Amanda Kovattana

Middle-aged musings in interesting times

Friday, January 27, 2012

Betrayed In San Bernardino

Here be the sorry saga of how a relationship across class lines ended in eviction. What redemption there was and what future hope for my landlording venture.


I pulled up to our San Bernardino rental property an hour ahead of the sheriff and prepared myself for the eviction of my contractor, Mike, from the house he had put so much of his talent into restoring, making improvements as if it were his own. I had sorely wanted to avoid this eviction scene, the tawdry humility of it. I had told him so too, but he had chosen to draw it out to the bitter end, long overstaying his promise to be out after Thanksgiving. He had nothing left to lose. His life shattered by the betrayal of his wife. His son plucked from his life (the son of the kidney transplant story that had so long been the focus of everyone's concerns).

"Hi Mike," I called out to him when I saw him coming out of the house. He had a large old truck I hadn't seen before, backed up to the porch and a section of the railing had been removed to make it easier for him to pull things out of the front door into the truck bed. He smiled his easy smile and came down the stairs towards me rolling his eyes as if to bear up against all that the universe had poured on his head.

"So you've had quite a time of it," I say to him playing into his victim role, hoping to have his cooperation by being friendly even though he had refused to return my e-mails or phone calls in the last week, having not moved out as promised. It had made me uneasy about what I might find at the house, so I was happy enough to ease back into our old camaraderie. He introduced me to his assistant Frank, a pockmarked Hispanic man who seemed eager to please. Mike was moving next door to the shabbiest house on the block. He had asked us, early last year, if we wanted to buy it for $40,000 presumably so he could have steady work fixing it up. It had been on the market nearly a year; the owners needing to follow a job. A sale was pending; the across-the-street neighbor had bought it for $55,000. Their son had moved into it. Mike had probably traded his skills for a room. He was storing all of his tools in their garage.

I hadn't wanted it to end this way. Nor had he.

"I wish I'd known," he said when we got to talking about Jennifer and the latest news on her criminal activity. The rent owed added up to nearly $3,000 when we started proceedings and was now over $5,000. Catherine had called him twice since we'd given them notice and I left him a message too, but he didn't call back. He said Jennifer had stolen his phone, deleted all his messages. Mike had entrusted all administrative details to Jennifer. She was the one who kept us apprised of things at the property, sent us pictures of repairs, sent the rent money. When Jennifer first decided to grift us she just asked us to forgive them not being able to pay the full rent, that they were short that month. The language of her e-mails included both of them and were filled with emotional promises about how they would pay us as soon as they could. Then she wrote me that her mother was ill from a bad reaction to a drug for her kidneys and she had to go to Oregon to take care of her.

"This woman knows way too much about kidneys," I thought, but didn't say anything, figuring Mike knew about this excuse and was hiding his inability to find work behind it.

In June Mike got a big disability check and they were paid up again so all seemed well. The next month the new tenants in the back house entrusted Mike with their rent in cash and asked him to buy a money order and send it to us because they were afraid they would be late. Jennifer wrote to tell me about the cash being given to Mike. I received an envelope, but no check. I called Jennifer to ask if she had left the money order on her desk somewhere. She swore she had enclosed it. She also wanted to tell me that their truck was broken into the other night, but oddly enough nothing was stolen. As I talked to her I discovered a tiny hole in the lower right hand corner of the envelope and a crease as if someone had extracted the money order through that hole.

"It's been stolen", I told her and she voiced surprise. I asked if she could find the receipt and get a replacement. She said Mike had the receipt in the truck, then reported back that it was nowhere to be found.

"It must have been stolen from the truck," Jennifer reasoned. By this time the whole story was so fishy even I couldn't believe it. I called up Mike and asked what he thought. He said he would shoot the son of a bitch who stole it.

"But doesn't it seem suspicious?" I asked. He changed the subject, started talking about alien sightings. I asked why he hadn't answered his phone and he told me that he had forgotten to pay it to operate. This sounded plain irresponsible for a father with a son of precarious medical stability. So, I thought, he was in on it too. Eliseo, in the back house, had lost his phone altogether so couldn't be reached for questioning. We were stymied. A thief would not bother with a receipt nor would one bother to take the trouble to pull a money order from a hole in an envelope when it would be easier to take the whole thing. Obviously someone wanted me to know the check had been mailed and a replacement could not be had. Then Jennifer sent their money order it was short $50. This made it the same rent Eliseo would have paid, but again we didn't ad it up. Catherine was mad that they had arbitrarily set the rent lower at their whim.

In September, Jennifer wrote again. "I don't know if Mike told you, but my mother died and I had to use the rent money to fly to Oregon," she wrote. I figured mother died years ago and was being made freshly dead for this new excuse, but we didn't think a person would lie about such a thing. In October, she wrote to say she was still in Oregon waiting for money to bring her back and then they would find a way to pay us all the money owed or find a less expensive place to live. This was Catherine's cue to write them and ask them to leave by November 1st. We heard nothing from them after that and I realized we had lost control of the situation. I was sure they were blowing us off and would stay as long as they wanted rent free. We would have to actually evict them. I got a referral from my friend in LA who had sold us the house.

The law office referred cranked out evictions like hamburgers. For $650, I hired this MacEvict house and on Halloween our three day quit or pay notice and our 60 day notice was served. (Because they had lived there longer than two years it had to be 60 days, not 30.) The lawyer speculated that they would be long gone before then. I still couldn't believe that Mike would so easily give up the house he had lavished so much time customizing to fit all his needs. Two weeks later we both got frantic messages from Mike.

"I know I'm behind on the rent, but I'll make it up to you. Jennifer stole all my money," he said pitifully. Then another message to say that she had been arrested near the border of Oregon. I felt a sense of relief that it wasn't him; that he was still the man I thought he was, but Catherine didn't want us to call him back and get roped into his drama. She had liked Mike too and now felt betrayed.

He called again. This time I answered. He talked to me in his most calm professional voice, telling me he could understand how it must look especially given how Tally had disappeared on us with two months' rent due just last May. Told me he was not the kind of guy who didn't pay his bills. That he was nothing without his reputation and would pay back every cent he owed. I wanted to believe him, wanted to give him back his home, help him find his kid, but Catherine didn't trust him; why hadn't he called as soon as Jennifer left given that November's rent was due?

Jennifer was doing time, had several cases of elder abuse against her from her job as a caretaker in the homes of ill patients, Mike told me. A patient had been screaming for her and a neighbor had come to see what was wrong; Jennifer was not on the premises. She had stolen from others, whatever she could lay her hands on. I tried to reconcile my acquaintance of her with this criminal mind. I remembered the first time I met her. I was curious to see what kind of woman Mike was hitched to. When I walked up to see her face I was almost sorry I had been curious. She was not just plain, she was ugly in a way that made me feel sorry for her, but repulsed me at the same time. I had gone out of my way to treat her as a peer, ate dinner with her, even talked about how important it was to gain the trust of my clients. I had assumed she shared my assumption that one had to actually be trustworthy.

When I saw her last summer she had told me that she couldn't work overnight anymore because Mike couldn't seem to get their son to school on time. It was an issue, she said. But was that enough to leave him or was she just sticking around to embezzle his disability money? When our eviction notice was served she must have realized the game was up. Mike said he never saw the eviction notice.

Jennifer's sentence for her elder abuse was all of three months, only the jails were so overcrowded she got off on a work permit and only had to serve her time on the weekends. Later she was arrested for a hit and run which she tried to blame on Mike, but he had already reported that she had taken the car so that wouldn't wash. There was no end to her badness. Nor was her mother dead, but mother was a shady character too, Mike said. The whole family was like that. I asked him what she did with all the money she stole. He said he had no idea. Later he revealed to me that she had a conviction for possession of cocaine on her record which should affect the custody case. He had had his own run-ins with the law he admitted, but he'd never been convicted of anything. This did not exactly reassure me.

On the morning of the eviction he was telling me how he got her car back. The sheriff drove up, saw us talking. A young man in a sharply pressed uniform, he asked me if I was Jennifer. I said I was the homeowner. Trying to be friendly he made an attempt to pronounce my name. Then he walked through the mostly empty house, picked up the vacuum cleaner and put it outside as if to fulfill his role. I asked him how many evictions he did.

"Twenty-five a day, 100 a week," he said. He made it seem routine.

This one too was routine so he had me sign off on it. Then he stood there shooting the breeze with Mike, ignoring me. Mike showed him his truck, put up the hood and told how he had fixed it after it had been parked for years in someone's yard. Mike appeared to be writing his number down for the Sheriff in case he too needed cars fixing. He was networking at his own eviction.


When the sheriff left, the plumbing company showed up; the foreman striding in with a clipboard, a blue tooth headset in his ear. Mike had told the truth about the leak he had written me about in his final e-mail. There was a lake under the house that required another company to come out and pump out 326 gallons of water before the plumbers could begin their work. The galvanized piping was rotting and the foreman recommended re-plumbing the entire house with copper and PEX. I saw the wisdom of it, though I was pained by the sticker shock—$6,400 not including the $1,800 for the water pumping. The foreman shut off the water, not realizing the back house was shut off too. Said he would be back in two days after the ground had dried up a bit. Then the locksmith showed up to rekey the 15 locks on both houses since Mike had keys to the back house as well and we didn't want to worry about Jennifer or him trying anything. It would take all day to do both. I offered the locksmith a bagel; he smiled and explained that he was on a special diet for medical reasons, told me about a holistic doctor he was seeing. How his cancer went into recession because of this diet. He looked more computer tech than working class. The law firm had sent him. He also served as the eyewitness reporting on the condition of the property.

I went to check on our tenants in the back house at the end of the day. They asked when the water was going to be turned on. I called the foreman; he said the water couldn't be turned on until the end of Thursday. This was disastrous. I couldn't leave my tenants without water for three days. I went next door to find Mike sorting his things in the garage.

"We have a situation here," I told him. He reached for his wrench came over to turn the proper shut off valves to the front house, then turned the main on. We went together to tell Eliseo his water was back on. I owed Mike now and he knew it. I drove to my room at the Super 8 motel. No camping on the property this time round.

The next morning as I drove in from the commercial, spruced up end of town, I called out to the powers for help, any powers out there. Asked for the day to go well, named all the details I had in mind, listing them out loud. I worked alone in the front house spackling and cleaning. Mike had promised to come over and help. At eleven I went next door and rang the doorbell. He answered, said he'd had a late night, would be right over. An hour later he makes it over and asks me what I'd like him to do.

"I'm worried about the pool," I tell him. It was a large inflatable variety with a pump set-up on cinder blocks. It was deflated and looked terrible covered with mud and algae. I asked him to remove it and fill in the hole. He takes the pool away. But shortly after digging the hole back in on itself, he quit. Said later that he didn't feel good, but he revived enough to take another truck load of his tools out of the garage that night. Catherine was mad that his stuff wasn't off the property yet. Mad that I was still talking to him. Wanted to fly down and throw his stuff on the street. I still felt I needed him. There were too many things I wasn't sure how to fix. One of the bedroom doors was missing a doorknob from an unfinished repair on the door, the kitchen counter was missing a piece of molding and the railing on the porch hadn't been put back. Mike brought me the doorknob.

In the afternoon a van drove by, slowed to look at my 'for rent' sign and made a U turn. The passenger asked what the rent was.

"$975" I told them. "And a $500 deposit."

"That's not bad at all," she said and asked if they could see the house. A very fat Hispanic woman who had been driving, climbed out, followed by a moderately fat one, a skinny young white guy and a child. I showed them in. The first woman introduced her daughter whom I realized was not fat at all but was pregnant. The mother said she had five kids all told. The young man said he was the boyfriend.

"We get social security," the daughter told me.

"So do I" said the boyfriend. "I'm deaf in one ear," he added by way of explanation and turned back his ear to show me a scar.

"How are seven people going to fit in a two bedroom house," I asked them.

"Oh this is much bigger than the apartment we live in now", said the daughter. "We have bunk beds", they explained. I was feeling out of my depth and was wishing someone would tell me, right then, that I couldn't possibly rent to seven people. I gave them an application so as not to appear to be discriminating. Then my mother calls and they drive away while I'm still on the phone.

The plumbers came back the next day. The foreman looked serious; he hadn't counted on the line running all the way to the back house. It was going to cost more to replace that line too, $1700 more, might take two days longer too. I groaned inwardly and approved it. If they didn't complete the line the old pipe would clog up the new. Our loan on the property would now top $200,000. We were in for the long haul; a very long haul of renting. Luckily help was arriving.

Veronica, our real estate agent, a young, ambitious Hispanic woman had agreed to be our eyes on the ground for an hourly fee. She pulled up in her black Mercedes and jumped out in a black Nike warm up suit, a white Nike cap over her long black hair. She gave me a hug. I gave her the tour, introduced her to Blanca in the back house. She admired all the work that had been done since she sold us the property. She was studying Suzie Orman's online class and was practicing her financial analysis, asking how much we put into repairs after the $100,000 we paid originally.

By a stroke of good timing, she was also able to meet a couple who wanted to rent the house. They had come by the day before and had returned, having seen the condition of other offerings and apartments with no yard, no patio for their cat. They were moving from San Diego to be closer to family. I liked this pair; I could see they were normal in the middle class sense, though his teeth were sorely in need of dentistry. They were struggling some to rebuild a life. Everybody who comes to San Bernardino is struggling some. It is the end of the line. They didn't have jobs, they had SSI benefits and an army stipend. But she was a fighter—a feisty bantam fighter—determined to put her life back together after a breakdown. He was going to go to school on army money. Veronica asked if they would send copies of their bank statements and documents to prove they were getting these benefits. She was a lesson to me on tracking accountability. They actually had bank accounts. And decent credit which was even more rare. I promised to peruse their application over the weekend.

When they left I told Veronica about Mike, how he still had stuff to move. How he was living next door. She was incredulous that people were taking him in, that he would actually find housing after an eviction.

"He's friends with everybody," I said. Mike was a living example of community building, of surviving on connections and I admired that. "He's charming," I added, "even I fell for it. He fixes things; he can bring cars back from the dead," I added. This idea of trading skills for favors was a novel concept to her.

"He a white guy?" she asked.

"Yes," I said appreciating her having made this distinction. In this diverse neighborhood a white guy was the universal glue. His approval and friendship were valuable to everyone of minority status. Veronica nodded. Being a white guy also meant getting away with more.

While we stood there watching the plumbing job in full swing, a truck from the electric company drove up. I realized he was there to turn off the electricity. I told him I was the homeowner and he said he would leave it on if I would call up the electric company that day. He showed me the name on the current bill. It was Mike's last name, but with a different first name. He must have been dodging old bills. The man assured me I would not have to pay his delinquent bill.


After Veronica left, I went to tell Mike he was missing out on the fun. He was still in his boxers looking confused when I knocked on his door. I wanted him to put back the railing and finish smoothing out the dirt after the pool clean-up, but he looked quite pale and was clearly out of commission. He went off to the doctor, came back later and told me he might have an ulcer.

"Well that wouldn't be surprising", I said. He was often conveniently ill when he didn't want to face something. The final day of my visit, the day I had to have everything of his off the property as I promised Catherine, I saw him take off in the morning with Frank and I knew they had found work and I would get no more help from him. I called him up reminding him that he still had stuff to move and I was leaving at five. At four-thirty he dropped Frank off. Frank came over and politely asked me what I wanted him to move. I pointed out everything and he set to work while I went to the hardware store for bolts to put back the railing on the front porch because the plumbers had cleaned up everything when they were done and thrown them out.

"Those bastards," said Mike when I called to tell him, but he made no offer to come back and fix it. I was getting tired of these not quite finished jobs he had left me and the plumber leaving me holes in the wall to cover. But I was proud of being able to do it myself. When I came to the final sweep out I saw there was still a stack of particle boards and closet pieces and a kitchen garbage can full of trash left from Mike's stuff.

I went next door and knocked. Frank answered the door looking nervously at me.

"Can you move the rest of the stuff?" I asked him. He said he'd do it later. I explained that I had to have it finished before I left.

"I'm busy right now. I can't do it. I'm waiting for Mike," he said. I didn't like the way he was blowing me off like that and his tone of voice was condescending. I gave him another half an hour then called Mike to complain. Mike didn't answer. He was blowing me off. Had no reason to make good on his lip service to make it all up to me. It was my turn to show my irritation at his having dragged things out, left me to clean up after him.

I did in fifteen minutes what Frank was too busy to do. I'm surprised he didn't come out, given the racket I was making tossing the garbage can into their yard and the particle board and closet pieces on top of it. The final touch was a bag of soccer balls. I tossed each one over the fence at Jennifer's car parked in the front yard next door. I threw a few into the engine compartment just to unnerve Frank. He had the hood propped open to charge up the battery. There was a stick almost thick enough to be a log in the pile of leftovers and I tossed that gently onto the engine. Frank came out ten minutes when I was just about to load finish up. He threw the soccer balls back into our yard trying to hit my car which was in the driveway just before the porch steps where I was standing. A ball hit the house with such force I knew I was in for it.

"Why did you do this?" he asked.

"Because you're so lame," I said.

He threw more balls at the car. I felt strangely calm. My black belt training had accustomed me to physical attacks, allowing me to think clearly. He wasn't aiming for me. He was completely focused on the car. I heard him mumble something.

"What" I said.

"You're so fucking stupid," he shouted.

"No you are," I said calmly, "I'm just giving you the same back."

He bent over to pick something up. And I heard a thwack as that something hit the side of my car. It was the log. Then silence. We both realized he'd gone too far. I saw myself standing there alone after dark, having deteriorated to the level of my slum lord neighborhood. Things could get unpredictable.

"Okay," I told him, taking out my phone, "I'm going to have to call the police." But I was not wearing my glasses so had to squint a bit at my phone as I pressed 911.

"Go ahead", he said and went inside. I was rid of him this stand-in of Mike's lame performance. No one had come out to see what the ruckus was about. I stood listening to the quiet and closed my phone, the call uncompleted.

I locked up the house, loaded my cleaning supplies and step ladder, drove off the property, got out a final time, listened for any trouble and closed the gate. I felt in control again. I had reclaimed my property and had new tenants waiting. Mike might take it out on the house given my losing it with his last bit of crap, but something in me had shifted. No one was going to take advantage of me quite so easily again. I had faced my fear—an eviction—and acquired a new authority. I was no longer operating on a hope and a prayer. Things would be businesslike now and probably not nearly as entertaining, but that was fine with me.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Happy Paradigm Shift

In which I enter the auspicious year of 2012 through various avenues of my subconscious from shopping cart to under the house storage to apocalyptic revelations.

Let There Be Little Lights

At breakfast I rarely pass up looking at the newspaper shopping ads to see what trendy new stuff people are tempted to buy that I might later have to persuade them to give away. Plus I like camping items, my category of shopping vice. Thus I found myself perusing the doorbuster ads for Black Friday; the deals were particularly vehement. Possibly the impact of Buy Nothing Day, combined as it was with the Occupy movement, had spooked the retail sector. (Buy Nothing Day is timed to coincide with Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, said to put the retail sector into the black as we go into the Christmas shopping season. This is partly because it is a holiday falling as it does on the day after Thanksgiving and family members communicate what they might want for Christmas by going to the mall together.) In recent years the retail sector has fought back such anti-consumerist notions with more and more breathtaking deals on their most popular items guaranteed to lure shoppers into the mall on the day and make the evening news with some mob incidence of bad behavior. 

I eyeballed the Home Depot ad. The store is so close to my house it has become a part of my route. My eye was caught by a modest offering of LED Christmas lights priced at $2.95, a quarter of what they would normally go for. Festooning the outside of the house with strings of light to create a winter wonderland (and add to the utility bill by hundreds of dollars) was a feat we enjoyed vicariously courtesy of our neighbor across the street. But we did have a string of lights outlining the perimeter of a room inside the house. They created a lovely festive atmosphere for parties and were bright enough that we didn't need any other lighting for our dining purposes. LED lights required so little electricity that it occurred to me that I could power the entire room with a car battery that could then be recharged with a solar panel. I had seen a truck battery put to domestic use powering a TV at a cafe in the outbacks of Brazil. When I asked how the battery was recharged I learned that it was put back into a truck every so often. These simple technological work arounds devised by the developing world have always had enormous appeal to me because they sip, from the first world, cogent bits of technology while preserving the magnificence of the surrounding landscape and the timeless lifestyle. Such timelessness was perhaps a fantasy associated in my memory with exotic travel, but I still longed for it.

In order to get this string of lights hooked up to a car battery I would need an inverter to convert the 110 voltage and accommodate the conventional two prong plug. Traveling consultants have been using such inverters for years to power laptops from their cigarette lighter outlet while working in their car. It so happened that Pep Boys, the automotive big box store next door to Home Depot, was offering doorbuster sales of inverters. And jumpstarters. A jumpstarter is simply a mini car battery inside a portable box. It is usually used to jumpstart a dead car, but also comes with a cigarette lighter outlet. Now I was really excited.

In complete violation of my long time covenant with Buy Nothing Day, I found myself at the above big box stores at 7:30 a.m. filling a shopping cart. My guilt was somewhat mollified by another idea. I could now take this show on the road. Because all of the components for my third world workaround were available at such chain stores it could be easily replicated by others who were more mainstream than me and not quite so geeky. And by combining the festive notion of Christmas lights with the back up components normally associated with an emergency I could introduce a new paradigm. A power outage was no longer about fumbling with a flashlight waiting for a utility company to restore power; it was a festive holiday liberating the house from an unreliable centralized system. It was this kind of paradigm shift that really excited me.

The solar panel is a little pricey at  close to $90, but the point was anybody could create a mini off grid system with these off the shelf components. My solar panel was also bought, several summers ago, from an auto supply store; Frye's has them too. It comes with all the bits to connect it to a battery. No additional wiring is needed. It would recharge the jumpstarter battery in a day. Thus the whole system was self-supporting. I was able to keep my kitchen lit with a string of 200 LED lights for 3 1/2 hours before the battery needed recharging. (The lights drew 7 watts from the 8 amp hour battery.)

I took my road show to my neighborhood networking meeting and in five minutes persuaded six women of the beauty of this system. Being organizers they were already well schooled in the virtues of emergency preparation and as traveling consultants were familiar with inverters and car chargers for their mobile devices. My colleagues immediately recognized the usefulness of the jumpstarter. But I was also gratified that they made the connection with how easy it was to create and use an off grid system. 

Of course there is a bit more to a kitchen than just lights. I had my propane camp stove, barbecue and solar oven, but the achilles heel was the fridge. This led to a little side trip underground.

Musings From The Man-da Cave

I was feeling so geeky with my obsession with LED lights, that when I came across an interior design book at the library about Man Caves I realized that a piece of me had been waiting to be identified and named. I laughed with recognition at sentiments expressed in the introduction. Wives taking over the house and rendering husbands uncomfortable in their own home. College trophies, sports paraphernalia, outdoor signs, Christmas lights and beer bottle collections exiled to the basement or garage. 

I wanted a man cave of my own or perhaps more to the point, a Man-da Cave.

The real stories behind these thematically male spaces revealed a devotion to civility and a responsibility to wives and family that was quite endearing. The man of such integrity needs a man cave to get away from his responsibilities. I recognized this to be exactly why I cultivated my obsessions with expedition camping gear, alternative vehicles, off grid systems and tiny houses. These obsessions gave me a place to go to get away from an increasingly complex world. 

I did in fact already have such a space. One that wasn't considered an actual part of the house. It was already cave like. You had to be stooped over to walk around in it like cro magnon man or like the office space between floors in the movie Being John Malcovich. It was the space under the house, which being on the side of a hill, afforded more height in parts of it than the usual crawl space. 

I started taking it over when I moved in 17 years ago, because with four adults in residence at the time, we were very short on storage space. The man of the house had already stashed stuff on the shelves that had been affixed to the supporting pillars of the house. So I put in more shelves, lots more, for my boxes of love letters, and newspaper clippings from when I had my ten minutes of fame riding my unicycle to work. And collection of early hand drawn Banana Republic catalogs from when they were cool and had an old jeep in the store and actually sold vintage stuff. And stamp albums, Pride day button collection, vacation slides, a manual Olivetti typewriter, karate trophy, rolled up posters, a hood ornament I meant to make into a lamp, art projects and materials for art projects.

The floor, like most crawl spaces, was originally bare earth and got quite damp in the winter and muddy in parts. In fact I kept my worm bin down there and the worms were so happy they reproduced in amazing quantities and looked like flowing lava when I piled them up to collect the vermicompost. But I decided that the damp made the house cold, so I painstakingly leveled the dirt, laid sand over the damp part and covered it with very wide thick sheets of plastic. To protect the plastic, I lay tarpaper over it. I cut both right up to the footing for the posts using a stencil so there would be no gaps. When we got new vinyl flooring in the kitchen, I put the leftovers over the tarpaper. The white vinyl transformed the space into an actual room. Unfortunately the worms died from dehydration since I didn't realize the climate had changed so radically and didn't water their bedding enough. After that I didn't come down so often since there were no living beings to bring food to and take care of. Then it just became a storage space.

After reading the man cave book I went down to the space. I unfolded a camp chair to sit in because, in the bent over position needed to navigate this catacomb, frequent rest was warranted. I took a picture of myself in the chair sitting next to shelves of old paint and the chainsaw resting on a milk crate. Posted to flickr with the above description, it soon became my most popular shot of the quarter. Apparently others found the idea of a woman creating a man cave just as endearing.

I didn't put up any Christmas lights but I did cover the pink insulation overhead with flattened cardboard from empty boxes of Cheerios, stapled to the joists; (a client liked to save the boxes for me to recycle). It gave the place a cheery op art feel. I found pictures of Queen Elizabeth the First from a presentation I had given at a class on cultivating peace and put one up on the hatch that was the entrance to the cave. The space was already well lit with bare bulbs in old lamps. 

At Home Depot, looking at lights again, I discovered LED light bulbs. I brought one home to test in the Man-da cave. The new technology was a fine improvement over compact fluorescents. Better color, more solidly built, lasts 23 years and leaves no hazardous waste to dispose of. Also dimmable and uses less energy. I gave one to a client as a gift and she was enthralled by it.

Into my freshly swept out and spruced up Man-da Cave, I surreptitiously dragged in my latest object of interest—a diminutive chest freezer. I got it off Craigslist for $50. I wanted to see if I could make it into a low energy fridge like the guy in Australia living on the side of a mountain powered by a few solar panels. Such a workaround wouldn't suck up more power than a 100 watt bulb, he promised in his online report. You do it by plugging the freezer into an external thermometer that keeps it from turning on so much thus raising the temperature to fridge like conditions and cutting the energy used. Beer makers had discovered the same thing since chest freezers were the ideal size and shape for a beer keg. Beer making was a very man cave thing to do. This kept me from feeling too much like a survivalist nut job outfitting my bunker. 

I sat in my camp chair admiring the still unplugged freezer. Maybe next month I would buy the $60 thermometer thingie. It was time to join the family above for the holidays. (Family having now comfortably integrated Catherine's middle brother Steven as a member of the household. This would be our second Christmas together.)

Discovering Pluto

On Christmas day, during a rare period of blissful inactivity, I lay on the couch reading a book, by an astrologer, that I had requested as a gift. I discovered that my astrological chart revealed a voracious and irrational interest in acquiring knowledge. This was driven by subconscious forces on account of Pluto being so dominant in the 8th house of my chart. I was struck by this explanation. I had believed my pursuit of information was driven by feelings of inadequacy, but this explained why I never got around to actually becoming an overwhelming success. Success apparently wasn't my goal. In fact there was no actual point to my reading so much at all. I was just addicted to those ah ha moments of understanding. What a revelation. 

The author, Jessica Murray a San Francisco based astrologist, advised the mature reader to embrace the dark obsessive side of Pluto's influence, in order to transcend it and transform it. Having recently brought to light the mementos of my past, hidden in the subconscious underground of the house, I figured that, metaphorically speaking, I was getting a good start. Especially since I was augmenting the space with innovative attempts to live lightly on the planet.

The actual point of her self-published book Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer's View of America, was to invite readers to help transform the subconscious dark side of America's obsession with power in order to save this materialistic, over-militarized and self centered nation from destroying the planet. Her analysis of the political landscape of said nation was so right on that I fully accepted her advice and found her astrological analysis of recent U.S. history fascinating. The book had been written in 2006, but it was absolutely fitting for the portentous upcoming year of 2012. 

The End Of The World

On New Year's Eve Catherine, Steven and I watched the hollywood disaster movie 2012, just for kicks, and found it rather exhilarating to see the entire planet break up into disaster movie compendium of earthquake, flood, hurricane and what all, as the self appointed survivors (an obscure American writer and a Russian millionaire and their respective families, plus token minorities) competed with each other to board secret government arks built to weather the flood Noah style. 

The next day as the new year pealed out on a clear sunny day, it did feel different. 2012 was not so much pregnant with promise which implies certainty, but strangely giddy with the uncertainty of it; the hope and expectation that dramatic change is afoot. After all we have already ended 2011 with Occupy and the clamor for change in the United States which had for so long preferred business as usual. While on the other side of the world a mega flood had threatened my relatives in Bangkok in a year notable for excessive catastrophic climate events and earthquakes. The new year seemed positively brimming with end of the world material. 

Of course the world is not ending on the winter solstice of this year, per the predictions of the Mayan calendar (misinterpreted by an apocalypse obsessed culture), any more than Santa Claus is expected down the chimney every Christmas. But that doesn't mean we're ready to give up Santa Claus. An opportunity for cataclysmic change, especially within our collective psyche, is too good to pass up. The anticipation of it is potent with power as we climb on board the appointed year. For apocalypse or not I still believed in the potential for events of cultural consciousness to shift quite suddenly just as all those ah ha moments had flooded my mind with new, liberating, understanding. The stars were aligned for it.

Meanwhile on the other side of the earth the Buddhist calendar brings us the year 2555. This, to a Thai, must seem to be mocking them with laughter because 555 is Thai internet slang for LOL. When you say the number 5 repeatedly in Thai it sounds as if you are laughing cartoon style—ha, ha, ha.  Given all that my Thai contacts have put up with, of late, with the flood and crazy making incompetent politics, there hasn't been a lot to laugh about save for the cartoons and photos of escaped crocodiles my contacts posted of their shared dilemma. To laugh, I realized when I put the year 2555 together with 2012, was an appropriate response given the irony of governments attempting to dominate nature by investing so heavily in manmade systems only to smother the natural systems that ultimately supported life. (The Thai flood was not only caused by climate change, but made worse by deforestation and the paving over of swamp land, with industrial parks, that would have absorbed much of the water as it flowed to the sea; so much like Katrina.) Laughing was a response that affirmed my non-complicity with the craziness of it.

The world as we know it—especially the world as Americans know it and that everyone else is trying to copy—should come to an end. And if we can't wrestle our deluded leaders into addressing the situation at hand, we will just have to laugh at the absurdity of it and do what we can to wrestle free and find sanity.

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