The time has gone by in a flash so the crazy process of getting our house built is fresh in my mind. The obstacles we met to qualify for our loan, (on meager salaries), was difficult to overcome. Then we had to increasingly badger the builder because his delays were jeopardizing the great, time-sensitive loan we locked-in. But my clearest memory was the circumstances that surrounded the first time I saw my partially built, future home.
|SUE AND I WENT HOUSE SHOPPING SO LONG AGO THAT THE NAME OF OUR TOWN, HADN'T CHANGED YET FROM ABSECON HIGHLANDS TO GALLOWAY. (above) IN EARLY 1988, BEFORE GROUND WAS BROKEN, THIS WAS THE PARCEL OF LAND WE SELECTED.|
Sue and I were renting an apartmrent nearby. So in the hope of getting a sneak peek at our new digs, it was a easy drive to the construction site. Unfortunately, a security guard in a trailer blocked the dirt road into our future, ninety-six home sub-division. Therefore, whatever progress was being made on the houses close to the entrance, we had to assume was being made on ours.
On the Fourth of July 1988, (six months before the house was finished), my folks came to visit. In the early evening we went out for dinner. Along the way, I thought it would be exciting to show them the street we would be moving onto. Lucky for us, due to the holiday, there was no guard on duty. I drove around the chain that bore a “DO NOT ENTER” sign and was able to continue up the sandy, dirt road. Around the bend, our homestead was the seventh lot off the corner.
|(stock photo) THE REASON SIGNS LIKE THIS ARE PUT UP, IS COMPANIES WANT TO AVOID MISHAPS BY UNAUTHORIZED VEHICLES AND THE LAWSUITS THEY BRING.|
The four of us shared a first glimpse at our raw property. The skeletal house had no walls, windows or doors and a rudimentary, handmade ladder linked the bedrooms upstairs to ground level. The show didn’t last long so we piled back in my Chevy. But the car wouldn’t go. The tires couldn’t get traction in the soft beach-like sand. Sue took the wheel and dad and I got filthy pushing my car out of the rut. So without getting a tow truck involved...unless we were going to sue over losing four minutes of our lives or getting dusty, our unauthorized vehicle adventure never became a federal case.
Months later, through Sue and I’s pushiness, we went to closing on the last day of our favorable loan. Had we failed, a new loan would have cost us 3/8 of another percentage point.
To incorporate Valentine’s Day into last week’s double celebration, we bought lobster tails, clams, scallops and shrimp, (Valentine dinners should feature a red food), I cooked them all together and we feasted in honor of our house's silver anniversary and the Valentine symbol of our love.
My special dinner wasn’t a complete success. Think back, did your mother ever tell you to NEVER buy frozen fish? I hope you listened because I didn’t and I got burned with two nasty tasting lobster tails, (the fact that we returned them for a full refund is secondary).
While it’s true the lobsters were the focal point of last week’s Valentine’s Day dinner, we still ate well. But the temporary inconvenience of not having it all, steered our conversation to another dinner disaster, at the apartment we lived in from 1986-1988.
Sue and I moved into, “THE CLUBS” after one year (1985) at the Sunrise Bay Apartments. In the early eighties, the Clubs were built as a series of housing developments designed to accommodate workers in burgeoning Atlantic City.
Our complex, the Club at Mattix Crossing was new. It included a pool, a community recreation room, wooded bicycle paths and lit tennis courts. Our unit was on the second floor, (of one of five, three-tiered buildings). Further along were single family homes and then a huge, teardrop-shaped loop of townhouses.
|OUR BUILDING WAS IDENTICAL TO THIS ONE. WHEN WE MOVED IN, IT WAS NICE PLACE TO LIVE...TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS LATER...NOT SO MUCH.|
Before taking possession of that new apartment, I recall going up the exterior staircase for the first time. At the landing, I noticed Astroturf extended down the covered hall to our front door, (rear left). I commented to the management representative, "If this turf was a slightly deeper shade of green, it would look like real grass." The rep said, “The best part about it will be in summer when you can get the mail without shoes and don't burn your feet.”
Some time after we settled in, Sue was inspired to cook oriental-styled dishes by an Asian coworker. Her friend gave her some stir-fry recipes. The meal was pretty good but it lacked the pizzazz you get from an authentic Chinese restaurant. It was brought to Sue’s attention that the key ingredient to that method of cooking…was to use a wok.
Sue bought a wok. The first time she used it, I was keeping her company in the kitchen. With each passing moment, the whole apartment filled with an ever-improving, delectable scent of vegetables and shrimp. My mouth was watering.
|YUMMY, JUST IMAGINING A PLATE OF LUSCIOUSNESS LIKE THIS, IS ENOUGH TO MAKE YOUR HEAD SPIN IN HAPPINESS.|
I was setting the table as Sue lifted the lid to check the progress. Incredibly, flames thrust up to the ceiling. I figured the recipe didn't call for an actual dragon breathing fire as Sue hustled towards me holding the lid. I yelled, “No, put the lid back on.” In the scant seconds before she did, the kitchen filled with billowing gray fumes that activated the smoke alarm. The lid smothered the blaze but the wall to the ceiling and neighboring cabinets were charred. In a panic, I got two pot holders and took the whole smoldering kit and caboodle outside.
Sue speculated that she used too much oil. I turned on the exhaust fan and opened all the windows. The choking haze lingered and it seemed like an eternity until the piercing alarm went off. We got cleansers and overwhelmingly wiped away the sooty smudges. There was so little actual damage that I matter-of-factly called up for pizza. I was pleased how we avoided burning down the building and covered-up most of the fiery evidence. While waiting for our “Plan-B,” dinner to be delivered, we relaxed and watched TV.
Thirty minutes later, the doorbell rang. The glossy-eyed stoner pizza guy pointed to the wok in front of our door and said, “Phew, I can smell why you called us.” He was right. The strange foulness was nauseating but I didn’t address the situation even when he asked, “Who shit himself?”
I recognized that the stink was different from the burnt food or smoke but my curiosity was trumped by hunger, so I wouldn’t mention anything to Sue until after eating.
We had the pizza in the bedroom, as far from the reeking kitchen as possible and closed the door. About an hour after our potential calamity, I suggested checking on the wok.
The disgusting odor was less strong but still painfully obvious. I experimented by dabbing my finger on the wok’s wall…it was cold. I lifted the lid and the contents almost looked edible. Sue said, “We gotta clean this up.” I grabbed the wok by its handles…but it mysteriously wouldn’t move. I took a better grip but it felt like it was screwed to the floor. Finally, I forced it and ripped it off the ground.
For several seconds we were bewildered...the wok’s hot base had melted the synthetic carpet. Our mouths gaped in amazement when we realized that a perfect circle had been burnt through the turf, down to the raw plywood. Now cool, the molten goop had gelled and permanently affixed itself as a green globular mass to the wok’s bottom.
I tried to pry the re-formed Astroturf off the underside of the wok. Like a fifty-year old barnacle, the forest green blob wouldn’t budge. So I tossed the whole mess into the dumpster.
In the morning, I reported the incident to the management office as an apparent act of petty vandalism. A representative came out to investigate. He was clueless how such a distinct shape could be cut-away from the fake rug. I played dumb (it unfortunately comes so natural to me). A month later, workmen came by with a round patch of Astroturf, (a mismatched green) and *refilled the hole.
* YESTERDAY, MY CURIOSITY GOT THE BETTER OF ME. I VISITED THE BURN SITE FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE MOVING OUT...SOMETHING TOLD ME, IT WOULD STILL BE THERE, SO I BROUGHT MY CAMERA. WELL, WITH A TOUCH OF AMBIVALENCE, I REPORT THAT THE WHOLE CARPET HAS BEEN REPLACED...NO PHOTO NECESSARY.
This little episode never came back to haunt us until we gave up the apartment. Sue and I were freaking out as the landlord had his meticulous, final walk-through to inspect for damage. But as thorough as he was, he didn’t notice the traces of ashy residue stains, on the inside of the cabinets above the stove.
Twenty-five years later, we have managed to avoid burning down this house. But like my mother said about NEVER buying frozen seafood, she also said, “Make sure you have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen." And we still don’t.
More importantly, HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!
And of course, choose your red food carefully.