AS

My House

My house was a 1923 Rambler, hand built by my landlord, Elmer Lambert. Mr. Lambert was married to Ima. They were older people when I met them. The Lamberts were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Mr. Lambert gave me my first nickname, Sputnik, because I orbited him, chattering away about some thing, as he worked about the house. Mrs. Lambert always had a nice piece of fruit for me.

Mr. Lambert had a shop, a workshop, in the back yard. There was a great, thick hardwood worktable, cabinets overhead to the left. A great open space where I suppose he kept some of his tools and machines. It was a good workspace; I could spin in there. I got used to having a high table at which to work because of playing in the workshop after my Mom rented the house from the Lamberts when I was six months old. I found all sorts in the workshop: metals, electrical connections, little lamps that had the word ampere on them. I loved that workshop.

There was room enough in my backyard to have a small garden of collards, chilis, potatoes. I had room for my potter’s wheel, which I retained after I was forced to move into this abandoned structure. We had flower gardens, a loquat tree, a fig tree, and many succulents.

The house was a shotgun house, but classy. Mr. Lambert had built-in shelves in the kitchen, maximizing the interior space of the kitchen. There was one walkway through the house. If the door way was not set opposite to the hallway, you could have shot straight through the house. All doors opened to the left, except for the doorway, which opened right.

The doors opened according to the wall they were on. The bathroom door varied in that it was on the west side of the house, but the door opened to the south. The front entry was on the west and opened to the west. The bedroom door was on the east and opened to the east. The east wall in the kitchen is where the built-ins were installed. From outside the house, the shelves were enclosed in their own cabinetry. They were floor to ceiling, two shelves, three spaces, about 4.5-5 feet wide. There were upper and lower double doors for each cupboard section. We could fit all the china and glassware in those cabinets. The tea and coffee cups had hangers. The lower cupboard was to store cookware, like the electric skillet in which my Mom made fried rice. (Don’t tell Uncle Roger!)

The house was configured square and the house, while only a one-bedroom, was roomy and cozy simultaneously. There was a linen closet behind the bedroom door. In the far corner of the bedroom was Mom’s sewing area. She started with a Singer and ended with a Consew. Mom was an engineer and she had erected shelving around her sewing area, three shelves, four spaces. They were glass shelves, made of the louvre windows she recycled using reinforced nylon tape. On those shelves were the tools of the sample maker’s trade. And the buttons! Oh, I do glory in the buttons Mom left me! I grew up to the singing of her many sewing machines. I almost donated the Consew when I realized I couldn’t set my home up the way it had been before. But Bubbs told me to keep it because he knew how much I associated his grandmother with that machine. I’m glad he did.

I miss my house. I had a back door that I could go out any time I needed fresh air and to be free of observance from the street. Our back yard was always fenced after Mom woke up one morning to find that the nextdoor neighbor’s company was parked in our driveway, inebriated. Ever after that, Mr. Lambert erected an opaque fence of stout wood.

The front yard was lawn, and hedges, and a beautiful Bird of Paradise, that survived the decimation of all our foliage and flora for the hummingbirds, bees, and other pollinators. The bougainvillea and some of the succulents survived, as well.

One time, there were three people in the kitchen, me, my mom, and The Lord. One of the neighbor’s relatives had an episode and she came to Mom for a cup of coffee and some sweetbread. She didn’t say that was what she wanted. She just knocked at the door and when asked, “Who is it?,” she answered, “The Lord.”

I went and told Mom who was at the door, and she put on her robe and came to see. Opening the door, she invited The Lord to come in and have some coffee. While The Lord supped, Mom called Pluko’s relative, and she came over to get her. The relative had to wait, of course, until The Lord finished her coffee and cake.

My kitchen was the hub of activity. My mom cooked dinners for club meetings of the Progressive Twelve. They were a charity and philanthropic club that met in one member’s home once a month to discuss their work and to eat. I learned about Robert’s Rules of Order, parliamentary procedure, ambrosia, sweet potato pie, and succulent meats of all sorts. I learned about peau d’soir pumps, and Este’e Lauder Youth Dew. Those women were some of the best dressed, best scented women I’ve ever known. They were also the best cooks and hostesses. They were all southern or southwestern women who had a great sense of hospitality. They were all Black women, proud, neat, and humble. They always demonstrated what it meant to be the best.

My house was filled with memories such as these. I miss my house that Mr. Lambert built. I still have a drawer from the workshop table and I have the closet he built for the bedroom. Lucky I did because the contractor who destroyed my home did not bother to put a closet in the room that was supposed to be my bedroom, neither did he finish the floor.

This entire structure is made of the leftovers of other projects. Where I had hardwood flooring throughout the house, there is now laminate, upon which I have slipped and fallen twice. Where I had copper plumbing, there is now plastic. Where I had recessed lighting, there is now a single light within a cheap fan that sits, off-center, in the living room. There are fire sprinklers because they are a requirement in newly built homes. My insurance company did not report to Underwriting that my home was rebuilt. The contractor has never produced the plans needed to rebuild a house. I don’t know how this structure passed final inspection, except Public Works reinspected after I complained for about two years, then they rescinded the Certificate of Occupancy.

So, now I am forced to live in an unventilated, unfinished structure, that lacks proper structure and finishing in the bathroom, what used to be my other favorite room in the house. Two people could fit in there comfortably. There was a bath and a shower. The sink was deep for washing dainties and newly knitted or crocheted garments. It was a room of great intimacy and privacy, where one could bask in steamy comfort, or have a chat while sitting on the pot! My bathroom that Mr. Lambert built was great. I’m afraid to go into the wash closet I now have, fearing the flooring will drop out from under me.

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What I’ve Lost

I am certain it is not clear to you the extent of my loss. The lemon tree that took 19 years to bear fruit; buried atop my son’s placental home; planted by my mother who died in my son’s nineteenth year in her bedroom, in the house I’d lived in all my life-she knew him, she helped birth him, she drove like a javelin to Santa Monica, to the converted farmhouse that served as a freestanding birthing center, ensuring his literal birth in a barn. This lemon tree was cut down…by the subcontractor…who is now dead.

My son grew up in that house. He called it a crapshack because he was, in childhood, quite gangling and sometimes ungainly. He was forever stubbing his toes. It was a cottage. It couldn’t be helped that he was a bull in a china shop. Nevertheless, that crapshack was his childhood home and the satellite around which we wove our travels in the world.

We built, my mother and I, a library in that house. Venice thrift shops provided much of our largesse.  We collected, and read, hundreds of books. Destroyed, now, many of them, the bookcase standing in the yard with many of my other klediments.

I knew the man who built my crapshack, by hand. He was a JW. His name was Elmer Lambert. His wife’s name was Ima. I remember they had a daughter, but might also have had a son. The house was a one-bedroom cottage with hardwood floors, built in cabinetry, a counter between front room and kitchen that could be used as a table, serving area, and lookout point. The front door boasted a barn-door type window, giving an unimpeded view of the front and side yard. The doorway was wider than average.

All the doors in my house, save the front entry, opened to the left. Behind the door to the bedroom, Mom had built a linen closet to house our dishtowels, cuptowels, bath towels, sheets, small blankets, some small kitchen appliances. The left-opening door, when left open, provided cover for the cabinet.

I had to step down once into the kitchen. I had a white ceramic sink that was deep, and boasted knobs for hot and cold. It was a piece of a countertop, cookware storage, and under the sink storage unit. Facing the sink, my stove was to my right. I had hooks, hangers, cabinets on the upper walls to the left; a hanger for mugs, a couple of places to hang dish towels. Had a mirror mounted in there, and a light. The large rectangular window above me provided morning light from the east.

I love to cook. My son loves to cook, but he has to have a whole lot of room and prep area. Me? I can whip up something palatable with a couple of burners, but it gets monotonous. I’ve been living like poverty for over a year now with a gas stove that is not connected to the gas line because the contractor left the line capped, providing no connector. There are many gas lines under this structure because a gas line was run to operated the gas dryer I do not have and to the hot water heater that was placed alongside the “driveway” because this structure was built without plans.

The flooring in the bathroom is mushy and feels about to give way at any moment; there’s a leak somewhere, likely because the shower was not installed properly and was not sealed. I have no warranties, even thought I was promised three years of warranties by Safeco Liberty Mutual if only I worked with their preferred contractor.

I had a back door, through which I could generate cross-ventilation, get to my back yard easily. I still have the t-poles for my clothesline, but my undamaged workshop was torn down to make way for a “garage”. There was a scheme to turn my verdant paradise into a heat island, bordered by asphalt and cement. My yard was full of green and flowering plants, including succulents, bougainvillea, lavender, night-blooming jasmine, honeysuckle, a variety of roses. This in an area zoned for livestock and farming. I live in the County of Los Angeles. There are horses here. There are chickens here. There are nurseries here. But the County is gentrifying, which brings me to my property tax status.

In California, in Los Angeles County, in 2015, my property taxes were ~$650 per year. Now, in 2019, my property taxes have tripled. This job, done by Vince Paglia, was accomplished by tearing down my 1923 hand built Rambler home. I had a workshop in the back yard with a waist-high, full-length hard wood worktable. There were shelves that I remember saving magazines in because of the vertical dividers in the cabinet. There were shelves and cubbyholes on the walls. There was a great, heavy wooden drawer, that I possess still, that fit into the worktable. Vince Paglia tore down my workshop, the unpermitted expansion that was used for storage to put up a parking lot and I don’t eeeven have a car.

I miss Segovia. Segovia was a death cactus that grew in a ring of tires. Segovia was very tall, perhaps 7′-8′, and bloomed at night. When in bloom, Segovia’s scent wafted over the yard, blending with the night-blooming jasmine, sometimes the honeysuckle and lavender very faintly. Segovia provided most of the privacy in my back yard, grown along with the honeysuckle that grew on the fence. When Mama Gin lived next door, she was a homeowner who worked for the IRS. Her son served in the Air Force. Her daughter was a flit. She and Mom shared the care of the trees planted along the property lines between the houses. Mr. Lambert took care of most general maintenance, but Mom was pretty handy with tools.  Mom and I took care of the gardening and yard maintenance when I was growing up.

I remember Mr. Lambert gave me my first nickname. He called me Sputnik because I was his satellite as he worked about the place, prattling to him with my 2 or 3 year old self. Ima, Mrs. Lambert, always offered me fruit. I grew up kindly towards the JWs because I grew up with experience of the Lamberts.

I used to play and work in my workshop. I haven’t been able to use my spinning wheels because the inadequate garage is packed to the gills with my household goods. I haven’t been able to unpack because the house is now smaller, configured differently, has not even a closet, though a one-bedroom, one-bathroom was paid for. More than $80K was given to Paglia for goods not in this structure. I wish I did have the vent-free, infra-red heaters for which he received pay. I wish I had my back door. I wish the attic vents had been installed instead of the fire sprinklers for which I have no instruction manual. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with these things because I never had them in my home before.

Vince Paglia and Kent Stiles of Safeco Liberty Mutual have put me in a bad way, I tell you what. I learned from reading the legal bric-a-brac that your insurance provider is not supposed to leave you any worse off than you were before you filed your homeowner’s claim. Maybe this is why Stiles has changed my claim number from 12-digit number to 22-digit number, and when I call to inquire about this claim number that I don’t recognize, no one else recognizes it either.  This brand new claim number is recorded on my claim history with the databases that record such data and hold it for seven years, along with the date of loss of every claim I’ve ever allegedly filed with Safeco Liberty Mutual, the cause of said loss, and the amount paid out to mitigate the loss. This brand new to me claim number even says my loss was caused by water. Imagine, the insurance company is recording false information; my loss was caused by the wind.

If my claim settled and paid out $48K under one claim number, why are $430K and $439K recorded under that new claim number as the amount paid out on those official records? Those records can impact the premium I’ll have to pay for insurance when I manage to escape from Safeco Liberty Mutual.

I have referred to the scam through which I’ve been put as GASLIGHTING. I hate being gaslighted, especially by a corporation that should have a fiduciary responsibility towards me, the insured, who paid premiums, on time, since 2011. Instead of being appreciated, I’ve been robbed.

I believe Safeco Liberty Mutual and Paglia and Associates do not appreciate the severe loss they have caused me. I think the dead contractor kindled the wrath, though….