What To Do If Your Neighborhood Is Starting To Resemble A Nearly-Abandoned Exurb Ripe For The Picking By Scrap-Hungry Tweakers

So one Sunday a few weeks back I walked outside to get the paper and noticed that one of the new hyacinths we had just planted was trampled. Of course I immediately jumped to conclusions and figured a neighborhood kid stomped on it while retrieving a ball or otherwise doing whatever it is neighborhood kids "do."

And then I noticed the paint chips.

Well, now that's odd, I thought. Where could the paint chips be coming from? So I turned around toward the house itself and saw it: Somebody stole our downspout.

Hey, wait a sec, you might say, What's a downspout? You know what they are — those pipe thingys that take rainwater from the gutter down to wherever rainwater disappears to (I think the sewer in our case, though I'm not totally sure).

And then once you figure out what a downspout is, the obvious followup is something along the lines of, What would anyone want to steal a downspout for? Good question. Though it seems hardly lucrative, apparently people steal them for scrap.

I guess the other thing is that downspouts are relatively easy to steal — after all, it's not like stealing an oil furnace or a chimney — you just rip the thing off the side of the house.

So I did what any good citizen would do: I called the cops. I reasoned that if this was part of a rash of stolen downspouts, the community needs to know about it. And if our neighborhood resembled a tweaker's savings account, then the community would need to come to terms with it: Hide your scrap metal!

So here's how it went down:

  • 9:26: Called precinct, couldn't figure out who to call so I push "0"
  • 9:28: Message cycles back to original recorded message; I try "1" instead
  • 9:29: Message cycles back to original recorded message; I hang up
  • 9:31: Call 311
  • 9:32: 311 transfers me to a 911 operator, which is exactly what I don't want to do since this is clearly not an emergency
  • 9:35: 911 sends a message saying something along the lines of an officer is assigned to the case and since they're extremely busy, there may be a delay responding to my call
  • 9:51: Cops arrive
  • 10:10: We finish marveling at the strange event with the neighbors and return inside

Which is to say, I guess with all the bad press about the NYPD sweeping crime under the rug or whatnot, I sort of expected some kind of "911 Is A Joke" response, but that totally didn't happen.

What did happen is that a squad car showed up within 15 minutes and two pleasant officers took the complaint. After I looked at the Incident Information Slip and realized there was no complaint number — actually, I seemed to remember the officer circling the blank spot and telling me I needed to call to get it later. I wondered if they would just fill out this slip and let the crime go unreported, so I called today. And . . . there's actually a complaint number. Not sure what this means, but I suppose it means that the crime has become part of the statistics for the neighborhood.

Police Incident Information Slip

Another goal of mine was to make it into the police blotter of one of the local weeklies. As far as I know, this did not happen.

When the cops showed up, several of the neighbors came out to see what was going on. Everyone was surprised that a downspout was allegedly stolen, including the cops, who sort of seemed like they wanted to make sure this was an actual theft before making a report.

Part of me wanted the entire street to have their downspouts stolen. There's something about the idea of a shared experience that somehow lessens the sting. It's stupid of course.

About a week later I was walking to the bagel store on a weekend morning and saw a downspout ignominiously discarded on the side of the road about a block from the house. It had been folded in at least three directions. This made me wonder whether we were victims of weekend vandals, which is obviously not nearly as exciting as scrap metal thieves.

A few weeks after that we saw this flier on the door, which solved an immediate problem — how to replace the missing downspout — but which also seemed a little too . . . perfect — timingwise, at least:

Roofing Company Flier

Now I'm not for a second intimating that this company made our downspout disappear. Not at all. What I will say is that there's not a chance in hell that I'd ever contact this company. Not because I think they did it — not at all! — but because if they did it, there was no way I'd want to use them. I remember reading about this a while back with some car windows on Staten Island, so it was just this company's dumb luck that they handed out a flier to us so soon after the incident.

Then, as Goober pointed out, there was the issue of the wording of the note.

One thing I think companies should never do is focus on the negative. The first thing they say is they're a "complaint free business, without paying anyone off." Dude, that's your open? You have to do a little better than that. Same paragraph: "We are not trying to say we are perfect, but we sure try to be." I appreciate the candor, but as a prospective customer, I'd like to think that you're imperfect with others and not me. Just a little psychology or whatnot.

Paragraph three: They've never gone bankrupt. To paraphrase Chris Rock, You're not supposed to go bankrupt!

Paragraph four: "What we are is real," like this is the Penthouse Letters of gutter repair.

I don't know, they seem like they're trying a little too hard. We're still trying to figure out who to call to fix the thing. I'll let you know if we come across anyone good.

Posted: April 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , ,

I Got Four Words For You: Evaporation

Sometime after the great Al Capone Vault Bust of 2011, in which expectations soared through the basement drop ceiling and were summarily dashed, Kawama received a 6-by-9 clasp envelope addressed to our family from the seller.

The envelope seemed sort of thick and I got excited, remembering that at the closing the seller said that the longtime owner was probably looking down from heaven thinking about us (or some such). I imagined that the envelope contained a bunch of old pictures of the house or something. Or who knows — maybe he was sending us $10,000 in cold, hard cash!

And then I opened it.

And found a water bill from DEP.

"You need to change the address on this," he scrawled on the envelope that he folded at the very top to make it fit.

I admit that I didn't think about the fact that we'd have to let DEP know that we now own the house. Couldn't they have figured that out for themselves? And given that they seem to be so uninterested in figuring that out, do we really think they care about our measly bill?

Which brings up the second surprise — Jesus, water is expensive! Actually, I'll amend that: The DEP bill is kind of expensive, since it also charges for "sewer service." For example, our most recent bill for the last three months was $142.67, divided into two charges: $57.06 for water and $90.73 for the sewer.

I understand the water rate, but what's with the sewer rate? Which is to say, Why does it fluctuate? Do they charge more when you use more water? How do they tell? It seems like it might be connected to the water usage, but why should it? What if I'm watering a lot of plants? What if I'm simmering a bunch of soup? What if I'm sweating a lot? The mind reels . . .

For a while I tried turning off the water when I washed the dishes. I sort of stopped when the weather got chilly and we hadn't yet gotten the boiler serviced — the steam from the hot water from doing dishes was welcome relief. It was the same thing with the low-flow shower head we dutifully installed: At one point I used to always switch to the low setting and now I fear I've fallen into a bad habit of just letting the water run.

It's funny — as a renter, I wouldn't think anything of just letting the water run. We had no idea what water cost. At one point the landlord asked if he could install one of those toilet-sink combination thingys whereby you wash your hands in the water that fills up the tank. In theory, sure, this was a great idea, but given that our bathroom was about 15 square feet total, we were using the space above the toilet for toiletries. Which just begged many more questions, chief of which being why stuff like hair care products have anything whatsoever to do with toilets. And then the mind really really reels . . .

Posted: February 28th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , , , ,

Taking Down The To-Do List

Eventually Jen took down the to-do list that she composed and posted on the refrigerator sometime after we moved into Kawama:

Kawama To-Do List

Spraypainting the chandelier we talked about.

We also talked about the kitchen cabinets.

Painting the dressers in the bedroom involved using the same paint we used for the stenciling in the bedroom; that paint was a brand name that proved to be of terrible quality.

Painting the dining room sideboard and replacing the handles entailed spraypainting the dresser the owner left in the basement and changing the pulls:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Hanging the craft shelves involved me purchasing a special masonry drill bit to drill into the exterior wall; I think the shelves will stay where I put them; so far, so good.

"Stairs" we discussed.

Paint touchups were just that; not a big deal, though I was quietly relieved that the flat white we bought somehow matched the existing white on the ceiling.

The bathroom faucet, the toilet, showerhead (nothing much to say about that except I'm thankful it works) and caulking — pretty straightforward. Did I mention that the secret to caulking is to use painter's tape for smooth edges? I had no idea that's what you did and often wondered why so much caulking looked so shitty.

Unpacking the front bedroom/"office" was a little more complicated than we thought it was going to be.


The yard.

. . . . .

At first I was hesitant to move out of our tiny apartment. But here are some things that have made it all worthwhile. First, having a dining room meant that we could have a proper dining room table:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

If you ever had dinner at our old place, you might have experienced our version of "table leaves," which just meant that we took our shitty table, appended a television tray balanced on several reference works and put one or two chairs around the coffee table. It was ridiculous. We tried to overcompensate with the food. Anyway, I just about had tears in my eyes once we got this thing assembled. I only wish we could have had more people over since we moved in.

The washer-dryer. Enough said:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

A backyard. Maybe the idea of having 100 square feet of outdoor space isn't that impressive to you; I get it — I'm sure it looks strange to a lot of folks — but going to 100 square feet from zero square feet is a force multiplier like you wouldn't believe:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

And then there's growing shit in the backyard. Even if you're terrible at it:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

There's knowing you have roof access, even if it's a pain to hoist yourself through the hatch and even though it's pretty knee-buckling at the edge:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

There's understanding that changing an air valve on a radiator isn't that big a deal:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

There's understanding that changing a thermostat isn't that big a deal:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

There's having Con Ed tear up your sidewalk:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

And waiting four months for them to fix it:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

Actually, they did a pretty nice job in the end, and I gather that it was some kind of necessary work . . .

There's worrying about flooding:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

There's having your first fresh Christmas tree instead of the quarter-sized fake thing that fits into a duffel bag the rest of the year:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

It took a while but we finally had our housewarming party:

Kawama, Astoria, Queens

And that's the story of how we got into Kawama.

Posted: February 15th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: ,