ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Return to lately 2001.
no place like it
august 4, 2001
This past Tuesday, July 31st, Mary and I celebrated our tenth anniversary in our home.
It's the longest we've lived in any one place, and the first house we've owned.
About six summers ago, we spent a quiet Saturday afternoon sitting on the carpet in our living room, backs propped against the seats of chairs, fire in the fireplace, talking, playing with our cats while we listened to Tony Bennett. A few hours later, both of us having moved by then to the bedroom, I went out to the kitchen to get some ice water. As I passed by the picture window in our breakfast nook I glanced out at our backyard garden, to see if any cardinals or blue jays were at the feeders.
Two men, wandering among the bushes and flowers, looked back at me.
They headed my way, dark blue hips festooned with walkie-talkies, handcuffs, guns.
I opened the back door, in my pajamas. This is a peaceful neighborhood. Nothing ever goes wrong.
"Why are you in our backyard?"
"Are you all right? Is there a fire in there?"
I turned from the partially-opened door, looking around at the inside rooms. Furniture, paintings on the walls, sculptures, tapestries. "Yeah, I'm fine."
"One of your neighbors reported a fire here."
I looked over at the still-smoldering fire in the fireplace. It was about ninety-five degrees outside. It was so hot, the smoke from the fireplace, coming out the chimney, had been forced by the heat down the roof of our home, to the yard.
"We had a fire in our fireplace. That's where all the smoke came from."
They looked at me like I was crazy. A fire when it's ninety-five degrees outside? The first cop spoke up again. "We'd better tell them." He gestured past me across the downstairs rooms, at our front door.
I wasn't sure what they were talking about, but I wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible, so I invited them in. The three of us, me in the lead, barefoot in my pajamas, them following in their clanking uniforms, walked through the downstairs rooms to the front door, which I opened.
I padded out past the hedges, to the front yard.
It was like a surprise party. A bad surprise party.
Two huge, yellow fire trucks were parked at the curb in front of our home, red lights revolving silently off the nearby houses.
Firemen were standing everywhere on the lawn, in full black-coated regalia, holding hoses, talking into radios, getting ready to position ladders. Beyond the long trucks, down the street, nearly everyone in the neighborhood was standing in the middle of the road, staring at our house, and now, at me.
A young firefighter stomped over in his big black boots, large black helmet on his head. Sweat was pouring freely down his face. "So?"
One of the cops gestured at me. "He built a fire in his fireplace."
Standing on my front lawn in late afternoon in my pajamas, feeling the thatch of grass under the soles of my feet, stared at by twenty or so neighbors, and a couple dozen city workers, I looked at the firefighter. I wasn't sure what to say. "My wife and I were listening to Tony Bennett."
He gave me a stunned look of disbelief, then nodded. "Okay, sir." 'Sir', of course, has a number of different meanings, all of them bad. In this case, on this sweltering day, 'Sir' meant 'Asshole'. The young firefighter twisted around in his unbearably hot firefighting clothes. "False alarm! False alarm, everybody!" As he strode away across the lawn, the others climbing back up on the yellow trucks, peeling off their rubber overcoats, wiping their faces, he shouted out an explanation. "He was burning some logs in his fireplace."
But a year or so later, as Mary and I got off our exit after a day of work, and started the six mile drive down country roads to our home, we thought that day of false alarm had been a warning.
As we neared the section of town where we live, we saw huge, black billows of smoke rising above the trees, into the sky.
It was hard to tell, but it looked like the fire was near where we lived.
We didn't talk much, that drive. Each mile closer, each street we turned down, the billow seemed to pinpoint itself more and more exactly at our home.
The radio never seemed so trivial.
That last stretch of road, before we turned right, it looked like it was our home.
I can't describe what we were thinking. Our hands found each other across the stick shift as we made one, final, turn. Our four cats were in our home. All the little unique treasures we had gathered together during our journey so far, that would seem meaningless to anyone else.
And we turned that final corner, and it wasn't our house. It was a house halfway down the block.
I turned off the car. Rolled the garage door down. We went through the utility room to our kitchen, and everything we had taken for granted was there, safe, untouched, the photographs for which we had no negatives, the little notes we had written to each other over the decades, the doorways through which had passed my father, and Mary's mother and father, the incredible murals with which Mary has filled our white walls, the impossible distances from counter to table Elf, our special cat, easily sailed. Our four little ones, unaware of our horror at having seen What Could Be, meowed for food. We petted them so vigorously, they looked up at us like we were nuts.
Because it was our home's tenth anniversary, we decided to buy it a gift.
What do you buy a house?
We decided that a gift for a house, to be sincere, must be something which will actually be fastened to that house. If it's a chair, or a DVD player, or a red rug with four gold dragons facing each other from the corners, that can't really be considered a gift for a house, because you could always take it back if you moved, and give it to another house.
We decided, after some thought, to buy ceiling fans.
We went to Lowe's first, which apparently was founded, from what I've heard, by disgruntled ex-employees of Home Depot.
Let me tell you: even though they have their own store now, these guys are still disgruntled.
Mary and I picked out three ceiling fans we wanted to buy, one for the master bedroom, one for the breakfast nook, one for Mary's study.
We installed a ceiling fan ourselves here once, in my study. It was a lot of work, with our arms over our heads for a couple of hours (at our installation speed). What attracted us to Lowe's was an ad saying it would install any fans it sold, for an additional fee.
We wheeled our cart with the three fans to customer service, down rods and ceiling braces jammed into the cart alongside the boxes (a down rod is the rod, of whatever length you choose, that attaches the fan to the ceiling. A ceiling brace is a support that's screwed between joists up in the ceiling to provide enough support for the weight of the fan).
Although there were a half dozen or so employees at customer service, they were all just milling around, chatting with each other, reprising TV episodes. We finally got someone's attention, who called over the public address system for a 'Lowe's Associate' to assist us. This dope showed up about five minutes later, patiently listened to what we wanted, then disappeared into a back office for fifteen long minutes to talk to a pal who had also wandered back there. Judging by their animated hand gestures, they weren't talking about ceiling fans.
The dope finally meandered back to the counter, and starting ringing up the sale. The installers would first come out to assess what the job would cost. Associated with this assessment, during which our newly-purchased ceiling fans would remain boxed, would be a 'ladder fee'. (That reminded me of a call I made a couple of months ago to have someone treat two of our red-tipped photinia, a type of tall hedge, that were losing their leaves. I was told by the person who answered the phone that first a certified arborist would visit our yard to diagnose the problem. "And then he treats the photinia, based on the diagnosis?" "No, no, sir. The diagnostic visit is a separate visit. The diagnostic visit costs $75. After they diagnose the problem, another certified arborist will visit you on a separate day to treat the problem, for a separate fee." "Well, while the diagnostic certified tree arborist is out here, couldn't he just diagnose the problem in, like, the first five minutes, and then spend the rest of his visit fixing the problem?" "No, I'm sorry, sir. That's not the way it works." "You mean he's just going to come out here, look at our photinia, get back in the car, and that's $75?" "Yes, sir." "Well, for that kind of money, could he at least give me a blow-job while he's out here?")
We agreed to Lowe's ladder fee.
After the dope had scanned the bar codes on the three boxed ceiling fans, we lifted out the down rods, which he scanned, then lifted out the ceiling braces.
He looked shocked. Shook his head. "Oh, Lowe's doesn't install ceiling braces."
"I'm sorry, sir. But we don't install ceiling braces."
"But don't the ceiling braces have to be installed before the fans can be installed, so the fans won't fall down from the ceiling?"
"That's true, but we don't install the braces." As if he were elaborating, he repeated, "We install the fans, but we don't install the braces."
We left, drove over to Home Depot. They could not be more helpful. They immediately set up an appointment for us to have the fans installed two days later. The guy who came out took about an hour and a half to get all three running, walked me through the various remote controls, and knocked $46 off the installation fee because it turned out we didn't need some of the installation services for which we had contracted.
Friday morning, yesterday, I backed our CRV out of the garage. I had noticed, carrying black garbage bags to the curb, a rabbit under the large peach tree in our front yard. We get a lot of rabbits. I pointed the rabbit out to Mary (we like seeing rabbits in our yard). She walked up the sidewalk, smile on her face, to take a closer look. Her face turned stricken. "There's something wrong with it, Rob!"
We both padded across the lawn, bent at the knees slightly as if that would make our approach less threatening.
The rabbit, frightened, dragged its body a foot or so away, towards the hole in our side yard fence we had often seen bunnies bound under.
There was something wrong with its hind legs. The rabbit could only move by dragging its body forward with its front paws.
Mary looked at me. "We have to take it to the vet."
That's one of the ten thousand reasons why I love Mary-- her insistence on caring for anything weak, disadvantaged.
We had a small cat carrier that would fit the bunny. "Remember," I cautioned, "it's a wild animal."
But a wild animal that couldn't escape.
We positioned the opened carrier door in front of the rabbit, who switched his head left, right, looking more rodent with each switching, but who couldn't go anywhere.
We tried sweeping him into the carrier with a broom, but the bristles bent against his gray fur. I tried the top end of the broom, but the stick was too narrow. We had him half-way in the carrier already, so Mary suggested simply tipping the carrier up. I did, and the weight of the bunny slithered his body inside.
I looked into the carrier at him. His nose was chugging, causing his whiskers to twitch. His eyes, on either extremes of his face, were brown, with black pupils.
We put him in the cargo area of the CRV. On the drive to the vet, we could hear him weakly scrabbling against the hard plastic of the carrier.
The receptionist at the vet's asked if we wanted him put to sleep. We told her to try to save him. If it was hopeless, then yes, put him out of his suffering.
She filled out the form, looked up. "What should I put down for its name? 'Bunny'?"
At the end of the day, the vet called. The rabbit's spine was broken. It had wounds on it, probably from a dog. It couldn't defecate, always a bad sign. There was no hope. "Do you want it euthanized?" I said yes. "Should we dispose of the remains?" "Yeah." "Since you aren't here to sign the authorization for us to euthanize the rabbit, I need you to repeat to one other person, as a witness, that you've instructed us to euthanize the rabbit you brought in."
I was put on hold.
After a minute or so, the receptionist came on. "Mr. Moore?"
"Yes. Please euthanize the rabbit we brought in this morning."
After I hung up, Mary and I put our arms around each other's waist, walked back out to the kitchen.
I don't know where you are now, 'Bunny'. You looked like you were trying to get home. I'm sorry you didn't make it, this time.
There's no place like it.