Friday, October 27, 2017

House, mouse, and grouse

The upside of living in a dump like ours is you don’t have to decorate for Halloween. Our cobwebs, scurrying creatures, and scary noises all came gratis with the eccentric plumbing and questionable electrical outlets. Why pay money to see the latest Stephen King adaptation in the theaters when you can go down in our crawl space for free? (While you’re there, could you maybe put up a vapor barrier and seal up some of the holes where the scurrying creatures are getting in? K thanks.)

K and I have already accepted that this will not be a fairy-tale story in which the Cinderella house is magically transformed into a princess-like palace. We have neither the money nor the know-how for that (nor an obliging fairy godmother, for that matter). In fact, we have already accepted the squalor around us as a normal part of our lives, at least until friends stop by and we show them around and I remember that not everyone has an old bathroom sink on the front porch, an old kitchen sink in the back yard, a mousetrap in every room and an orange traffic cone in the bathroom doorway, which has no door and is an unusual size and thus requires something custom-made, which means pricey, and oh the hell with it, it’s just the two of us most of the time and we’re trail runners who regularly pee in the woods, so get over your prissiness, at least it’s indoors.

It’s rather alarming how quickly you can get used to a situation that might have once appalled you. Just like how those bratty English schoolboys in Lord of the Flies shrugged off the veneer of civilization to become violent savages, so too have we become accustomed to twice-a-month garbage pickup and cable/internet service that falters whenever a raincloud forms somewhere in the northern hemisphere. That said, there are limits. The night I heard something scratching around our bedroom and yanked open my sock drawer to find a big grey not-at-all-adorable mouse staring back at me—well, that was definitely one of them. K’s suggestions to solve our rodent problem were as follow: 1) snakes, 2) weasels, 3) burn the place down and live in the truck (calling it a “tiny house” only with heavy sarcasm). I rejected the first instantly because snakes; the second is intriguing though dangerous (weasels are voracious carnivores, so it’s worth considering who they might go after once the mice are gone); and while the third has appeal, the truck lacks room for our exercise equipment, and an outdoor gym just isn’t practical year ‘round.

Yes, it might seem a little odd to be going around the house in a stocking cap and heavy coat and gloves in the interest of saving propane, since the poorly insulated walls ensure that turning up the thermostat means heating the entire county (hey, you’re welcome). Yet I know full well that these really are first-world problems. We chose this lifestyle, after all. People who genuinely can’t afford much in the way of heat or pest control or even indoor plumbing would no doubt find that choice unimaginably foolish, and, well, not gonna lie, they’d be mostly right. But not entirely. What everyone who voluntarily makes choices like this discovers is that you really can go without certain luxuries, easily, once you recognize that they are in fact luxuries and not requirements.

This is hardly a revelation. Human beings have survived through ridiculous privations, both voluntarily and otherwise. While we may joke about the dire consequences of, say, not having coffee in the morning or being cut off from social media for a weekend, we know these things are not necessities. Thing is, they’re enjoyable, so why give up something enjoyable if you don’t have to? Who’s it hurting? Eh, scratch that last question; we probably don’t want to know the answer, though doubtless some killjoy will mean-spiritedly be happy to tell us. Most of what we consume has probably exploited someone somewhere in the past and will likely contribute to environmental ruin in the future. Is that coffee free-trade? Do you know where the plastic lid goes when you toss it in the trash? The water used to make your venti ultrasweet whip-cream-topped beverage—you do know there are people who don’t even get that much clean water to drink in a day, right?

Oy. Sometimes you just want to sit in a room and drink coffee, not wearing a heavy coat, not hearing any scratchy noises coming from the walls, not thinking about the impending doom of all life on earth.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this; perhaps it’s all just your standard rumination on trying to find a balance between personal needs and a sense of responsibility toward our world. There are times I myself feel like playing the part of killjoy and railing at every instance of thoughtless, irresponsible consumerism around. Grocery stores fill me with rage—so many people buying insane amounts of packaged crap that will end up being thrown away uneaten when it gets furry despite the preservatives. Driving home I grind my teeth into a powder at the sight of every high-maintenance lawn full of invasive species of grass that are spelling doom for butterflies and bees. Just mentioning the word “plastic” to me may make you an accessory to your own murder.

But all of this doesn’t make me a superior person so much as a massive hypocrite. Vermin and doorless bathrooms aside, my life is quite comfortable. I drive a car, I occasionally eat meat, and no, I have not checked to make sure everything I have purchased recently comes from independent small businesses that empower their workers. Moreover, the things we’ve “sacrificed” to live out here in our happy little dump are not necessarily going to make a difference to anyone but us. Life without a bathroom door is, after all, more comical and embarrassing than noble. All that said, I suppose every endeavor we undertake gives us an idea of what’s possible. If I can do this thing—running a marathon, caring for macaws, living in a fixer-upper that might never get fixed—whether it brings me great personal satisfaction or considerable personal frustration (but nothing any worse), surely I can do a few other things with an impact that goes beyond my own small sphere of existence.

Keep this in mind if you’re driving through the countryside and you see a house with what appears to be Halloween decorations up—and it’s, like, February. Those aren’t decorations; they’re a symbol of perseverance. Yeah. So keep going; the Casey’s is only 8 miles away and the stalls all have doors.

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