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Image: Image of our study ceiling. Study carefully the image at right (View in large size). It is a photo of the ceiling in our study. Notice the water-stained plaster; observe the paint bubbled and flaking from the plaster’s surface. This is the ceiling I sit beneath as I now write.

When we first moved into this apartment, there was a noticeable crack in the ceiling in the bedroom, but we didn’t think much of it. We had just moved from a place where the floor slanted noticeably and where the plaster on the walls were just short of collapse. Such is to be expected in apartment living, especially in a college town, and especially if you shun new, carpeted, character-free construction, as we do: that John Irving might have lived here is a comfort we’d never get in a condo in Coralville.

However, the crack in our ceiling turned out to be more of a problem than it seemed. This we learned the first night it stormed and I woke up because my feet were wet. Water was leaking from the roof through the crack and onto me. This I was not happy about, and the next day we called our landlady who said, “Oh, yes, that. We’ve had it looked at and we never can find the leak! Don’t worry, though. It only happens when the wind blows Northwest and we’ve received more than 1.5-inches of rain in a fortnight.” Naively, we said fine, and for a while she was right: the drips didn’t happen often, and we moved the bed out of range just in case they happened when we were not there. Of course, over time the leak got worse and the ceiling sagged more until one day last year, at 3 o’clock in the morning, a 5-foot by 2-foot section of plaster crashed to the floor with the sound of a gunshot. The roof was replaced promptly and the ceiling patched later that summer.

Our study is next to our bedroom. Without doubt, the water damage to the ceiling in the study is from the same leak that brought our bedroom ceiling down. The plaster’s been yellowed for more than a year. This winter I peeled the paint off simply to prevent chips from falling on our heads as we sat at the computer. Had our landlady been meticulous in her concern last year, she would have seen the damage at the time—but meticulousness is not one of her strongest attributes when it comes to her tenants or, for that matter, her responsibilities as a property owner.

That is, she wasn’t meticulous until a tornado damaged the house on April 13 and she had to walk through with an insurance adjuster. The ceiling above my head she claimed as a loss, a consequence of storm damage. This I learned today as she toured the place with two prospective buyers for the house. (The buyers are speculators; likely as not, she’ll unload the property on the cheap rather than put up with the hassle of repairs. Given how long she took to turn the gas back on, for the sake of the house, it’s probably better that she not own it, assuming new owners will put in the time to contract the repairs; at the same time, it’s probably not better for the house if speculators who prefer to raze the whole neighborhood buy it.)

What my landlady claims on her insurance really isn’t my business; our lease, such as it is, is up in August and we’re not staying. But I am curious: what is her ethical responsibility to truth as she makes her insurance claim? Broadly considered, the insurance adjustor who totaled our car last month didn’t ask what paint scratches were due to storm damage and what scratches were due to our own car abuse. He marked it all down, added it all up, and said, “Sorry. The damage is greater than we’re willing to pay to repair. Keep the car or don’t; you’ll only get cash from us.” It’s likely the adjustor for the house did the same, but what if he didn’t? What if she led him in here and said, “See the stains? Rain after the tornado did that”? This she likely would have said without guile—as inattentive as she is, she didn’t notice the stains last year, and she never asked us about them this year. (Admittedly, the story of the stains may in fact go through her pocketbook, not her eyes. Her pocketbook as she was replacing the roof said, “don’t notice those water stains!” just as it said, “Don’t bother paying anyone to repaint the bedroom ceiling.” Likewise, her pocketbook would now be saying, “Get as much settlement cash as you can.”) Regardless of what our landlady knew about the stains before, she nonetheless now tells their story as if their origin were April 13, 2006. The tornado, in other words, has rewritten the story of this house, and what I want to know is whether that rewriting is a harmless rewriting. So, what do you think? Is this insurance fraud, or is it insurance with a wide brush, akin to the totaling of our car? Is the new story of the stains an ethical one? Is it ethical because it is without guile? Am I being unethical because I know the true story and don’t correct it? Does the true story matter?



Just get out of there safely and shake the dust from your feet.

“get out of [here]” is a phrase near and dear to our hearts at the moment. the question we’re working hard to have an answer to: Where do we go when we’re out?

well, we may have the answer, in which case we just have to commit to it (hint to G).

Yes, yes, yes. I’m on it right now.

It’s no fair making such sub rosa comments in this semi-public forum. . . . Spill! And do you have any more entertaining Mother’s Day conversations to tell us about? C’mon!

(Okay, actually, it’s a semi-public forum hosted by you, so really you get to do anything you want—but you know me and my big mouth, and my even larger foot that I routinely put in it just to keep in shape.)

as someone who hasn’t written anything since the 1970’s, it would be really hypocritical to ask you to post what the news is. so i won’t ask. but i almost did.

you just got the answer you wanted and then tried to divert the conversation away from the ethical question…

do you speed or do you drive the speed limit in the left hand lane just to make all those around you remember that they are breaking the law?

In due time, my peeps! We’re close, close: a few hours more. L, your guess is prescient. Part of it has to be told through our mothers. Or over (one of) their dead bodies, as the case may be.

(I actually might be closer if J weren’t trying to confuse me with his wack-assbard speed limit hocus jumbo mumbo pocus. :) )

i don’t expect you to understand the casuistry…

plus, whose to say that wasn’t written sub vino

All the better! Baccanalian writing is truly the best kind: it need never be returned to in the sober morning!

that is a lovely picture, i must say.

And K thought it wouldn’t turn out without the flash…

as for the potential new hometown, we have to keep it a secret until we really really commit to it because it has borderline sickened a couple of people we’ve mentioned it to, and that doesn’t include G’s mom. it’s the kind of place that perhaps doesn’t have the sexiest reputation, but that could be because people haven’t been there or because they haven’t been there in a long time. it’s the kind of place that neither of us knows at all, and that we probably won’t have time to visit before just up and moving there. it’s the kind of place that might have an identity problem, once having been an industrial, working-class town, and now changing itself into a so-called “meds and eds” sort of a place. it’s a place where both houses and apartment rentals are affordable (our kind of place). it’s more of a “real” city than our current city (which we hope means that it actually has jobs), yet it’s not a big city (a concept that scares the crap out of both of us, hicks that we are).

it’s a place from which my parents and G’s dad and stepmother would be roughly equidistant. if we wouldn’t be in such a hurry we could visit the place first to make sure it doesn’t suck.

Given all those clues, let’s play, Guess That City!


I’m never playing a game with you again.

have you read an american childhood by annie dillard?

I even taught it.

i’m not the one that went on and on and on about the virtues, vices and past of this city.

though i’ve never spent anytime in pittsburg. i like the city because of that book. yet, there’s not much of the city in it, really.

I didn’t go on and on about it, either. (Ahem, K!)

Anyway, you’re right, there’s not much in the book about the city. Neighborhoods, yes. That’s a conscious choice on AD’s part to entertwine childhood experience, awareness, and understanding and memory’s interpretation of the same. So the book sticks to the block, then the neighborhood, then later, portions of the city, but by that point in the narrative she’s planning to move away already, and has her eyes set elsewhere.

oh, one other thing… when handling sharp objects, whether razors, egos or otherwise, beware that your own wit not be used against you… even if the razor that the other person was handling prooved to be quite dull.

not that he himself is dull… au contraire!

Ugh. I know, I know. How often do I have to tell myself just to shut up? The problem with sharp tongues is that they never turn back on themselves…

Back to topic: Landlady is coming over tonight with contractor in tow. She’s getting an estimate on fixing the “water damage from the storm” on the ceiling pictured above. I’m glad I’ll be out when she gets here, though part of me wants to listen in, in case the contractor says, “this paint’s been peeling longer than a month!”

My mother and I once nearly moved to Pittsburgh, but we decided to move to Indianapolis instead. This was a bad decision (although I’ve gotten a lot of story mileage out of it), and two years later, we moved back to IC, even though it required my mother working in Cedar Rapids for nine years. I’ve always thought there was quite a bit of Pittsburgh in An American Childhood, but I suppose it’s of a rather dated sort.

Maybe I’m misremebering American Childhood’s explication of the city. Certainly the hills are there; certainly lots of Carnegie and some historical situating. So there’s some character-of-place. Perhaps it’s because my class needed to focus the autobiographical that I remember AD’s development of character more than her development of city.

I say, call NPR and make Randy Cohen decide for you.

Randy’s a mensch, but K already thinks the question’s boring enough that she won’t let me talk about it out loud—you don’t think this’d turn out too much like the coach class seat fracas do you? That one was bad radio…

Well, I don’t remember the coach seat question, but what I do know is that you should wait until you’ve got something interesting to say or ask before you call a national radio program.

One Saturday, we were listening to Car Talk and a guy we know here called up and asked the most boring question (“do I have to replace my old junker of a car because I’m going to be driving my new baby around?”). I was embarrassed for our whole town that day.

That was a stinker of a question he asked. It doesn’t beat, however, the time I was listening to Whaddya Know and a girl whom Chris and I went to high school with called from France to play the quiz. I was in the shower, and had been listening to her for about five minutes before I realized who it was. I yelled to K, “I know this woman!” She made it interesting in a way that only she could make something interesting…

So landlady got us livid yesterday. Part of our rental agreement is that I mow the yard for a slight rent reduction. Well, yard was never picked up after the tornado except by K & I. We spent ten hours cleaning up our front yard 1.5 weeks ago, and as late as yesterday there was still shattered glass and shingle and plaster and wood and siding in the back yard. I hadn’t mown it, and the grass was high. She called to say, “Hi, Greg & Kathy. I was over at the house today and I don’t know if the lawnmower is even there anymore or not. The grass is really high, and I can bring a power mower over, but I just wanted to let you know.”

Passive nagging like that is the more frustrating because our neighbors all around us have contractors and laborers crawling over their properties washing walls, picking up glass, repairing gutters and roofs. We haven’t had anyone here in nearly 3 weeks, even though the insurance would certainly have paid to pay people to work here. And don’t think that New Trier and Pit-Bull Mama are going to lift a finger: they won’t put their garbage in the garbage can much less bend over to lift a shingle. If anything has been done here, it’s been by us.

I left a message to that effect (leaving out the neighbor’s contractors), then K & I went outside to work ‘til dark. Landlady called and left a really contrite message in reply, but it doesn’t really make the nagging any more palatable.

Also of interest: she was here to serve an eviction notice to New Trier and Pit-Bull Mama. My guess is they paid rent with a hot check.