Jim Mullen

Jim Mullen

Outside the city, there’s a big, old, rambling farmhouse with maid’s quarters, front and back staircases, wood-burning fireplaces and six-over-six windows that still have that ancient, squiggly glass in them.

It’s down in a valley on a deadend dirt road. It’s the kind of place that might make a charming B&B: a place with loads of character and charm. It’s surrounded by meadows and hay fields; it has an apple orchard, a pond and a waterfall. You can’t see any other houses or farms from the property. “Romantic,””dreamy” and “idyllic” may be the words that come to mind.

It’s the kind of place city people dream about having when they finally move to the country.

Sue and I live in that house. Because we are idiots.

“Why won’t these windows open?” I have been screaming for about two weeks now. It is 92 degrees outside with 90 percent humidity, and all the charming, romantic windows have swollen shut. Again.

You know what these dreamy old houses don’t have? Central air. The only cool room in the house is the basement: a constant 54 degrees, winter and summer. Sure, it’s a little musty, a little dark, but it is blessedly cool. We don’t spend much time there, though, because do you know what else likes cool, dark, musty basements? Spiders the size of your shoe, that’s what. When someone asks, “Does that look like a black widow to you?” do you really stop and examine the spider in question? No. You just leave as fast as you can.

You know what’s romantic? Spending long evenings snuggling in front of a roaring fire in the middle of winter. You know what’s not so romantic? Chopping and stacking firewood on a 92-degree day in the middle of summer. It’s not dreamy, it’s sweaty. And you know what loves woodpiles? That’s right! Spiders the size of your shoe. “Is that a brown recluse or just a nasty-looking regular spider?” Sorry, I’m gone.

Those old clawfoot bathtubs? Very, very romantic. Until you try and get out of one. That’s just ugly. It took me about 45 minutes last time, and I think I hurt something. It’s just dumb luck that Sue didn’t have to call the neighbors for help.

Oh yeah, I forgot. We don’t have any neighbors. What were we thinking?

You know what’s romantic? Candles. Lots and lots of candles. You know what’s not romantic? Using the candles out of necessity because the power is always going out.

I am typing this in the dark, in the middle of one of our power company’s regularly scheduled random blackouts. Sometimes a branch has fallen on the wires, sometimes it’s a switching station, sometimes it’s Tuesday. I could always phone this story in – oh wait, no I can’t. I got rid of all our old-fashioned, low-tech landline phones that worked during a blackout and traded up to fancy cordless models that don’t.

I wonder if Now and Then Rural Electric Power even knows we don’t have any power. How soon before the spiders in the basement realize the whole house is dark and start coming for us?

You know what would be romantic right about now? A condo on the 27th floor with central air, a super who could fix anything, plumbing connected to a modern sewer system, reliable electrical service, broadband Internet connections and modern picture windows – with a view of a valley with an old house in the middle of some hay fields and meadows. Perhaps a house with maid’s quarters, front and back staircases, wood-burning fireplaces and six-over-six windows that still have that ancient, squiggly glass in them.

That would be so dreamy; so romantic.

Jim Mullen takes a wry, witty look at the curiosities of American life in his weekly column. Almost everything is fair game – from the price of a cup of coffee, to shopping at big-box stores, to the perplexing lifestyles of the rich and famous. Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.


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