A Whole Lotta Firsts

First off in this “Firsts” post, we want to wish everyone a happy New Year! We hope that you and your family had a wonderful holiday season, and one free of falling trees (more on that later).

Since we last posted in early November (we’re such terrible bloggers, I know), we’ve moved into our new town house and made some (painfully slow) progress with the renovations (as listed by Brandon). Here’s a recap of the last two months:

- Our first order of business after signing the papers was to bring salt, rice, a bottle of champagne, and a blowup air mattress to the new house. We spent one uncomfortable night there, unaccustomed to the sounds, sights, and smell. It didn’t feel like home yet. Back in Silver Spring we started packing up (we had one month to move out of the apartment). We were very excited, making long list of things to do at the new house before moving in. In the end, maybe only about 20% of those things were completed since we a) underestimated how long projects take (not to mention that we lived an hour away from the new house, so we couldn’t just stop by anytime to work on it), b) overestimated our energy level, and c) we just didn’t know how to do these projects or where to start! Luckily our dads and Brandon’s brother-in-law are super handy, so we got a lot of hand-holding from them. – first time wearing big homeowners’ pants

- We also promptly changed the locks and dead bolts on the main door and back door. Because who knew how many copies of our house key were out there and if there was a disgruntled ex-boyfriend of a previous tenant?

- We tidied up outside, installed a new exterior light (the old one was just a bug cemetery), and trimmed branches that were too close to the window. — first time using a pressure washer and wiring electrical (Misou)

- We primed and painted the walls and ceiling. (We wanted to put as many coats of paint between ourselves and the old walls as possible.) — first time using a power sander (Misou)

- We cut a window in the wall knocked out a whole wall and rebuilt it to create a pass-thru bar between the living room and kitchen. (This also deserves its own post, coming later.) — first time cutting and installing drywall, using joint compound (you’ll get to hear how much Brandon hates the stuff)

- We ripped up carpet on the second floor (Misou) and installed laminate (Brandon) — another two firsts!

- Brandon put up new blinds on three of the five windows we have. (This is both a blessing because there are only five windows in the house, cheap to dress, and a curse because there isn’t enough light in the house.) Also, we were surprised at how cheap the blinds are! We spent about $15 for three. Granted, they were the regular white vinyl blinds, nothing fancy, but we were expecting them to cost a bit more than that.

- Bo helped install this custom closet kit for my closet (Brandon gets his own closet in the second bedroom!)

All in all, most of the things we did were cosmetic. The bathrooms are also in dire need of a face lift, but for now we have only changed the lights and hardware and painted the walls and the vanity cabinet of the one upstairs. The basement and its bathroom will have to wait, as will a million other things we want to tackle. But we have been telling ourselves that we can take our time since we are here to stay for the foreseeable future, so we can do things right and make this a place we call home.

This Flop House

Earlier, I called our new place a flophouse. Here’s why:

That first Thursday we saw the place, we were shocked and appalled that anyone would show such a dismal shithole to buying consumers. At the time, it was occupied by God knows how many George Mason students. The place was filthy.

I’m fine with a bit of clutter: some dishes in the sink, some clothes on the floor—but not filth. This place was just disgusting—you could have gotten elephantiasis by just looking at it. Even now, there are surfaces around the house that have an inexplicable and unnatural stickiness to them.

That first day, the countertop was littered with liquor bottles, the sink overflowing with dishes and soggy leftovers. The fridge contained no more than the obligatory bottle of ketchup and several cans of cheap beer; otherwise, it appeared to function merely as a showcase for overexposed photographs of the crash pad’s bleary-eyed inhabitants toking bowls with their various twentysomething casual sex partners. Over the couch, just under a gigantic water stain in the ceiling that is eerily reminiscent of the bathtub scene from season one of Breaking Bad, hung a bright blue IKEA hipster deer head. On the back porch, in a large recycling bin full of gray-green rainwater (which I’m sure helped to singlehandedly replenish the declining mosquito population of Loudoun county), there floated the dead bloated body of a small bird… The debauched scene of the first floor was overlooked by a lifesize cardboard cutout of The Most Interesting Man in the World, who stood guard at the foot of the stairs.

The place was clearly in a state of semi-abandonment. It looked like some of the roommates had already risked giving up their squatters’ rights by moving their shit out. We’d been told, though, that there were still a couple of tenants living there. Not only had we placed a call earlier that afternoon to let them know we were coming, upon entering we even made a point of shouting up and down the stairs to announce our arrival.

Apparently the dude in the basement was too… distracted to hear us.

As we rounded the corner at the darkened foot of the stairs, we heard a frantic rusting of blankets, and a shirtless, bedheaded young man with a sheen on his face quickly closed his laptop and muttered in a trembling voice, “Oh, uh… I didn’t know anyone was still here… Can I… uh, get a minute to, uh…”

It’s difficult to say who wanted out of that fuggy basement room more, us or him. We were back up the stairs in a flash, and a few minutes later, Fappy McFapperson was out the door.

The basement didn’t end up making much better of an impression without him in it, either: ugly white paneling, a hideous drop ceiling. It looked like 1983 threw up down there. The owners had installed the drop ceiling in the second bathroom, as well—including over the shower. Apparently, it had never occurred to them that cardboard and moisture don’t go well together.

The pièce de résistance in the house, though, was the carpeting. The basement stairs were a veritable Jackson Pollack of college-aged irresponsibility. (It’s my theory that the green stains, in particular, are the result of an experiment in mixing Grasshoppers that went horribly wrong.) The stairs to the top floor were filthier than a back alley in Calcutta, and the bedroom carpets looked like they abhorred a vacuum even more than nature.* The worst part, though, was that at the base of both bedroom doors, an animal had torn the carpet to shreds. I mean, these people must have had a puma or a rabid badger for a pet. The beast took chunks out of the wooden doorframe as it tried to bite and claw its way out of captivity.

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And so Misou and I walked amid this squalor, aghast, for about twenty minutes. And when we got back into our car and started to drive away, I said to her, “Honey, we’ve got to get that place!” To which she immediately replied, “I know, right?”

So why on earth did we want to invest in this would-be opium den that had been so thoroughly trashed by young reprobates? Four reasons: It was being offered way under the value of similar properties nearby. It has great appliances (even if it did look like someone barfed in the bottom of the dishwasher). It’s right around the corner from everyone in Misou’s family, and no farther away from mine than where we currently live. And finally, it’s a great place to gut and start over in.

And that’s exactly what we’re going to do. First, we’ll rip out that awful carpeting, burn it, and send the ashes to the CDC for testing and proper disposal. We’ll refloor and repaint the upstairs rooms, and then we’ll redo the bathroom. Next, we’ll cut a hole in the wall between the kitchen and living room before repainting them both. Afterward, we’ll strip the basement down to its bare bones—no more drop ceiling, no more paneling—and re-drywall it all and paint it up nice. And finally, we’ll refurbish the basement bathroom. Along the way, we’ll have to do something with the empty backyard, which only a month ago was a mass of weeds…

All this and more, you’ll read and share with us this year here at We Go Peanut Sugar.

*The first night we stayed on a blowup mattress in our master bedroom, Misou and I both refused to walk barefoot upstairs. I shudder to think what might have caused some of those stains. Forget ghosts. This place is haunted by mystery stains and the specter of Mr. McFapperson.

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