Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A Room With A View

COOPED UP BY THE ARCTIC WEATHER and happily on a break from work until the last week of January when the spring semester begins, I have shut the world out in the past few days and retreated into our attic. It is the perfect place to hibernate (nunong in Mindoreño dialect), always warm and toasty thanks to the natural phenomenon of less dense hot air rising to the upper floors of the house. Because it faces the backyard on the west, it is away from street traffic noise and the early morning sun, and I can stay in bed as late as I want. Before we moved into the house, attics have always conjured in me images of cobwebs, trunks of dusty family relics, Ouija boards and sinister denizens like the character Mrs. Allardyce in the horror movie Burnt Offerings. So when we found out that previous owner Martin O'Brien (who had moved his family to sunny Florida) had painted it pink for his little daughter, we were delighted and decided not to redo the color to keep the cheerful atmosphere of the room. Sara liked it immensely, but because she is allergic to dust, I spent one weekend ripping up the old carpet to expose the underlying hardwood floor, which I sanded and treated with wood stain to restore to its former glory. At present, the attic serves as Sara's TV room, and my escape when I do not feel like socializing with holiday visitors who linger to chat for hours with my in-laws downstairs or to watch Wowowee or The Buzz on the large living room TV because building rules in the apartment where they live prohibit them from having a Direct TV satellite dish installed. So I just let them be, grab my food and drink, and hit the stairs.

I like to call the attic my "swallow-thronged loft," a la Dylan Thomas (actually, it's a symbol for death), except that this time of year, the swifts, swallows and other feathered troubadours that are supposed to sit outside the window and keep me company have long migrated south or hibernated in the woods of Mt. Olivet Cemetery, and the only birds I see are the swarms of homing pigeons pooping their way back to their trainer's roof deck down the block. (Welcome to New York!) I have also claimed one corner of the room by parking a desk for my laptop, the desktop salvaged from the neighbor's trash, and the handheld relic but reliable NEC MobilePro 780 which I use when I am in the Philippines. Here, I do most of my writing and catching up on my reading. (My goals this winter break include writing about the legacy of Germans on the island of Mindoro and reading Nam Le's The Boat.) I have hauled my books in the garage to winter them here and prevent frost damage, including those that I sell on my Ebay store. (For your eyes only: We have a Pinoy friend who works in a publishing company; he gives us boxes of advanced reader's copies and uncorrected proofs of all subjects and titles, unreleased and hot off the press. I made Christmas shopping money selling those books.) I also tried to create a self-contained living space here, complete with a mattress plopped on the floor, an old mini-fridge (you know what's in it), a microwave (I eat my meals here), and a porcelain arinola that my wife brought from a vacation in the Philippines, for those lazy nights when a trip to the bathroom downstairs is a hassle.

Most of all, the room has a view (as I have described in my second blog entry); its west window offers views of Manhattan that can be quite spectacular when the sun sets behind its skyline. I have even bought Sara a toy telescope so she could share the view. On a clear day, we can see the spires of the tallest skyscrapers of the city, including the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building midtown, the Woolworth Building downtown, and the towers of the Williamsburg Bridge. Other sights include planes preparing to land on La Guardia airport, the Fourth of July fireworks on the East River, and the twin columns of light from the World Trade Center every September 11. On clear nights, we see the Empire State change colors depending on the occasion: obviously green on St. Patrick's Day, red on Valentine's Day, and red and green this time of year. When I have the money, maybe I'll buy a real telescope and we'll try astronomy.

Other than a vantage point, the attic gives us a quiet space to sit back, look at the neighbors' rooftops, and, on occasions like this, reflect on things like the year that was, the mistakes made, and those that could be done differently next year. I reflect on the follies (depending on one's point of view) that I have done and still do, and try to reevaluate them if they are justified or simply need to stop. Among them:

1. I quit a higher-paying job with the Department of Homeland Security for a position in a community college. For my wife, it was the ultimate sira ulo decision; a federal job would have ensured Sara's future and the monthly mortgage of the house, but I had to do that I want to do. (More on this in a future post.)

2. I bought a house on a piece of property in the "Adiroondocks" (contracted Adirondack boondocks, used when Port Henry tax collectors piss me off; mark the term as originally from Queens Pinoy) which sits unused and rotting away while I pay its taxes year after year, including nonexistent water service. For some peace of mind, I bought dirt-cheap insurance just in case lightning or one of my disgusted neighbors sets my house on fire (which I secretly hope will happen) while I wait for the economy to get better so I can afford to build a new house or at least buy a used mobile home for the lot.

3. Despite that scumbag Bernard Madoff's $50B loot and other potential Ponzi schemes, my wife and I continue to invest my late father's insurance benefit with my bank even though we have lost a lot (and I mean a lot) the last month alone. JP Morgan Chase does not seem to be a victim of the swindler, so, instead of panicking and withdrawing what was left of our investment, we try to calm down, give it one more chance and keep the gambling spirit, hoping that we will recover next year when Obama becomes president. Barry, here is one more crazy guy waiting for your miracles.

4. I still smoke.

5. I can be quite antisocial, and I know some people think I'm cuckoo, although I couldn't care less.

Of course, I know better than that. Money is not all, and what matters ultimately is maintaining one's good health and good relationships with other people. Ho-hum! When it gets warmer, I maybe I will take a bath, get a haircut, face the world, and perhaps emerge from this hermitage a wiser man.

Here is a picture of Sara enjoying her show (this time enthralled by Michelle Obama), and a zoomed view of the Empire State Building (left of the neighbor's chimney in the foreground) from our rear window. Too bad we cannot see the ball drop in Times Square from here, but in this cold weather, we'll just stay home and watch it on Sara's TV. Cheers for the New Year!

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