REMODELING MY FRIENDSHIPS

Last year I bought a small 1929 Spanish house in Montecito. The ad said “charming,” which we all know in realtor lingo means “small and needs major work.” By the time I moved in, the market had “adjusted,” another realtor term. I realized I’d overpaid for mi casa at the tail-end of Montecito’s buying frenzy. I decided that rather than spend more money updating, I would learn to appreciate the charm of a semi-rustic lifestyle in keeping with our semi-rural community.

The first night I had a very restless sleep. I was kept awake by the gnawing of what sounded like a large raccoon scratching underneath the living room floorboards. The noise was so loud that the beast was even audible through earplugs and a Halcyon haze. The next morning I discovered that “rural” isn’t so “semi” when it’s living inside your actual bedroom. On my duvet were multiple rat droppings. The raccoon turned out to be the biggest husband and wife rat team that John at Cordero Pest had ever captured. I think he might have even had them stuffed and mounted on his wall like a big game hunter. So much for the protection of Keeper, my 80-pound guard dog.

I tried to remain positive about my historically charming “pets-included” abode. I have a friend who keeps reminding me that happiness is all about attitude. So I tried to keep smiling even after I lifted a loose floor board and my mouth was filled with a swarm of termites. In some countries they are a delicacy. I’ve never seen termites consumed on “Fear Factor,” so how gross can they be? As for the plumbing situation, repetitive plunging was an opportunity to build upper-body strength. I was determined that these annoyances would not be my final straw.

The final straw was when I discovered that my 1945 electric wiring couldn’t handle a big screen TV/stereo system. I knew then I had to act, and fast. It was time for the infamous Santa Barbara remodel.

The good news about having so many months to think about a house project is that unlike everyone else I know, I could plan a really efficient on-time-on-budget remodel. How often had I heard people say “double their quote and their time estimates” about local contractors? Well, that was not going to happen to me!

I planned every minute detail. Especially important was where I would live for the next two months, the length of the job as projected by my first – yes, I said first – contractor. Strangely enough, no one wanted to rent to me and Keeper. I assumed it was the dog and not me, but you can make that decision for yourself after you read on.

I did eventually make arrangements for two months. Exactly two months. When it was time to move back in I still didn’t have a kitchen or bathroom and everything was covered in a thick layer of dust. My true friends refrained from saying “I told you so.” Instead, they offered me their guest rooms and cottages. By then I was surprisingly over-budget (please don’t say it) and I decided that house-guesting might be a fun and inexpensive alternative to living at the local pet-friendly Motel 6.

Thus a semi-professional bed-hopping Montecito mooch was born.

For the first few weeks I changed houses every two or three days. I’m not sure whether I’m being paranoid, but many of my “stay-as-long-as-you-want” offers suddenly turned into heavy hints for a rather abrupt departure. There were myriad complex and confusing reasons for my leaving – leaky roofs, parents moving in, allergies to Keeper and even surprise house guests from Uruguay. I’ll admit that I’m not the easiest person to live with. Sure I reprogrammed the TiVos, but what red-blooded American doesn’t record all three nights of “American Idol?” And yes, I accidentally recorded over a friend’s video of his son’s first birthday party. But come on! At that age, aren’t parties all the same? I’ll admit that I was the person who turned on the Jacuzzi tub before the jets were sufficiently covered with water and yes all the family photos were ruined. But family “treasures” really should be kept in a more secure location.

Keeper did brown-spot some of Montecito’s most pristine yards, poop in a living room (he was understandably nervous) and steal all the food from the other household pets. He did demolish a few dozen sprinkler tops, chew a few garden hoses, chase a cat or two and eat every child’s wooden puzzle piece from here to La Conchita. But not every calamity was our fault. This is a town of knowledgeable people. They should know enough to put down the toilet seats. So with temptation at his tongue, Keeper relapsed into his dip-drag toilet water compulsion. Slippery puddles on tile floors and scurrying kids are bound to result in falls. Thank goodness children heal fast!

Perhaps my worst house-sitting experience involved a cat. A very dear friend graciously invited me to stay for a week while she was out of town. When I arrived to her closed up house I immediately smelt the cat. I’d never noticed it before so I assumed the cat needed a bath. Being a dog rather than a cat person, I quickly discovered that cats really don’t like water. As I was loading my soaking clothes into the dryer, I noticed the cat’s litter box in a corner of the laundry room. Since this was source of the smell, the best strategy was to close the laundry room door and air out the house. That seemed to work well, for about a couple of days. But then the smell started getting more pungent. On day four, while holding my nose, I bravely opened the laundry room door. How strange. The number of cat droppings was the same. So why was the smell so much worse? Then it dawned on me…the cat had taken its business elsewhere. I followed my nose and saw in my friend’s bedroom found that the cat had started a new box right on its master’s designer carpet.

I’m now nearing the end of month three of my two-month remodel. The latest contractor estimates it will be four more months. I’m trying to be positive and focus on the benefits of this experience. First, I have learned that I have truly great friends whom I can count on…even though most of them now aren’t returning my calls. Secondly, I’ve learned that my own abnormal family is actually as normal as any other. All families have their idiosyncrasies and unspoken, yet understood, set of lifestyle rules. Everyone is convinced that their family and way of living is “normal.” So far I haven’t found a normal family. So if you have a normal family and would like to invite Keeper and I to stay at your house to prove it, please contact me c/o Montecito Journal.

P.S. I don’t cook, clean or do laundry…even for myself.