January 24, 2014
I must have looked somewhat out of character driving a U-Haul truck down Shady Lane, because, when I stopped at Ojai Valley Imports auto repair to pick up my friend David, he started clapping his hands and practically rolling down Ojai Avenue, laughing his head off.
I had called him the night before to see if he could help me unload the heavy stuff into my new “apartment.”
“Well,” he said, “it all depends on what time. I’m taking my car in for an oil change at 8 a.m.”
When I found out that where he was dropping his car was right on the way to where I’d be unloading the U-Haul, I exclaimed, “That’s perfect! While they’re doing the oil change, you can help me unload the shelves, my oak desk, the filing cabinet, and other heavy stuff.”
David hoisted himself up into the cab, and through the whole short drive over to my new “gated community,” he kept laughing about seeing me behind the wheel of a truck. I didn’t mind; it always gives me great joy to be the source of someone else’s amusement.
It’s true that I had needed convincing from another male friend that I was perfectly capable of driving one of the smaller trucks. I had driven it tentatively around Bryant Circle before heading down Ojai Avenue, getting used to no view in the back and the big side-view mirrors. My daughter and her husband had helped me load all the heavy stuff, making me realize that I’d better line up a helper at the other end.
I punched in the code and the gates opened wide. I swung the truck around to my new temporary digs, apartment #26.
Then I jumped out of the cab and unlocked the back of the U-Haul. Learning to unlock and secure the lock contraption at the bottom of the door had first required all my powers of concentration, but now I did it like a pro. David, who knows how hard mechanical things are for me, was visibly impressed. We both jumped out of the way as the door flew up, obeying the “Caution: Objects May Shift and Fall Out” sign. Only my bicycle, the last thing I’d put in, was leaning precariously over the edge. Everything else, including my yoga backbender, was miraculously still in its place.
Next I opened the door to my “apartment.” David let out a whoop and promptly declared, “There’s no room for any more stuff.” He saw with a sweep of his eye all the journals, photo albums, pots and pans, boxes of books, my collection of Utne Readers, and all the little things I’m still attached to, taking up every inch of floor space.
“There’s no room for any more stuff,” he kept repeating.
“There’s plenty of room,” I declared with equal vigor. “Just help me unload everything and then you can walk back to your car.”
“You’ll be here all day,” he protested.
“I know what I’m doing! I’ll have everything put away in half an hour.”
I had to get it done in record time because my hands and bare feet were freezing cold. I’d forgotten how cold Ojai mornings can be in the shade.
I hoisted myself into the truck and started lowering the filing cabinet down to David, who was still regarding me with an incredulous look on his face.
“How much are you paying for this place?” he asked as he placed the filing cabinet on the ground.
“$230 a month,” I replied. “And I found a coupon online for half off the first month. I was lucky to get the last one. Every large unit here is rented! Where else in downtown Ojai can you find a clean place with high ceilings and 24-hour security cameras for that low price?”
“Right,” he agreed. “Plus the neighbors are quiet and hardly ever home.”
While we unloaded the truck, I explained to my friend that I would be living in a tiny guest room, high on a hill, with a panoramic view of the mountains and valley below, plus trails nearby where I could hike with Honey and Chico.
I told David that when I’d found out I had to move from the river bottom, I’d started house hunting. The last house I looked at, on the corner of Canada and Oak, had just been REDUCED to $2,300. And, as usual, SORRY, NO PETS! I probably won’t know till my life flashes before me whether or not I’ve made the right decision hanging on to my dogs, even if it means having to put all my stuff into storage and taking along only what I absolutely need to keep body and soul together.
It’s now been almost five years since my landlord died and I lost the wonderful country house I’d leased for 14 years. During these past few years of communal living and various shared-house situations, I’ve had many opportunities to rent quiet condos, apartments, or guest houses within walking distance of town, in nice, park-like settings. But they’ve all stipulated NO DOGS–especially not a large dog.
At one point in this looking-for-a house-that will-take dogs saga, I met a wonderful couple on the trail who were looking for a companion for their large collie-type dog. Honey and their dog got along great, and when they learned of my predicament they offered to adopt Honey. At the time, it seemed a cosmic blessing–like the Universe was stepping in to help! This couple had a spacious home, with plenty of fenced property for the dogs to roam and play in. In a moment of desperation, I agreed, realizing how much easier my life would be without a dog. (This was before I adopted Chico.) I gave Honey away with the understanding that, if things didn’t work out, they would give her back. I couldn’t risk having her end up back at the shelter.
For about two weeks, I got daily phone calls with glowing reports on how happy Honey was and how well everyone was getting along. But in the third week I got this message: “We love your dog and she loves us, but we sense she’s still waiting for you to come back and pick her up. Maybe you’d better come over for a visit so we can talk . . . she’s just not bonding with us like we’re her family.”
I’ll never forget how my heart turned over when I heard that Honey was still waiting for me! And she practically flew through the ceiling with pure joy when she saw me again.
As George Carlin says in his classic standup routine about the importance of Stuff in our lives, “What is a house but a place to store your stuff?” So that’s why my stuff is in storage and I stick with Honey. As I told my friend as we unloaded the last of the industrial-strength steel shelves that hold 3,000 pounds, “This is a great place. Not only is my stuff totally secure–they can see everything that goes on here on the big, flat surveillance screen in the office. Plus, if I die, they’ll auction off my stuff and that will be the end of it.” — in Ojai, CA.