Monday, March 09, 2009

Tommy Lives Here

This is the first in my series of posts that are designed to get me writing something more than blog posts about my life on a more consistent basis.  I wrote this piece a few years back, before my divorce was final and I moved to Moorestown.  The exercises was designed to get me to know a bit more about my main character by writing about the place he lives.

What's amazing to me reading and editing this piece a few years later is how eerily similar some parts of it are to the life I have led for the last few years.  There are major differences of course.  My kids live with me and Tommy's don't.  He's got leather furniture that I won't have until the kids are grown and gone.  Someone cuts his grass for him.  But still the early days of my bachelorhood and his life have some interesting correlations.  The kitchen and the kids' rooms are near dead-on for what we've got here today.

Please read more after the jump and let me know what you think.


Tommy opened the old wooden porch door and bent over to pick up the mail that had been stuffed through the slot.  Mostly ads and a few bills.  There was one card from his mother.  He put everything on the small table next to the front door and picked through his keys looking for the right one.

 

“Hey coach!” came a voice though the less-than clean window panes.  “Nice win last night.  I watched your press conference on ESPNews.  You were funny!”  One of the downsides to the university giving him a free place to live was that he was surrounded by college students.  “Thanks, Matt.  I am glad you got a laugh out of it.”  Tommy waved at Matt and turned back to the door.

 

Matt Carroll and four of his buddies lived next door and took care of Tommy’s house when he was away.  During the spring and fall, they cut the grass and trimmed the few shrubs he had.  In the winter they shoveled and salted his walks and made sure that no one parked in front of his house.  They were good kids and he liked them, but god could they get loud sometimes.

 

Some one had enclosed the porch years ago, creating what he guessed real estate agents would call a ‘three season room.’  It was cold in December, but in the spring and fall he loved to sit out on it with the windows open and listen to the sounds of the nearby campus, sipping single malt and smoking the occasional cigar.

 

There were a few old books on a book shelf under the front window and several struggling plants on the deep window sills.  He really should bring them inside.  He turned the key in the lock and picked up his overnight bag, leaning against the dark wood of the door and pushing.  His shoulder hurt as he rocked into the door again, and it swung open.  He reached out quickly and caught the handle before it went smashing into the plaster wall behind it.

 

The house was old, but he had spent a lot of the last year making it homey.  The university had wall to wall carpets everywhere and the walls were what Tommy called ‘slum lord beige’ when he moved in.  He had paid the brother of one of his assistants to paint the place in some warmer colors.  Cecil had done a great job for just a few hundred bucks and all the beer in Tommy’s fridge.

 

After that he had pulled the carpet up and rented a sander to revive the old oak floors.  It had taken some work, but finally last spring he had all the floors re-finished.  The living room stairs had been too beat up to re-stain, so they were painted a crisp white, though he had labored for a week to get the banister and newel post refinished a dark mahogany brown.

 

He dropped the bag on the small club chair next to the door.  It was a soft brown leather and matched the sofa that ran the length of the far wall.  It looked like the nice stuff at Pottery Barn, but Tommy had bought it off the back of a truck in his home town and he still smiled at how little it had cost him.  He frowned at the pizza box on the coffee table.  There was an empty beer bottle on the cheap, but nice carpet.  He had forgotten that he had fallen asleep her the night before he left and had not bothered to clean up.  It didn’t really matter he thought.  It’s not like anyone ever comes to visit.

 

The sofa was too soft to really watch much tape.  He always seemed to fall asleep before he got much done.  There was a layer of dust on the matching end tables, and he promised himself he would polish them later.  Right now he needed a glass of juice, a shower and some sleep.

 

He walked through he archway door into the sparse dining room.  His stereo was set up in a corner and the table and chairs came from an auction he had visited.  Nothing special.  1950s dark cherry with slightly fraying seats.  No one had sat at the table in 6 months.  It was the next rest stop for the mail after he brought it in from the porch.  The message machine on top of the small liquor cabinet blinked furiously.

 

He dropped his coat over the back of the chair and walked into the kitchen. Tommy loved to cook, but this was no chef’s kitchen.  The university had put new cabinets and countertops in before he had moved in, but they were cheap and he hated the way the overhead fluorescent light made everything look a bit too sterile.  The stick-on tile floor did not help matters.  The fridge kept things cold though and he reached in for the carton of orange juice. 

 

He poured the juice into a glass he had probably had in college and headed back thought he dining room to the stairs.  They creaked and there were dust motes in the corners as he headed up to start the water.  It took a while to get hot and he wanted it good and hot.

 

The bathroom was another university remodeling special.  The plaster walls must have been terrible, because they had covered them with white faux-tile paneling.  This met the real tile all of the bathroom at about eye level and the contrast between the 1940s hot pink and the icy white was startling.  The bathtub had an old-fashioned wire ring that held up the shower curtain.  The massive toilet wasted huge amounts of water and the pedestal sink had two separate, balky handles to control the water temperature. 

 

After starting the shower, Tommy walked down the hall past little Tommy’s and Caitlin’s rooms.  They didn’t visit as much as he would like, but they always had a place to stay when they did.  Tommy wasn’t sure if they felt like they lived here or were always on vacation when they were here.  He hoped they felt at home.  Sometimes it was hard to tell with kids.

 

Little Tommy had loved Thomas the Tank Engine and the room was painted Thomas blue and there were appliqu├ęs on the wall.   There was a Thomas rug, bedspread and lamp.  The dresser and desk were painted a coordinating red.  Tommy was growing out of the Thomas phase now and soon the room would have to change as his little boy had changed.

 

Caitlin remained a baby in his eyes and her room reflected it.  It was all bunnies and soft colors.  He loved the way the sun lit that room up and made it seem like his tiny angel was there even when she was not.

 

Tommy’s room faced the front of the house and had windows on both sides as well as two on the front of the house, over the front porch.  His bed with the Ralph Lauren spread and sheets his girlfriend had bought on closeout was unmade in the middle of the front wall.  He had left the computer against the far wall on again.  There was a profusion of half-read books on each end table.  He didn’t remember the last time Carrie had spent the night, but her things were still here.  Weren’t they?

 

His small closet was immediately on the right and he stripped out of his clothes and left them on a heap under the side window.  The raw cotton woven rug was just there to keep his feet from sticking to the floor when it was hot and also cut the chill on cold mornings.  Carrie had picked put the gauzy curtains that hung from simple iron curls over the windows.  He sniffed the air and thought he just barely caught a bit of her scent, but he was probably wrong.

 

He pointed the remote at small TV on the bureau that had come from his aunt’s house.  A SportsCenter re-run blared.  He didn’t have a bed frame yet, but he had been thinking about a wrought iron frame or maybe a simple Shaker wood frame. 

America

thought all college coaches were well-paid, but with the alimony and child support, there wasn’t much left for extras.  Tommy kicked the laundry with his foot and headed back to the bathroom, where steam was beginning to billow into the hallway.

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