at piece with itself again. If you have smothered the smoke detector and the noise has not stopped. not even diminished then you have smothered the CO2 detector which is the rectangular box the smoke detector is round. Once the noise is gone you can send someone to open a window while you stay with the pillow attached to the smoke detector. If you are alone in the house when this happens you have no choice but to remove the battery from the smoke detector and then open the windows. When the smoke clears return the battery to its place.
All of the above is true if the lights are on. If the lights are off and you smell smoke you have a good reason to panic Do what you momma taught you when you were a kid get the hell out of the house first, preferably with a cell phone and call 911. If the smell of smoke is worse on the outside then it’s the neighbor’s house that is burning. Do what your momma taught you make sure your house is safe and then enjoy the show
If the air is fresh and one is breathing freely there is good reason to assume that ever so often the residents would need to quench their thirst, wash their hand or face or use running water for one of the many other important reasons people use water. Normally there would be nothing worth mentioning about this. However in our house there is one faucet which needs to be closed in order to open it, and opened in order to close it. This happens to be one of the most used faucets in the house the cold water faucet in the kids’ bathroom. I call it the ‘kids’ because that’s what it is to us. It could very well be that some other family would choose to use it differently. Be our guests, but the faucet is still reversed. The faucet is reversed because I didn’t ask questions when I purchased the faucet stub (they are all identical right?…) at Orchard Supply. I did not un-reverse the error because that would require that the main water supply to the house be shut down. It would require that the main water supply to the house be shut down because the knob which turns off the water supply to the specific faucet (which is under the sink) is stuck. It’s stuck because it’s old. It’s old because it hasn’t been replaced in ages. It hasn’t been replaced in ages because replacing it would require that the water supply to the house be shut down, and you do not want to shut down the water supply to the house. Ask why. Why? Because the main valve is leaky and the next time you tinker with it could be its last The fact that it leaks is not a big deal as it’s situated right over the flower bed in the front, so a few extra drops of water cause no harm. The fact that it could break is a much bigger concern. It can break when its closed in which case there would be no water in the house, or it could break when its open, in which case the house and the neighborhood would have a lot of water. The latter is a plumber’s wet dream, second only to the overflowing toilet hallucination. Hopefully you can manage with the reversed faucet and we don’t have to get there.
Speaking of flower beds, they too need water and there is a high-tech recoiling hose connected to the faucet right above the main valve. The hose has one of these water gun at one end which means that the water is ALWAYS ON well I guess you found that our already not too bad during the summer. Still you want to be careful, I washed a hanging rose right out of its flower pot with the pressured water spout that comes out of that thing. I guess the fact that I remembered to water the poor rose after three days meant that it had some dry roots to begin with. So while we are at it, remember the poor rose which is hanging just above your head outside the kitchen window. You can actually take it down and place it in the flower beds until we get back. You might question why one would hang roses? Don’t!
There is an automatic sprinkler system which takes care of watering the yard, front and back. The only thing you want to know about the system is that you do not want to mess with it. There are two symptoms which need concern you. One is that the system starts the sprinklers at a bad time say 14:00 when there is nothing but many degrease outside. This is caused by an unsynchronized sprinkler controller clock. The clock became unsynchronized when the firemen which you called earlier disconnected the power. The battery in the sprinkler control box was missing, dead or weak. As a result the clock picked up some random time when the power was restored. Simply replace the battery and reset the system clock. Replacing the battery is easy. Resetting the clock requires that you read the manual which we keep in the control box for these reasons. Once you have reset the clock you can watch out for the first symptom or the second symptom the garden withers and dies Death means that the clock is moving but the system is somehow in manual mode; therefore the garden is not being watered. Since plants cannot open the water for themselves regardless of which way the faucet turns they will die after a few days without water. Chances are that all this will happen after you reset the clock and go away for a week This is one of these examples where a minor disturbance of the balance could ripples through the ecosystem with disastrous results. A simple misinterpretation of the meaning of mosquitoes frying and the garden dies!!!
Moving right along, hoping for the best; if the air is clear and the water is running, nature will follow its course and will make you hungry a few times (two to six on average) a day. Food excluding rice is perishable which means that if you eat something else and ignore it for prolonged periods of time it dies, and then if you eat it you can hurt yourself. To keep food from dying we store it in cold temperatures which can be found in one of two refrigerators. One is in the kitchen and the other is in what can be referred to as the ‘garage’. It’s not a garage anymore, but the term tells you where to look for it. The refrigerator in the kitchen behaves very much like any other refrigerator. There is only one thing you need to know about it: it makes ice, it makes noises while its making ice and it makes ice in the wee hours of the night
The scenario is most likely something like this: just when the house is finally quite. And you and your beloved spouse of many years can have some quality minutes (before the baby wakes up) an ominous rumbling sound disturbs the silence of the house. If you do not have a dog in the family room your first thoughts would most likely be that someone had opened the (heavy) patio glass door. The reason I mention the dog is because a dog would bark in such a case, in absence of the barks you can conclude that the noise is from within and not worry too much. In absence the dog you cannot come to that conclusion. You can if you are a fool. In cases that no one was there its all the same, however let me finish my though here. So, no dog, no bark, sound of door moving what do you do? If you call 911 again (That’s the second time this letter) you stand to make a complete fool of yourself and this time you would probably have to pay their expenses. However you can listen to the sounds of the night. If you hear the opossums rustling through the bushes and chewing happily on the fruits below the trees, chances are that there is no one there. If you cannot hear the opossums, wait to hear the kitchen floor creaking. The floor was made by a contractor who probably worked for a home security company it creaks when a nickel drops on it. If the kitchen floor creeks there is someone there. If not, the rumbling which started all this discussion was the refrigerator making ice.
Assuming that you will somehow resolve the ice making vs. home intrusion dilemma one way or another we can move on the second refrigerator. If you need it you might have to plug it in. You will be able to tell if it’s plugged in or not by looking at its cord. However if it is plugged in you will not be able to tell whether the refrigerator is working simply by checking the light when you open the door. Most people don’t know this but many lights do not work in the second refrigerator. This is because the lamp is often taken to replace the lamp in the first refrigerator when the latter burns out. Following the same logic a burned out lamp in the second refrigerator has a much smaller chance of ever being fixed when it burns out. The second refrigerator is more often than not a reliable work horse. If it’s plugged in it works. You can test it with ice-cream. It’s a cheap and fart test.
With the perishable items in the refrigerators, the power on, the water running water and the air free of smoke, all you still need is clean, dry clothes and a bed to rest your body from the toils of what is sure to be a hectic vacation day. You will find the washer and the drier right by the second refrigerator. The washer is an old buzzard that will drop dead at any moment, however it’s very much like these 200 year old people; they are never very sick but they are not top performers either. All it can do is one wash plan, and you can do it with cold or warm water. It’s really very simple turn the knob and pull it towards you and let the poor machine do its thing. The drier is the exact opposite its one of these state of the art hot air machines which really doesn’t need any sophisticated gadgets, and yet it has an infinite amount of drying options. There are two things you need to know about it. First there is that nickel (which makes the kitchen floor creek) which somehow gets into every drying cycle and creates the repetitive ‘click’, one for each turn of the drum. There is nothing you can do about this, even if you take the nickel out, it always gets back in. The second feature which should concern you is the fog horn. The fog horn goes off whenever the drier is done. Did you ever ask yourself why the drier uses a fog horn when every other device in the house simply finishes its job quietly? Clearly the engineers who put it in asked themselves the same question and added a button which allows you to disable the fog horn. Failing to do so will wake you and the baby with a noise which is second only to the fire engine you called the beginning of this letter. To the drier’s credit I will say that it is very honest. It is indeed done when it sounds the horn and you are welcome to iron your clean clothes or wear them as is.
All life sustaining necessities provided for, you are most likely to begin telling friends how quickly and how well you have settled into your new dwelling and have begun to enjoy its amenities to the fullest. Given that you want to brag I suggest that you at least get the facts straight about the entertainment options open to you before you begin to communicate. This being said I will briefly introduce item 7 before elaborating on 6.
There are four computers in the house and they are all connected to the internet using ‘cable modem’ which is pretty darn fast. There is a TV in every room; however the number of available channels is divided by 4 as you move from room to room. The TV in the family room has 128 channels, the one in our bedroom has 32, the boy’s room has 8 and Tal’s room has 2 There are two DVD players, two pianos, one play station, two CD players and many books (how did books happen?). The art of activating any one of these devices is not trivial however since these are not life sustaining, you can simply call us and ask if you are having problems; which leads us back to the communications issue.
You have all you need and it’s for free but what fun is any of it if you cannot tell your friend how you caught ‘Elohim Babeitzim’? For this you need a telephone. You could use your own, but that would cost you money There are seven phones in the house and an eight attached to a fax machine. The interesting thing about the real phones is that half of them use one number and the others use another. This means that when a phone rings you have no idea which phone is ringing The problem was solved by technology many years ago when they invented the two-line phone; however this was too late for our house each phone is connected to one line. To deal with this primitive setup you will have to create a mental map of the phones in your head. When you hear a ring you will have to go through the following process: you can pick up the phone in any one of the bedrooms if it’s ringing they all have only one (working) phone so you cannot be wrong. If you happen to be in the family room or dining area and the phone is ringing there are only four phones to pick from, three of which share the same number and one (the fax) which does not. You have two options the first is to pick up any one of them there is over a 75% probability that you will pick up the right one. The second is to run into one of the bed rooms and hope that its one where the phone is ringing The main line is connected in two rooms and the fax line in the other two so you have a 50% chance of being wrong However if you are fast you can make it to the right room in time you just need to know which room is right if the room you are in is wrong. The phones are conveniently set up so that the right room is always immediately adjacent to the wrong room if you do not count the boy’s room.
The boys’ room presents additional difficulties. Over the years the boys have accumulated snazzy phones. Each phone appealed to them for a period of time, only to be replaced when the next great looking phone was available to the consumer child. Children do not part with technology, so rather than removing the old to introduce the new, the old phones remained in the room. Right now that room has four phones standing in all kinds of places and only one of them is really connected To this day I don’t know where the phone in that room is. When I need to answer that phone that rings in the boys’ room I run to our bedroom. If you avoid the boys’ room when the phone rings you should be able to answer it after a few attempts
This pretty much wraps up the ‘quick start’ guide except for one last thing which I left out, but it has to be mentioned, because all of the above has been for naught should you not understand the following set of instructions.
When you want to turn on the lights in the house as it begins to get dark in the evening, you will find that for the most part it is very straight forward. Most of the rooms have a switch which turns the light on and off. This is most likely what you have been grown accustomed too having been born in the later half of the twentieth century. �This is true for all the rooms except the dining area. The dining area has four light switches which are found on both ends of its diagonal which stretches from the bathroom corner to the corner next to the door to what used to be the garage. I will first identify the switches for you and then describe how they relate to each other. I will begin with the switches next to the garage door; we will call them G-left for the left one and G-Right for the right one. Applying the same logic to the two switches next to the bathroom we have B-Left and B-right.
G-right is a simple switch with turns on the moth-griller or the halogen light in the family room. G-Left is a bit trickier. It is the inverse of a master switch for B-Left. If it is off and B-Left is on the light in the dining area comes on. This light is comprised of three conical halogen lamps which at the time were very pretty but now then look like hallow bat carcasses (this however its totally beside the point). B-Left in an inverted switch for the dining area if G-Left is off, other wise it does nothing. The best way for beginners to turn on the light in the dining area is to use two people one by G-Left and one by B-Left. Then all they have to do is go through the four possible switch combinations. If they remember that the lights should be off, they will turn them on with their first attempt. However if they choose to defy this logic chances are that they will have to try a little harder.
This leaves only the G-Right switch. On the face of it this switch does absolutely nothing. No mater which position it’s in no light comes on or shuts down. However don’t let this behavior mislead you. G-Right is the most important control apparatus in the house; it is the FENG CHUI switch.
Normally your good fortune is assured by the countless ‘Hamsehs’ hanging by the entrance and the Kosher mezuzot attached to every door sill. However knowing the mood swings of Jehova Gallia took the house another step and had it Feng Chui certified. Between our Jewish god almighty and the Chi there is no reason why any harm should befall you as you share our residence if you can figure out what the ‘on’ position of the Feng Chui switch is. Unfortunately it is not clear and seems to vary from family to family. All I can recommend is that ff too many things go wrong, the moths don’t burn, the garden dies, the washer breaks down or the phones don’t ring, simply reverse the position of B-Right and see if things improve.
Enjoy your stay.