Jan 8, 2023

My sun porch bedroom, I discovered to my dismay, was so hot in summer it might as well have been a barbecue pit, so cold in winter a meat locker. For this reason—and also because I wanted to be nearer the college—after eight months on Hillegass, I moved to a little house built into a hillside in a rustic neighborhood—with an architect, Rick, and his other roomer Lisa, who spent most of her time at her boyfriend’s place. It was December, and I promised Rick I’d look after his English wolfhound, Frieda, while he was in Chicago for the holidays. What he failed to mention—until he got back—was that he was planning to sell the house, relocate to Chicago, and buy a seat—for $200,000—on the Chicago Board of Trade.



“My first evening in my new home, I lugged the double mattress Rick had recently bought into the laundry room to make space for my single mattress in the tiny basement bedroom that only briefly, I would learn belatedly, would be mine.

“But once I was tucked into bed, I got spooked, what with the whole house creaking and windows rattling, it was such a windy night. So I dragged Frieda downstairs and posted her by my bedside to protect me. When she whimpered so loudly I could even hear her through my earplugs, I reassigned her to the hall—and still I woke up only a few hours later to pitch blackness. Too agitated to go back to sleep, I decided to fix up my room.

“Naively, I sawed down my old bookcase boards to fit the far wall, unpiled my books and treasures onto the shelves, and custom-trimmed my matchstick blinds with pruning shears. When I carted my fake fur rug into the laundry room to wash it, there in the middle of the floor, beside a contrite-looking Frieda, was a big puddle of dog piddle. Blearily, I started the washing machine, leaving the bleach bottle on top, thinking I’d add the bleach when the machine had filled—and went upstairs to hunt up a mop.

“I must have been gone longer than I thought because when I got back, I found the bleach bottle on the floor—it must have shimmied off the washer when it started agitating—the cap had come off, and now a gallon of bleach and urine was oozing slowly down the slanted floor toward Rick’s new mattress.

“Unable to breathe, the smell of chlorine was so overpowering, I struggled to open the window behind the washer, but it was hard to reach and I couldn’t budge it. So I tried to bang the frame a few times to loosen it, missed, and shattered window instead, gashing my hand.

“With only seconds to spare, I ran for a rag to wrap up my hemorrhaging hand, and when the puddle was maybe a millimeter from the mattress, I hoisted it in the air, like Atlas, and started to carry it over the puddle. The mattress was so heavy, however, my knees buckled, and it folded around me like sandwich bread around a slice of bologna. Suffocating, I heroically I held on, nevertheless—and delivered it to safety.

“As soon as the stores opened, though I was dead on my feet, I bought some putty and a pane of glass, only to discover when I got home that the putty was blue. Too tired to return it, I puttied in the window anyway and decided to worry about what tall tale to tell Rick…later.”