First World Problem

IMG_2726.JPG<br /
We have a second home. It is a small 15 sided beach house on North Carolina's outer banks. It is an anomaly now in a wealthy vacation zone of golf villas, and Mac-mansions. It is a single story 3 bedroom house without central air conditioning. Needless to say, it also does not have a pool, a hot tub, a dishwasher, a screened in porch, a carport, a dryer, internet access, a TV, etc etc. It does have a record player, a refrigerator, 2 small bathrooms, and a huge deck. We love it.
We do not rent it out. Occasionally, we let family and friends use it.
We had just driven the 13 hours down to the house with 4 newly upholstered barstools in the back of the car. Once at the house, we attached the bright yellow Naugahyde-covered seats to the barstool bases. The four chairs looked fantastic. We all stood back. It had taken us ten years to finally take the chairs apart, drive the seats back up to New York where we lived, and then a few more months for me to ask around and finally bring the chairs to an upholsterer in Hudson New York who quoted me a somewhat breath-taking price of $1200 to re-upholster all four in the perfect lemon yellow color that we wanted so that they could be returned to the bright yellow formica counter that they were meant for. Now, months later, we had got them back to their position around the counter. They looked great.

Shortly after we left the stools and drove all the way back to NY, I encouraged a friend of mine to use the house. She was the person who had recommended the upholsterer in Hudson, and was making a yearly trip south and had asked before about stopping at our house. This year, I especially encouraged her even though we would not be there. She was a twentieth century furniture collector, and I had always wanted her to see the house, as it was a somewhat focused stylistic effort that was quite different from the rambling chaotic farmhouse that we inhabited in New York. She decided to make a stop there with her teenage son.

She emailed from the house that they had arrived and all was well. My Dad and his wife had stayed in the house a few days right before she got there and they had left the key under the soap dish in the outdoor shower.

About 2 months later, we made our way down to the house again. We arrived at dusk barely able to walk after the 13 hours in the car. As we stumbled in to the bright electric light of the stuffy closed up house, one of us exclaimed, "look at this!" We looked. There was black scrawling writing on the upper back of one of the barstools. And then, we saw that there was writing on the back of the one next to it. And then writing on the back of the one next to that. And then, when we looked harder, it turned out there was writing down on the seat of one, and there was more writing on the back of the back rest of two of them. It was unbelievable. We established that one of the four chairs was completely unscathed. The other 3 were despoiled, tarnished, fucked. Close inspection revealed that the writing said "TDI" and "OBX".

Who did this? To our knowledge, only five people had used the house since we were last there. My Dad and his wife had brought a friend who we knew pretty well with them. The three of them have used the house many times before and never left so much as a penciled message on a wall. It was really difficult to imagine that my Dad or one of the two older women who he was with had suddenly turned graffitti artist. So that left my so-called friend and her son. I contacted them the next day with the news that we had arrived to find our newly upholstered barstools scrawled upon. I thought that maybe she had brought other people with her….a toddler perhaps? Oddly enough, the friend immediately sent me a shot of the living room supposedly taken when she and her son first arrived. The stools were somewhat visible in the shot, but impossible to say if they were pre or post scribbled as only two of them figured sort of small in one corner and not at angles that would have made the writing particularly visible or not. She stated that she knew nothing about such writing. She didn't notice it, but in a second email, she mentioned that there were teenagers hanging out as she and her son were leaving, and she suggested that perhaps they could have been the culprits.

TDI. OBX. culprits. what the hell???
The thing is, she drives a TDI VW just like we do. And her son is noted for having bad handwriting. Also, nothing else was disturbed in the house. It is hard to believe that if a band of teenagers had broken into the house, that they would not have taken the rum in the kitchen cabinet, maybe played records, and drunk the 2 beers in the fridge. We had experienced a break-in several years earlier….someone had obviously stayed in the house for a period of time and they took a CD player with them when they left.

We cannot know who did this to the chairs, and it is certainly a first world problem. My children have water to drink and food to eat. They have beds to sleep in. They have barstools to sit on as a matter of fact. We tried scrubbing with different stain and mark removers. The scrawl is slightly less noticeable, but still definitely there.

I wonder how it happened. Was my friend's son angry about how boring it was here with no internet? No TV? Or maybe he wasn't angry, but just absent-minded and oblivious? With both of his parents completely immersed in the 20th century furniture antiques trade, it is a bit difficult to imagine that he would not be somewhat sensitized to the need to refrain from scrawling with sharpies on light colored upholstered furniture in other people's homes. But maybe not? I picture him standing behind each stool…making the marks sort of surreptitiously because they look so messy…maybe even accomplished behind his back while looking innocently over towards the kitchen where his mom may not have noticed what he was doing? But then, how did she not notice the marks once they were made? How come at least one of them looked like someone might have tried to scrub it away? Who tried to remove it but can't tell me about it? Is there an explanation that my family and I have not arrived at?

If I seem a bit obsessed, it is because I do not spend $1200 on furniture repairs often. It is also because I have 4 children, and they have done some weird things in their careers. But my vivid imagination in addition to my vast range of experience with children fails to help me understand how this happened. I do not know the child in question. I cannot categorically say that he did it. I suppose that his mom is as much a logical suspect as he is. I know she likes to have a drink…maybe she had a few too many??? Or again, maybe someone else? Who? How did they get in? Why did they only scribble "OBX" and "TDI" on the newly upholstered yellow barstools?

So while this is a first world problem, it is a first world problem worthy of contemplation. What sort of random play or studied disregard happened here? Kids can definitely make mistakes, but then their parents apologize and try to make up the difference somehow. I am not so upset about the chairs now. I still wonder about my friend and her son. Does she not know that he has a problem? or that she has a problem? or is his problem her? Is he literally scrawling for help? He, or someone, left a scrawled message in my house….something like, "Help, I am traveling in a TDI car in the Outerbanks". So much is clear.

much scrubbed but still there

Son returns (prodigal?)

I picked up my 18 year old son from the bus station in Albany. He had spent two weeks with a friend in Canada with whom he has embarked on an intense entrepreneurial programming project. He is home now, but the two weeks away prepared us for his departure to college in a week; we keep forgetting that he is upstairs in his room again.

Up in the Air


Turned the car off and just sat for a minute facing the backyard. Quiet. Birds. Sound of chickens cavetching with each other. Got home at 12:30 just like I said I would but I don’t feel like going in to take care of all the things I said I would. Too interested in red chairs against blackened green foliage.

Oil change and then some

Our mechanic examined the battered and bruised patient. It turned out that the aging vehicle needed not only an oil change ( desperately) but wheel bearings ( so the left rear wheel didn’t fall off) and the tires rotated. He is understandably non-committal when I ask about the prognosis. She does after all have 340,000 miles on her.