Tag Archives: hellhole

Rock Bottom

Someday concrete will be the new stainless steel. I tell myself this. I tell myself this when I look at our driveway, our patio, our back “yard” — hell, just about anywhere touching the exterior of our house. I tell myself this so I don’t slip into a vortex of despair from which I will never emerge. Someday people will want concrete everywhere they look. They will not want lawns, verdant glades, or lush succulent gardens. They will mock wooden decks, eschew marble fountains. Heck, in ten years, when we sell this place, our listing will lead with:

“Concrete wonderland!”

And people will come flooding. They will bid and bid, yelling themselves hoarse in an effort to acquire this oasis, this veritable mecca of flat, grey stone. They will offer us cash on the side. And puppies. Purebreds. Labradoodle Purebreds. Albino Labradoodle Purebreds! And more cash! We will make a profit so obscenely large off of our home sale that we will open a non-profit to dodge the taxes. Decades from now, curled on a couch with our elderly, white, non-shedding hounds, we will tell stories to our grandchildren: stories of real estate acumen — no, genius! — of knowing a good thing when no one else could see it. “Tell it again! Tell it again!” they will cry. And we’ll laugh modestly, shake our heads, and tell it again.

“This house had soooo much concrete…” And their eyes will widen with wonder.

But enough dreaming. For now. My other solution to our concrete surplus is to simply avoid the areas where it is most apparent. With the driveway this is hard. With the back “yard” it’s quite doable. And thank goodness. For this is where the concrete really hits the road, as it were. It’s everywhere. Concrete walkways meet concrete steps meet concrete terraces meet cinderblock walls. It feels as much like jail as a place can feel with no roof. And no doors. And no knives-made-out-of-toothbrushes. Well, you get the point. It’s really depressing. Yes, there are a few planting areas, a lone cactus, a giant Japanese boulder. But they are drowned in grey rock. They are no more than trailers, if you will, for the concrete main feature.

So I have stayed away completely. Until this week. This week my mom and step-father came to visit.

My step-father had never seen the house. I was nervous. I wanted him to like it. I don’t think he did. At least, he had little to say about it. Until he looked at the back yard. Then he said what pretty much everyone does:

“Someone really liked concrete.”

Then he shook his head and looked some more. Finally he asked what we planned on doing about it. I said I really didn’t know. The panic began setting in. The I-should-never-have-bought-a-house-I-need-a-landlord-to-take-charge feeling I get whenever someone points out one of our house’s many flaws.

My mother, seeing my wall-eyed expression, began suggesting solutions. She is kind this way.

“Well, let’s see. Why don’t you hang bamboo mats everywhere? Or just some nice fabric? Or those nice plastic rugs? The ones your sister-in-law uses?”

Let me stop here. My sister-in-law could turn hell itself into a spread for Dwell Magazine. In about nine seconds flat. While simultaneously throwing together a gourmet meal for twelve and silkscreening linen for homemade pillows. If she lived in our house it would be an enviable, gorgeous, spectacular haven by now. And clean. And neat. The utility room would not look like a clothes bomb detonated. The walls would not all be painted the same deathly shade of white. The floors would not be covered with watercolor paint. The dog would not eat diapers.

And the back yard? It would be transformed. I don’t know how, but it would. I do know it wouldn’t involve bamboo.

I am not my sister-in-law. Neither, apparently, are my mother and step-father, who gave up trying to solve my back yard problem after a few minutes. I’m assuming it was depressing them, too. Instead, we all went inside, drank tea, and ate homemade scones. These things I am able to do quite well.

I guess you just have to play to your strengths. If you’re good at drinking tea, drink tea, right? Who needs a nice back yard anyway? That’s what parks are for. Fortunately we have a beautiful one right down the block.

Maybe our listing will have to lead with that…

The Back “Yard,” or, Will the Real Hellhole Please Step Forward

Cement blocks. Iron bars. Peeling paint. Beating sun. An atmosphere of paralysis, fear, quiet despair. No, we’re not at Guantanamo. We’re in my back garden.

In some ways I expect this to be the harder of the two areas to confront. The front yard I must look at. Every. F-ing. Day. I must walk up those steps, past the paperwhites with their vapid expressions and senseless ubiquity. I must brush past the spiderplant tendrils, sons-of-tendrils, and grandsons-of-tendrils, all venturing ever-farther afield in a desperate search for a better garden to live in. I must trade glares with the Tree of Pain. I must wonder, again, when I’ll get around to recovering that overturned pot in the corner. I must, in short, confront my failures. Every day.

The back “yard,” (and I use that term generously) I can avoid for weeks at a time. And, in its current state, why shouldn’t I? “Oh,” people say, “you have outdoor space! How lucky for you!” Yes, I respond. I have outdoor space. So does a feed lot. And yet I doubt the inhabitants there are swooning for joy either.

Enough. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Bottom level. Believe me, it gets worse.

Here’s what you see when you first walk back. The potted plant in the foreground is some sort of drought-resistant grass. It was my first purchase for the garden. I don’t know what to do with it, so it is serving as sentry, there at the entrance, until permanent quarters may be found. Why do I suspect that desertion may be an issue?

Moving upwards. And wishing you weren't.

Behind that, more spider plants, other nameless grasses, a huge stone, and a retaining wall that begs to be covered. Finally, a sunburned aloe plant that takes up the lion’s share of the area. In this back garden it is the kingpin of the insurgency. I only wish I had a drone.

Stairs to left of terraces. Leading upward, unlike my mood.

I don’t even know what to say about this stairway. Maybe with a bunch of potted plants…?

Now the top level. Obviously my elderly predecessor ran out of money before she could get to it. Note the old container of Miracle Gro in the lower right corner? What it was used on is questionable. Possibly the cement. In any event, it’s a museum piece now.

The top level. Or, where all hope goes to die.

There’s a fig tree here, too. Not so bad, except when it’s dropping dying fruit all over the cement and attracting assorted vermin. Oh, and more of the Kafka-esque sprinkler system. Ouch!

Tomorrow’s post: The Kitchen Garden — or, Arsenic in the Carrots AGAIN?