Friday, December 13, 2013

Burning Down the House

In the middle of all the wedding planning hoopla, JT and I decided we weren't going insane fast enough. So we decided to buy a house.

Truth be told, a one-year-old's birthday party actually decided it for us. My best friends, Jason and Becca, were hosting a shindig for their beautiful son when Bec looked around and realized the layout of the house wasn't exactly ideal for entertaining (upstairs, the rooms don't really connect in a way that lends itself to mingling, and the only way to get to the game room is down a set of steps - not great for older family members). That moment planted a thought in her head. Hm. Maybe it was time to think about moving?

And in typical Jason and Becca fashion, within two weeks, that was exactly what they decided to do. I was so sad. I loved their house, entertaining challenges and all. It was so homey, with its built-in shelves and window overlooking the entire neighborhood. I had helped them move in a few years prior, helped them paint, watched them make it their home. We had so many great memories there.

As I articulated all this, I saw my friends exchange a quick glance. When I ended my whining, Jason spoke up.

"Why don't you buy it, then?" he asked.

Well, that was an idea.

A few weeks and many conversations with JT later, we took them up on their offer. All of us were beyond excited. Jas and Bec were just moving down the road, so now we'd technically live even closer to each other than we did. They got to come back to their beloved starter home whenever they wanted. We got to become homeowners! Woo!

And then it dawned on me. This meant we all had to move.

The last time Jason and Becca moved, I spent a freezing cold January day slipping and sliding on the ice rink that had formed in the back of their U-Haul thanks to an endless barrage of freezing rain. Their marble end table cracked when it decided to perform a triple axel/double toe loop midway to the new house. You know the scene in “The Day After Tomorrow” when helicopters start crashing because they literally freeze mid-air? I expected that to happen to our U-Haul at any moment. 

Never again! I told myself. Helping friends move is the worst. Just, no.

But when you're the one nagging your friends to get a move on so you can get into your new home, “No” goes out the window. You just move. And in this case, I ended up pining for the days of sub-zero temperatures. This time, there were renovations.

Jas and Bec truly had no choice. Their new home, while lovely from the outside, was a legit nightmare past the threshold. The woman who had lived there prior had clearly been a student of "Better Homes and Gardens." Circa 1983. 

Every room of the four-story, five bedroom home had a different color carpet. That carpet matched whatever wall treatment this lady had chosen, and in most rooms, that meant wallpaper. Lots of it. Shiny, '80s, foil-like wallpaper in the dining room. Seashell patterned wallpaper in the powder room. Faux finish wallpaper in the sitting area. There was enough wallpaper in this house to coat Massachusetts. Twice.

The living room. Sweet Jesus, the living room. The walls were painted a deep maroon, which would have been tolerable, had the carpets not ALSO BEEN THE SAME SHADE MAROON. The far end of the room had clearly been an addition, so the big window that should have been there to provide some relief from this murder room  just wasn't. No natural light. Just red. It was like walking into a nightmare. Or being inside a “True Blood” episode. So. Much. Red. Everywhere.

The upstairs was no better. But perhaps the best of the worst was the master bedroom, which had a deep rose colored carpet. Here the decorating visionary decided to pair her pink carpet with an entire 18-by-20 room full of floral wallpaper. And because that's not enough, the drapes also were done in a heavy floral. And not even the same pattern as the wallpaper.

Within seconds of moving in, Bec had whipped out a wallpaper scraper and got down to business. My job was to follow after her with a warm rag, wiping off any remnants of paper glue. When Bec took her blade to the floral wall, a rosy pink revealed itself underneath the first strip of discarded paper. It was the same exact color as the carpet. We lost it. By the time all the paper was reduced to shriveled strips on the floor, Bec and I were in tears, standing in the middle of a bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

Over the course of a few weeks, Bec and Jas basically existed off cigarettes, coffee and two hours of nightly sleep. I helped when I could, slathering on paint, peeling off paper and supervising wine breaks.
Once “Extreme Makeover: Jason and Becca's House Edition” ended, we were all exhausted, but I was also ecstatic. I knew the next step was the actual move, complete with U-Hauls and all.

I had but one more mountain to climb. I had to help Bec move. In true retail industry fashion, Jason had to work the day their truck was coming. So I broke my own rule and showed up ready to work.  

It will be fine, I told myself. It's not even freezing outside. It will be nothing like last time.

And that turned out to be true. Because the last time, no one had to call the fire department.

It was 8 a.m. on moving day. I stood in the driveway of my friends'/my house, dodging the pro movers. Having already stuffed my Honda Fit full of plants, pots and other last-minute random, I was now packing up the back of the pickup truck belonging to Bec's dad. As I considered the jigsaw puzzle going on the truck bed, I heard a siren in the distance. The house was a softball toss away from a fire department, so I thought nothing of this. Soon, it sounded like another unit had been called out, this one located a few miles away.

I listened as the sirens grew both louder in volume and higher in quantity. I turned to Bec's dad, who was surveying the back of his truck while holding a candelabra with one hand and scratching his head with the other.

“Sounds like an accident,” I said, gesturing to the direction of all the ruckus.

“Mmmmm,” he said, finally chucking the candelabra on top of the rest of the rubble.

Once the movers were ready, we all jumped in our vehicles – the movers in their truck, Bec's dad in his, me in the Fit and Bec in her SUV – and drove the three miles to the new house, Bec's dad leading the charge.

I was so focused on keeping the plant on the Fit's passenger seat upright, I nearly slammed into the back of his truck when we turned into the plan. Beyond him was a sea of emergency vehicles – fire trucks lined up back to back, ambulances at the ready, police officers holding out hands to stop us in our tracks.

The caravan pulled off to the side of the road, Bec's dad looking back at me with a “No idea” shrug and me mimicking it to Bec. After about three minutes, the sea parted to let an ambulance through. When I could see past the trucks, my heart sank. A dozen frenzied firefighters scrambled to douse the flames licking out of a roof two doors down from Jason and Becca's.

We all jumped out of our cars at once. As we waited in stunned silence, Bec's dad ran up to a man standing gawking in his robe on his front lawn, got the scoop then ran over to share with us.

“The roof caught fire,” he said.

“Really?” Bec seethed in hysteria-induced sarcasm.

Another neighbor wandered over, and took note of our truck.

“You folks moving in today? What a welcome to the neighbohood!” he joked.

Bec smiled and introduced us all.

“Which house is yours?” she asked.

“See the one with the flames shooting out of it? That one,” the man said.

Bec balked and stammered to find the right response.

“Oh don't worry about it,” he said, waving a dismissive hand at the mess. “They were doing some work up there, a guy dropped his cigarette. Not a big deal. No other homes are affected. No one was hurt, that's all that matters.”

Bec and I shook our heads. Here was a guy literally watching his house burn, casually making small talk with a perfect stranger. You would have had to take me away in one of the ambulances, I'd be so insane. He was seemingly fine. No one was hurt. A roof's a roof. Not a big deal.

It was a great lesson in perspective. It didn't make the stress of the last few days magically fade away, but it did make me a little ashamed of my initial selfish attitude about helping friends move. If this guy could take some time to greet a new neighbor in this moment, surely I could spend a few hours helping the people I love.

Though I don't think I should ever help them move again. First time brought an ice storm, now actual fire? What's next? Sharknado?

Probably best they just stay put for a while. Or forever.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Inviting Stress

In any good rom-com featuring pending nuptials (and really, which ones don't?), there's an obligatory scene in which the Bridezilla and her dopey, don't-wanna-be-there groom are in a stationary store, the woman ferociously scrutinizing font styles while the bored man rolls his eyes, makes a crack about every curly script looking exactly the same, then does something doofusy, like knocking over a pristine display of ballpoint pens or something.

Has this ever happened in real life? Do couples really invest much time and energy agonizing over whether they should go with “Fancy Script” or “Fancy Script – Bold?” Call me unromantic (or just lazy) but the idea of spending more than a minute pondering which font captures the love I have for my husband makes my eyes glaze over quicker than you can say “response card.” I prefer the invitation process to be quick, painless, and involve as little human interaction as possible.

When my cousin got married, she made her own invitations, and they were lovely. I decided to follow her example. She walked me through the process, and it sounded ridiculously straightforward. Step 1: Go to Party City and buy an invitations set, complete with response cards and envelopes. Step 2: Use the accompanying online program to design the invitations and response cards. Step 3: Take that design to Kinko's, hand them your Party City sets, wait a day, annnnnnnnd DONE! Address, mail, and that is it.

So I set out on a Sunday morning, sure as anything that I'd be sending my invites out on Tuesday. I picked out an elegantly simple set, ivory paper with a glittery flower border tucked into a glittery half-sleeve with a tiny white bow at its center. I figured I'd print today, stuff and address Monday, and mail Tuesday. Done and done. I bought three of the sets ($75 total, oh yeah!), and within an hour, was on my computer with JT nearby choosing our wording and font. The online program only offered about eight fonts, six of which looked like a child had scrawled them in crayon, so narrowing down the choice to swoopy (Edwardian) or super swoopy (“Formal”) required no effort on our part. Edwardian it was. Onto the wording.

This was when I made my fatal flaw. I decided to consult a wedding etiquette website and learned that invitations are supposed to be HARD. There's required wording for weddings in which the ceremony is open to all guests. There's another option for when the ceremony is private. There's rules about how parents' names appear. There's rules about how your names appears. There's rules about rules. I quickly learned that unless I followed each and every one of these rules, no one would come. Bah. 

It was just before midnight when I landed on a wording I thought would do the least damage. Thirteen typed lines = four hours of deliberation.

OK, so Step 2 had not been that easy. That was OK. All I had to do now was print out a prototype, take it to Kinko's and voila! Only problem was I don't own a printer. (Shut up. I haven't had a real need for one since college, and I can't justify the cost of buying one for the one or two times a year I do. Oh, and I'm cheap.) I called my cousin and asked if I could use hers. That was fine with her, and we planned to meet the next day to get it done. Woo hoo! Back on track!

Turns out, like an ass, I did not save the invitation properly in the online program. So as soon as I logged on, I was met with a blank invitation, its emptiness mocking me and sending a shot of panic up my spine. Yet, if it was possible to find a silver lining to the prior evening's hellfest, it was that I had agonized so intensely over the damn wording that I had memorized each syllable. I wrote it all up, checked it over twice (cut and pasted it all into a Drive doc because ANNOYING), hit print, and snatched up my prototype. Finally, progress!

But then, the hell? Despite the screen displaying no such thing, a thick black box ran around the text of the invitation in my hand. At this point, I had already invested more time and energy in this mess than I'd ever planned, so I decided that it was just a mock-up, and surely the copy place people could rectify this one tiny detail.

An hour later, the scowling face of the man behind the Kinko's counter told me I had been wrong. Horribly, horribly wrong.

Apparently, not only was there no way to eliminate the offending black box, but the entire hard copy was useless. The copy place literally could not make a copy of it. Creepy Copy Guy, with his greasy pony tail, '80s dad glasses and swarmy sneer, had acted like the mere suggestion bordered on blasphemy. They needed the whole shebang in digital form. The only other option was for them to build the whole thing for me in-house. Furiously annoyed at the idea of creating the whole thing AGAIN on my own, I figured handing it all over to the pros would be worth a couple extra bucks. I conceded.

“That will be $49.99, plus tax,” Creepy Copy Guy said.

I crooked an eyebrow skyward. Was he freaking kidding me? Fifty bucks for them to mess around on a computer for five minutes? Eff that! “,” I said, pulling the stack of blank invitations back to my chest. “I'll do it myself, thanks. I'll be back.”

I stomped out of there, irritation itching all over me like ants on a discarded cracker. How had this been so easy for so many brides who came before me? Had Kinko's higher-ups decided that simply allowing customers to make copies no longer fit their business model? Were they expanding into psychological research, and was I nothing more than a guinea pig in their latest study? (“OK, they still think we're a copy place. Let's see what happens when we refuse to make copies. Mwahahahaha!”)

The next few days involved two more store visits, two dozen phone calls, countless emails and about 30 mockups until the Kinko's folks were able to produce something that could pass as an invitation. I'm still not clear as to the problem – something about the script font unhinging the printer's inner flux capacitor leading to a clash between the monitor's sensibilities and the parchment's ink-to-page ratio – but it literally took four people six days to fulfill my request.

When I finally went to pick up the invites, Creepy Copy Guy shoved them at me like he couldn't wait to be rid of them. I took them under my arm, feeling relieved yet utterly defeated. I had my invitations, but at what toll on my overall well-being? I was seeing fonts in my sleep, hearing Creepy Copy Guy in the voice of every man, twitching every time my phone binged, alerting me of a new email. Would I ever regain my sanity? Probably. Would I ever go to Kinko's again. Abso-fucking-lutely not ever ever ever ever.

I gave myself a couple days to recover, then called Mum and my sister-in-law, Nik, and asked if we could all get together and get these bad boys assembled, addressed and the fuck away from me. They obliged, and we gathered at Mum's one night to finally put an end to this BS. We laughed and chatted as we worked, all in an assembly line, me stuffing, Nik stamping and Mum address checking, when Nik stopped and sucked in a tiny gasp.

“Sis?” she asked, her face ashen.

“What's wrong?” I asked.

She replied in a near whisper. “There's nowhere for people to put their names on the response cards.”

I paused, head cocked slightly to the left. She was right. They simply said:

Attending?     Yes       No

Nowhere for their names. Granted, people could write them in if they remembered to, but there was nothing to prompt them so how many would really think of it? And the return envelopes were all posted, so not everyone would write in their return addresses. In other words, it was highly likely I'd be receiving RSVPs and have no earthly clue whatsoever who they came from. 
Mentally, I raised my fist and shook it furiously while shrieking “KINKO'SSSSS!!!!”

Mum froze. We all just stared at the pile of completed invitations in the middle of the table. I felt sick. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream. Why wasn't anything ever easy? Why was this the most complicated task I'd ever attempted? Why could my life not just be like one of those chick flicks, where planning the wedding happens over the course of a fun-filled montage set to the tune of some cheesy wedding-themed song?

And why, oh why, had I not just called the damn stationary store to begin with?

Updated: Thank God Nik realized our big gaffe when she did. We ended up devising a system in which we numbered each invitation and made a list of the corresponding guests. It was actually kind of fun getting the responses and being like, "Ooo! Number 32 is coming! Who's that?!" Crisis averted.