Miss Cathy is no stranger to how shall I say ……”salty language”. Let’s face it, she can make a truck driver blush but since her diagnosis she’s even made me wince and I’m about as vulgar as they come (I guess the foul-mouthed apple didn’t fall very far from that tree).

Last week with the redecorating and remodeling half way finished I was excited that when the ice maker for the new refrigerator was delivered that would at least signal the end of things to do in the kitchen for a while.

All of the new stainless steel appliances; stove, over the counter microwave and refrigerator came from the same big-box, discount electronic store and for the most part I was happy with the purchases.

On the day the ice maker was delivered I was surprised to see two guys at the door and not one and I was further puzzled that one of them didn’t just hand me the package and leave. The one holding the box said that they were here to “install” the ice maker so I proceeded to let them in.

Like everyone who now visits I asked them to please take their shoes off in the foyer before coming any further into the apartment. To my surprise they balked, one saying that we were their first stop of the day (as if that immunes them from bringing outside dirt inside) and that the installation wouldn’t take long. Since I wasn’t expecting them to install the ice maker (I hadn’t paid for that service-just the ice maker) I decided to not look a gift horse in the mouth and allowed them in (for some reason only the one who spoke came in and the other went back outside).

Unfortunately 45 minutes later the installer tells me that he was given the wrong ice maker at the warehouse for our refrigerator and another would have to be ordered.
I looked over at Miss Cathy on the couch after letting him out and she was fuming-not about the mistaken ice maker but about the fact that the guy didn’t take off his shoes.

I was on the phone with the store making arrangements for the correct item to be shipped and I made a point to complain about the installer’s objection to my request. When mom heard me mention the incident I could hear her in the background saying, “Let me talk to them.”

I ignored her, finishing up the conversation in my room and then I came back into the living room to tell her that I had handled it.

This seemed to calm Miss Cathy a bit but she was still worked up. “Well good”, she said, “that’s good that you know how to talk to people and get things done because I was ready to tell that fucker off and the people on the phone, too.”

“I don’t know who the fuck he thought he was saying he wasn’t going to take his shoes off, this is my house-not his!” “Makes me hot, I want to get that fucker fired!”

Alrighty then I thought, after stepping out the way of the last of the f-bombs and sitting next to her on the couch. Her reaction was kinda over the top but that’s par for the course lately so I just listened. She didn’t go on much longer and seemed appeased when I told her that the store apologized for the installer’s behavior and they were going to refund my money for the ice maker and ship and install the correct one for free.

That made her happy, crisis averted. The f-bombs are tucked away for another day, ready to drop at the next battlefield whether real or imagined.


Design in time for New Years Part IV: “Magic carpet ride” concluded

The carpet guys started in Miss Cathy’s room, which meant putting ALL of her furniture into my little room (no bigger than Anne Frank’s domicile) while they ripped up the (blood) red carpet and padding. As they worked from room to room, hallway to closets the old flooring gave way to the new. The carpet had lain there for decades so I was surprised that it surrendered so easily, I thought it would be like prying a riffle out of Charlton Heston’s cold, dead hand but it came up without a fight.

During that marathon day the installers only took a half hour break for lunch, otherwise pretty much working straight through from 11:00 am till 7:00 pm. I did give them ice water and cut up some apple slices that I shared with them (I guess a little of the suburban hostess lives deep down inside of me).

I helped move furniture and when not needed I (deep) cleaned everything (when else was I going to have a chance to clean behind (and sometimes the bottom of) such heavy furniture.

By 4 pm I was ecstatic to see the carpet go down in the living room-no more baby blue carpet to ignore and design “around” as if it didn’t exist. At 4:30 pm I got a call from Miss Cathy asking if I was on my way to pick her up. In her defense I should have called her earlier (but forgive me I was trapped behind all of the living room furniture piled into the dining room and forgot about her).

She was none too pleased when I told her that the “surprise” was taking longer than I thought, I asked if she could just “hold tight” for a little while longer and I would pick her up “soon”. She grumbled a bit but I wasn’t really listening I was so focused on getting off the phone so I hurry the guys up.

By 6pm there were still finishing touches left to do on the hallway, closets and my little room. I was starting to get overwhelmed (evidenced by the sweat that started early in the day but was now full on flop sweat) with helping the installers finish, cleaning, putting things back and now having to contend with a mother anxious to come home. I was not looking forward to calling her back.

When I called the first thing she said was that she was “ready”-I told her I wasn’t, that it would be more like 7 pm before I got there and by her reaction you’d think I was the governor denying her appeal from getting the electric chair- I wondered if the other Ty felt like this when he was getting a home ready to view on Extreme Makeovers.

At 7:30 pm the installers were finished laying all the carpet and then they helped me put the heavier pieces of furniture back and the mattresses and beds back in place. As they left I gave them each a $10.00 tip- keeping twenty dollars in my pocket that I’d originally planned to give them but I was still miffed about being kept waiting so I kept the money as my own “Ty tip”. With them gone, I couldn’t do a barefoot happy dance on the new carpet; no I didn’t have time for any of that.

I spent the next half hour putting the bric back as best I could, giving up on opening another box after I noticed time ticking away on a clock I’d unpacked. I settled for trying to “dress” the living room so that at least there would be one space intact for the “reveal”.

With no time to shower and change, I splashed some water on my face and without so much as a spritze of cologne I was off to pick up Miss Cathy, dust and sweat my only accessories. True to form, she was sitting outside in a lawn chair in her friend’s garage waiting for me. I took a deep breath, reminded myself that this day was (in fact) all for her and pinned on a nice smile as I got out to greet her.

I made a detour to Kentucky Fried Chicken, thinking a bucket of the Colonel’s greasiest and finest would distract my passenger-I never saw Pennington and the like have to placate their families with a chicken wing but so be it.

She actually thawed out a little in the car-she was probably thrown by my actually talking to her on the ride home. Once we arrived I raced ahead (well, I didn’t have to race because after all this is “toddle along” Miss Cathy we’re talking about) to “fluff” and “tszuj” before she got to the door.

Once she was at the threshold I had her take her shoes off, close her eyes and hold my hand as I led her into the living room (by her halting steps you’d think she’d never set foot into her own home before). I felt just like the TV hosts leading the unsuspecting homeowners inside.

She opened her eyes and then…….nothing, like the book case that I “revealed “ to her a few weeks previously she didn’t quite get what she was suppose to see immediately but unlike the bookcase (where I had to tell her what was new in the room) she looked around, then down and said, “Oh…my….God!” Her face was a mix of wonder, shock, (horror?) and pure pleasure at what she as seeing.

Her reaction for the next half hour or so made all the sweat, pushing and pulling worth it. She walked from room to room looking at the carpet as if it might morph back into the old flooring, saying that now she knew what had taken so long and was surprised that so much was done in so “little” time. She was stunned and just so happy hugging me that I no longer cared that I smelled like the old, rolled up carpet that earlier lay like a corpse outside ready to be carted off to wherever they end up.

I reminded her that this was a present from both Tony and I (mostly me) and I could hear her telling the story of her surprise and how “blessed” she was for the next several hours as she called everybody she could think of.

The new carpet was by far the most dramatic of the changes that were to occur. Since that day there have been new custom faux-wood blinds installed to go with the silk drapes, new furniture for her bedroom and stainless steel range, over the counter microwave and refrigerator in the kitchen just in time for New Years’.

Currently I’m in the process of removing all the old wallpaper and painting the entire apartment. The dining and living rooms are painted and I’m working my way down the hall to the bathrooms and bedrooms.

She’s been a trooper with all the chaos, adapting quickly to the changes as I box up her things, peel, prime and paint around her.

With each new “reveal” Miss Cathy’s reaction has only grown and she seems happier with each change that I’ve made. I’m not done yet but we’re still early into the “New Year”. At present I’m under budget and over joyed with the results.

Design in time for New Years: Part III “Magic carpet ride”

With the kitchen started I could focus on the carpet install. The “big day” finally arrived early on a Tuesday morning, with me up a lot earlier than the scheduled 9:00 am appt so that I could to drive Miss Daisy over to her girlfriend Adele’s for a “play-date”.

I have to say, I was very impressed that mom left without a complaint or a snide remark, honoring my request that she leave for the day so that I could work on a “surprise” here at home. For the week prior to “the day” she didn’t even try to ask for a hint or as to what the surprise may be either.

During the days leading up to the install there was a crazy amount of prep work to be done. Part of the cash “bargain” that I struck with the carpet salesman was that I would make sure that every surface was clear so that the installers wouldn’t have to pack anything or be responsible for breaking anything as they moved the furniture.

So I had to box up everything that was “sitting” on a surface, including all knick-knacks, books, pictures, vases, teddy bears, trinkets, collectibles, paperwork, clocks, remotes. Everything had to be removed, every surface had to be clear and that was a tall order.

A “Ty-Tip”: If you’re moving or need good heavyweight boxes for storage or any other reason, head to your neighborhood Target and ask a sales clerk if you can come back into the store-room with then to retrieve boxes that they have slated for recycling.

Their boxes are not broken down like most stores, they are folded and packed neatly for recycling, clean and ready to use. This alone is a savings of about $12.00(per) for a similarly sized box from FedEx or Staples.

I got about 30 boxes, took them home and spent the week packing up everything on every surface in the condo, starting with things that were merely decorative, saving the things (like alarm clocks and remote controls) until the morning of the install as to not interrupt Miss Cathy’s daily life.

Like most of the work that I’d done and would continue to do, I worked when Miss Cathy was napping or asleep for the night. So, as she slept I packed away her bric and brac, carefully wrapping things I much rather throw away, mindful that “One man’s trash is another’s treasure’ and in this case it was mostly treasure from an island I’d never heard of or care to visit.

But, four days (nights) later I had 99% of every surface clear, clean and ready to move without the threat of something sliding off and breaking.

Waiting for the carpet guys that Tuesday morning I felt like it was Christmas and Santa was going to be pulling up in front of the condo with a sleigh full of presents instead of a truck with strangers hauling padding and carpet-it must be what another “Ty” (Pennington) feels like during an “Extreme Makeover” (although, this wasn’t nearly that bad or drastic a change but in my mind it comes pretty close).

Since it was getting close to 9:00 am I started to move some of the furniture myself, all the more to help them get “in” and “out”. I’d rather help people I hire than stand over them and hover like some upper class matron in pearls and a chignon, following them around reminding them to be careful of her things because “they were worth more than they’d make in their lifetime”.

At 9:30 am no carpet installers so I called and was told that the “guys” had left the warehouse and would arrive soon. After several more calls and a lurking suspicion that I had been ripped of for the$500.00 cash deposit that I gave the salesman I started a calm “panic” (that’s when you’re screaming on the inside but outwardly you appear to be in control-kinda like the look of someone who’s just about to go “postal”).

I beat myself up for being too cheap to sign up for “Angie’s List” (did you know that Angie charges a monthly fee to give you a thumb’s up on trades people?). Nor did I get around to calling the Better Business Bureau like the responsible person that I’d like to think that I am. No, I “trusted” the carpet salesman-a stranger, someone who just came to the condo after I called from an ad in the “PennySaver” and I handed him five hundred dollars cash. Hell, anybody could run an ad, get a business card made up and steal a carpet sample board from someplace-can’t they?

While I stood in the window, less like a kid at Christmas and more like a con-man’s “mark”, I was kicking myself and wondering how I was going to get my money back-if I could ever track down this “carpet” salesman. And what a waste it was to pack up thirty boxes of stuff just to put it all back onto the surfaces of furniture that was going to remain on the nasty carpet I’d grown to despise.

The truck finally pulled up at 11:00 am.

The lead installer, Jose walked in with a grin on his face ready to work, in that moment I had a choice-to let it go and get to work or be a bitch and rail at him for keeping me waiting…. I did both, I let him in to start the work and then I called his boss, the “salesman” and read him the riot act and let him bitch at his employee later when he came by to check on the job.

The carpet company sent two guys, Jose and another young man whose name I never did get. Other than being late and unapologetic they got right to work, they were hard-working, fast and professional. I was impressed with how they were able to navigate moving the furniture-big and old as it was so that they could work.

It was going to be a very long day.

Next week: Design in time for New Years Part IV: “Magic carpet ride” cont’d

Design in time for New Years: Pt II ” Ty-Tips”

With the carpet installation scheduled it was time to take a moment to re-think my approach to all the work I’d intended to do in the apartment. And with about two-thirds of my money spent it was time to re-evaluate my budget.

I had $ 500.00 left and there were still two to four things left on my “Design on a Dime” wish list. There were the appliances for the kitchen yet to buy plus all the paint and accoutrements. So I talked to my brother and we increased the budget by a thousand dollars, which would give me the option of shopping for an appliance (or two) as well buying all the paint and supplies I needed to tackle the kitchen.

Sometime in the 1980’s Miss Cathy got the idea that she wanted an all white kitchen cabinets, appliances, etc. Well, she had white GE appliances, which was a good start, but her cabinets were all dark wood with heavy brass hardware and handles. Since she couldn’t be bothered to paint all of the cabinetry, she bought white shelf liner contact paper and rolled it out over all the doors and drawers only, leaving the cabinets themselves dark wood. Suffice to say, the overall effect was not very appealing.

Since I couldn’t afford to replace/re-face all of the cabinetry I decided, “Design on a Dime” style that I would change the appearance of the existing kitchen with paint and new hardware.

So, bright and early one morning I’d gone to the local box hardware store and spent close to $50.00 on brushes and trays to get started. Soon after I got home it dawned on me to take a look around the house to see what we already had that I might be able to use.

A “Ty-Tip”: BEFORE starting any project always check your basement, garage or wherever you may store things from past projects, there may be items there that you can use and you’ll save yourself a lot of money in the process.

We live in a condo, not a house so I went to the storage unit instead of the basement to scrounge for things I could use. The good news is that I found brushes, rollers, trays, etc. Everything that I needed was there in a box among my late Pop’s things.

The bad news was that I had this brainstorm “after” I’d already spent the fifty dollars but, that’s why we always keep our receipts for at least 90 days after each purchase (another “Ty- Tip”).

No matter, I just returned everything on the next trip to the hardware store when I needed to shop for more of something else that I needed. That’s the thing about home renovation or decorating projects-you become a “regular” at your local box hardware store.

A” Ty-Tip”: Speaking of hardware stores, it’s a good idea to befriend a sales associate who knows the store, the products and how to use them. It’s not always easy since most hardware stores don’t require much of their employees besides a pulse so many have little in the way of knowledge, you’re lucky if you can find someone to help you that speaks standard English and doesn’t have an attitude (like a postal employee). But, usually there are one or two people who really like appliances, paint and everything else” hardware” and they are gems-but like most semi-precious stones you have to “pan” for them.

Once you have your hardware store advocate find out his/her schedule (not in a stalker kind of way) just casually ask, ”Oh, and when are you here next in case I have anymore questions” and try to shop when you know they will be there. It helps to build up a rapport with one person who knows the merchandise, can help you compare and contrast generic vs. name brand, can help you with returns, knows about special deals and can help you locate hard to find items.

My go-to guy is “Mike”, I found him quite by accident when I was shopping in the appliance clearance center looking for bargain appliances when he revealed that the paint department was really his “wheel-house”-Eureka! I struck gold in Lowe’s.

Mike was able to advise me how to remove the contact paper (a spray solution similar to wallpaper remover if the paper didn’t peel off by itself-luckily it did). And he was able to help me select a primer and line of paint that were similar in quality to the “name” brand (the “name” being the nom de plume used by one Mr. Ralph Lipschitz). So, I found top of the line quality products at a better price point. Ah yes, I could see that this was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.

Since the condo hadn’t been painted since Reagan was in office (and was in as many colors as could be found in a jar of the jellybeans he so loved) Mike strongly suggested priming every surface first. The primer not only absorbed odor, it covered stains and when dry creates a foundation for the paint color to lay on top of and not be absorbed into decades old walls thirsty for moisture.

With a bagful of supplies and new knowledge I went home to tackle the kitchen. It took me one week, two coats of primer but in the end the kitchen cabinetry was freshly painted the white that Miss Cathy always intended, with new brushed, nickel hardware (to match the stainless steel appliance that were on my wish list) and the pulls removed to add a cleaner, more contemporary look.

Miss Cathy was surprisingly quiet during all the chaos in the kitchen during the week. True to her word she asked no questions and just reached into cabinets that had no doors as if that were normal until they were put back up.

Most of the work I did in the afternoons when she was down for her nap and again in the evenings after she “went under” (her expression for sleeping). I started on Sunday the 19th and was finished on the 24th in the evening. I went to Miss Cathy’s room where she was laying down watching TV and asked her to come into the kitchen for the second “reveal” (the first being the ladder bookcase that I replaced her black lacquer and chrome monstrosity which housed the family pictures in the living room.)

It was then that I told her that her Christmas present would be a “revealed” over time and that there were many to come.

As she rounded the corner to the kitchen I had her close her eyes (just like they do on TV) and after a pregnant pause (those TV hosts ain’t got nothing on me) I said, “Open your eyes!” and by the look on her face it was all worth it.

“Ohhhh my goodness!” she explained as her hands fly up to her face in disbelief, “This is Gorgeous!”

“I had no idea you were going to do all this!”

I smiled to myself thinking,” Two down and more to come…..”

Next, Design in time for New Years Pt III “A magic carpet ride”

Design on a Dime in time for New Years: Part I

While I was in Kansas City visiting Chad on my (long over-due) quarterly break early in November I had a brainstorm for a Christmas gift for Miss Cathy. I got the idea to makeover her condo (a la one of the design shows on HGTV). Think “Design on a Dime” and not “Divine Design”. For one thing I’m not blond or Canadian like Candice Olsen (y’know) host of the big budget “Divine Design” and I certainly don’t have the $30 to $50 thousand dollar budgets that she spends on her gorgeous transformations.

I’d done some redecorating, a sofa here, a microwave there, what I mostly did when I moved in was alot of purging and deep cleaning that (to her defense) she simply can’t do anymore.

No, what I had in mind (and about as much money for) was something more along the lines of “Design on a Dime” the show where the challenge is to use a modest budget (usually around $3000.00) and a lot of creativity to achieve their goal.

I’ve been living with Miss Cathy for about a year and half now and the best I can say about her décor and decorating is that it’s dated-lost somewhere in the 80’s. Unfortunately it’s not the high glam or kitsch one thinks of on (now classic) TV shows like “Dynasty”, “Dallas” or even “Who’s the Boss?”- it’s more like “who was the decorator?”

Not to knock my mom or her taste (well, I am actually), we all like what we like-but does hers have to be soooo tacky and tasteless?

Quite frankly, it was depressing to wake up everyday and walk out of my little, dull white walled room with old beige caret down a hall of powder blue “faux” shag carpet (it may have been shag at one time, I’m not sure, whatever it “was” it is now a soiled, matted mess) and continue into the living/dining room covered in the same hue. There’s textured beige wallpaper (some peeling a bit around the edges-looking as if it’s given up and just wants to lay down after holding trying for decades to be tasteful and failing) and there’s the heavy “Mediterranean” furniture that was made of some material not known to man but other than wood (and heavier than a Sequoia) and not found in any province of Italy that I’ve ever seen.

Every surface is covered with knick knacks, bric a brac, chotchkes, keepsakes from a lifetime (and remember she’s seventy-three) of collecting (more like hoarding but I promised myself in the new year I’d be kind (er).

And did I mention the stuffed animals (again)? They sit on every surface either along with or instead of a chotchke. There were over one hundred in the living/dining room alone when I first moved in here and I bagged up over half and put them in the storage room but the few that remain seem to have multiplied somehow and they’ve taken over all the seating again…….but I digress, back to my “desire to design”.

Suffice to say, it was definitely time for change and seemed the perfect Christmas gift for Miss Cathy (and trust-for me, too).

Now that the idea was born I just needed to put a budget and a plan together. Upon hearing my idea Chad immediately volunteered to fly out and help but ultimately that didn’t work out but I really appreciated his gesture. I hadn’t thought about help until Chad then I thought,”Fuck, if Chad was going to fly out to help what about Tony?” so I not so much asked but called and enlisted the support of my brother, (but I soon learned in a later conversation that he would be laid up in early January through February recuperating after surgery on his Achilles tendon so he was going to be useless to me-other than financially) So, the bulk of the execution of the plan would still fall to me.

In keeping with the TV theme I thought it would be great if I could somehow get Miss Cathy to leave for a week in say, February and that would give me time enough to re-paint and re-carpet the entire condo and replace/upgrade one or two major appliances in the kitchen. So, the germ of the seed of the idea to re-decorate was born in the Midwest and I came back East eager to put my plan in action.

Early in December I started to research costs and materials, trying to stick with my (arbitrary) budget of $2000.00. I soon realized the challenge was going to not only be trying to blast Miss Cathy out of her home for a week but also trying to stretch my dollars to accomplish all that I wanted.

I got three estimates for wall-to-wall carpet. I learned that I needed about 1000 sq feet of carpet and in order to get any of the “deals” I’d negotiated the carpet needed to be installed sooner than later (throwing my schedule of a February makeover out the window and making me re-think the order in which I got things done). Originally I wanted to paint first, make a mess without having to worry about the floor then laying the carpet last). But, with no guarantee that the prices would be honored into the New Year I decided to re-vamp my “plans” and just go with the flow and let “bargains” and “deals” dictate the schedule.

I negotiated (to me) the bargain of a lifetime for the carpet (little did I know what was ahead), I was having the entire condo re-carpeted, the installers would be responsible for removal of the old carpet AND “moving” the furniture as they worked to install (there is usually an “extra” fee (per item of furniture left on the floor during the install) charged for furniture moving which can be very steep. The other estimates I got ranged from $2,200.00 to $2,800.00 (without furniture moving).

“Mike’s Carpet” (a local company that ran an ad in the “PennySaver” believe it or not) agreed to do the work for $1,500.00 cash. Granted, this isn’t the finest quality wool or Berber carpet but it’s new, it’s clean and with just me and Miss Cathy toddling around on it-how much wear and tear could it possibly get. The best thing is that it’s all the same color, “Raw oyster” (a light beige) instead of the crazy quilt of colors on the floor now-living/dining room/halls-powder blue, my room –dirty beige and Miss Cathy’s room….wait for it-blood red.

With the carpet scheduled to be installed on Wednesday the 21st, I asked Miss Cathy if she could arrange to go over to her girlfriends house for the day-sort of a septuagenarians’ “play date”. I told her I had a surprise that needed her out of the condo and to my “surprise” she said “sure”, called her girlfriend and agreed to be gone from 8 am that day till 5 pm.

With her onboard, and without any questions from her I was feeling good. It wasn’t going to be the complete “reveal” that I’d envisioned when I first came up with idea but I’d resigned myself to the notion that a series of mini “reveals” could be just as effective-fingers crossed, it was all about to begin….

Next week: Design on a Dime in time for New Years: Part II