Home Improvement

I bought my first home February 28, 2020, a condo in a building built in 1912. I moved my possessions two weeks later on St. Patrick’s Day. I left for Peoria, IL four days later on March 21, to help my mother at the end of her life. She died on Mother’s Day and we buried her a week later. I returned to my home in Minneapolis, May 23.

Although I have owned my condo for five months, it does not feel like home yet. In my mind, my home is still a one-bedroom apartment in an old house off an ally behind a hair salon about five blocks from here. It was my refuge after my loft apartment burned with my belongings in May 2013. I lived there alone and rebuilt my life.

I trained for and rode RAGBRAI twice while living there. I traveled domestic extensively for work and pleasure and even internationally once to Turkey. I published a posthumous memoir by my friend Todd about leukemia, the disease that finally took my mother. I started this blog, wrote the material for the book I’m publishing this fall, and started attending poetry open mics around the Twin Cities. That’s where I met Loren, my partner who I live with now.

My last two moves were in the midst of major crisis and upheaval.

There is a part of me that feels robbed. I imagine that the purchase of your first home is a time of great excitement, joy, and stress. I got one of the three because excitement and joy were extinguished by grief. Now add civil unrest and mother fucking COVID-19 and understand why my home isn’t set-up as well as I had hoped yet.

To his credit, he waited for me to pick out furniture so we could have the pleasure of deciding together. We have compatible taste, so I am being serious here and lucky. He only arranged the kitchen so that it was useable because he knew I would rearrange the house when I returned. So, when I arrived back in Minneapolis after a nine-week absence, the house looked much like I left it- full of packed boxes and no furniture.

We are both writers and he is a professional storyteller. We have plans to host storytelling dinners, poetry salons, and writers’ groups once COVID-19 buggers off enough to make it safe again. To that end, we purchased a custom-built farm table that seats ten on May 31. It’s still not here due to actual manufacturing time and our carpenter having to attend a funeral, then getting exposed to COVID-19 by a co-worker.

This is just how the year is going.

I bought our couch July 8th and our blue sitting chairs July 9th. The couch is out of stock, backed up on the production line in Mississippi, but the living room chairs are here as are the rugs and ten dining chairs we bought second hand from a restaurant supply store.

For all that is not here yet, what is here are the electricians.

There is a main circuit breaker panel in the basement with a note: “sub-panel in unit”. Where exactly? We couldn’t find it, the inspector couldn’t find it, and our realtor couldn’t find it. Our realtor told us the only place he didn’t look was behind the refrigerator because it’s surrounded by built in cabinets and he didn’t want to damage anything… Should we have pressed to find it? Maybe, but in February we were closing on the condo and I had to leave ASAP.

On the night we bought the blue chairs, the A/C tripped a circuit breaker taking half the power to the condo with it. All the circuit breakers on the main panel were fine. Where is the sub-panel. On July 10th, the electricians found the sub-panel behind the fridge and said the first of many, “Who thought this was a good idea?” It was illegal to have the sub-panel behind the fridge so we either had to move it or move the fridge and rip out the cabinets.

The shiny new sub-panel contains circuit breakers that are arc fault detectors. Two of them were tripping and the electricians are required to find out why. My beautiful 1912 condo with original built-in sideboard, fixtures, and hardwood floors also has original 1930’s knob and tube wiring that multiple ‘handymen’ have grafted additional wiring to over the years. Most of the outlets and light fixtures were not grounded. The living room light was grounded to the original gas light lines which are suspected to be capped but live. There was wiring spliced and strung between the new sheet rock and the old plaster in the ceiling of my office.

Only the wiring in the kitchen appears to be OK but these were the same jokers that put the fridge in front of the sub-panel. Not sure what the elderly woman who owned this unit before us did in times of power outage. It takes two men to move the fridge with about ½ inch clearance.

They’ve been rewiring for a week and are still not finished.

But it is with an attitude of gratitude that I sit in my home with 28 holes in the ceilings and walls so far. Because frankly, what is the alternative? Despair? Yes, we do not have our furniture but that means it’s not in the way of the electricians. No plaster dust will cover it, like the rest of the house. Our electricians are being as non-invasive as possible. Trying to repair the holes will be easier than a 3-inch trench running the length of the house. Yes, I would have preferred to buy a new car but not losing another home to electrical fire is good by me too.

And the table arrives next week. The couch arrives in two weeks. All the art will be hung, the wood fireplace will get tools in time for fall, and there is the small matter of a second bookcase. Once all the holes are plugged up, we get to be excited over choosing paint color beyond what the realtor did for staging. I will get to decorate.

And I am a homeowner. I never thought that would happen for me.

To all that would come to a housewarming, your patience and respect for safety is appreciated. Dinners will resume, friendships will be strengthened, and this terrible year will be in the past. As Loren said, this is going to be a funny story.

Some day.

-Copyright C.M. Mounts, August 2020

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