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    « A Notion | Main | Selling My Stuff »

    Work Begins

    The roof at 125a wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. Terry and his helper, Zak, were able to "sister" some new beams onto the old ones in the back of the shop. I had them extend them past the roof line to create a little overhang for the back door stoop. I chose a solid, windowless metal door with a deadbolt for the rear. Looking at the state of the alley back there, I didn't want any break-ins by the folks who obviously drank and drugged in the secluded passageway back there. 

    It was also a relief to think of having an exit to the back. Customers coming in the front effectively "pinned" me to the rear of the shop. It just didn't feel right without the door!

    The roof was done, the door in, some insulation stuffed into the ceiling, and various rotten boards around the door in front replaced. Terry put a nice new roof over the front door, and strung new chain supports for the sign pole. He put in a dead bolt on the front door as well. 

    I started painting.

    To the left of the store coming in from the street was the white wall for paintings and such. The right wall with the swooping stenciled band of color and leaves would be the craft wall, for jewelry and sculpture and handbags and accessories. I thought the contrast between walls would help open up the space and give it some movement and sense of excitement.

    I replaced the flourescent fixtures with a track system, and hung the chandelier I got in Venice in 1972 at the front. (I was the kind of romantic, materialistic twelve year old who begged for chandeliers for her bedroom. When we got back from Italy after that trip I was determined to build a miniature cathedral in my bedroom--doll sized--I don't think I got very far though. I loved creating environments. THe transformation of raw material to functional, meaning-laden object is exciting. Particularly of you are also creating the whole context for the object as well....Perhaps the Nook appeals to the doll house builder in me? Except finally a dollhouse I can enter and interact with the world in? )

    As I mentioned before, I had a devil of a time with the floor. I bought some of that muriatic acid stuff for cleaning concrete. It was a problem not having water inside the nook, too. I went to my landlord at Equi's candy store for a bucket and Edie, Walt's mom, said the faucet in the sink was broken. Hmm. So I begged water off the rather grumpy office people at the heating company next door who said  that Edie was a liar and not to trust her. More about the neighbors later..

    But the acid wash foamed up with a thick, snot like froth that the mop was helpless to lift off the floor. I didn't have a drain to wash it down either. The only hole in the floor was by the front door and filled with dirt--I hoped to grow something there. In desperation I went to Aubuchon and bought a squeegee and some cedar kitty litter to soak it up. Actually worked pretty well with the cedar scrubbing the floor as I moved it around. But not nearly clean enough to paint! 

    I finally went to Home Depot and got some rolls of floor insulation and put that down, followed by a layer of hallway/stair carpet with a rubber backing in neutral grey/beige. I had found this lovely runner, black with ornate flowers in golds and greens and with a soft, cut wool pile. I put this down the middle, covering the overlapping grey runners and defintely adding a touch of class to match the chandelier! 

    Make do, make do, make do, I am the fucking Queen of make do. I was proud of this solution and the way things were shaping up. But ...not so happy about the neighbors upstairs at the Equi's building. Drunk and raging by noon, they were so loud in a braying, booming, bad-baby-boy way that I had to keep my ears stopped up with my ipod to maintain my sanity. Well--it brought me back to certain years living with the rages of the alcoholism of Jimi Edwards back in Ptown. Could I possibly suck it up and listen to this stuff all day? Where would it lead my writing (I thought I would be writing, too, in the back of the nook when I wasn't busy collecting stories from the residents of TFMA)--probably back to those dark days living int he twilight zone of alcohol with Jimi. I'd already purged so much of that self-confessional writing therapy stuff when I was a student. Alcoholism makes for some pretty "good material" when it is as advanced as Jim and I took it. 

    I talked to Walt. It was his own brother up there making all the noise with another brother and their girlfriends and others. Ok, so they are 40-50 yrs old and still drinking so ... pretty far advanced all right but like I mentioned I had collected all my own material on that subject already so I wasn't too interested in what they were all about. I knew. I could hear them up there. It was tortuous. And on the other hand, I had invaded their setup unexpectedly. Noone could hear them on that side except for me, since the heating company didn't have a second floor. I told Walt I;d let them have my old air conditioner so that the windows could remain closed. A while later there was one in the front window, but the back windows were still open all the time, primarily so they could empty the ashtray and the vacuum cleaner cup. I suspect he vacuumed solely for the purpose of emptying the cup into the alley. 

    I talked to my friend Peter who had been dealing with this similar living situation at his house for years now. The same drunken family lived right next to him, doing the same fight the same jokes etc for seven years or more. And they stayed there because their brother owned the building and carried them when they couldn't pay the rent. Family! Bless it, right? Should I "fight back" with the neighbors or ignore it? Should I bother even trying to fix up the alley, or give in to the terrorist alkies and let it be a crack pipe karaoke hot spot? There were still things lying around back there that I'd only seen on TV cop shows. 

    Peter's advice was to keep it cool. Take the "high road" as it were and don't do anything that meant compromising my own best behavior. So, clean up whatever they drop out the window without comment and eventually they will stop from shame. They will be ashamed? I wasn't so sure about that. I didn't feel very ashamed of the good material I'd collected back in Ptown. Had I been a tad worse then they were? Maybe wore because I didn't have a valid excuse like the Williams boys--eight kids getting beat up by their drunken dad all the time. I just had a minor waa-waa compared to that story. 

    I wasn't quite ready to clean up the alley yet anyway so I just let the junk accumulate while I worked inside. My ipod shuffle flooded my brain with smart feeling podcasts that I would forget all about the next day. 

    I loved my project! I had that happy, fizzy, super adrenaline high going on. My hands shook on Home Depot runs. I was hoping to open in May, right after we got back from our trip to Chicago for my niece's wedding. I was thinking it was just going to be all Nina, all the time. It evolved from there, but that's how it started. I strung up my paintings on one side, and all my crafts on the other. I planted some thyme in the dirt patch in the floor, and made some wristwatch flowers to grow in it. I put up a wall mounted marble run on the other side of the door as an anti-stuffy gallery statement and to create an invitation for kids to play there if they wanted, and absorb subliminally that "art was fun". The troughs and tubes worked for a while then the sticky stuff gave out...and the thyme died. On the first week in the Nook, some kids came by and played for hours with the marble run. I was pretty ecstatic about that. But I am getting too far ahead here.

    I needed storage areas, and hanging devices and shelves and lots of mirrors. My vision was lots of funky old mirrors on the craft wall to break the space up and make it seem bigger. Everything I wanted to do, every step, seemed to always involve dragging yet another tool downtown from the house. At night, I worked on painting my sign for the sign pole out front. Would the spotlights work? I wasn't sure. I wasn't even sure the baseboard heating unit would work. Visions of things shorting out and fizzling and sparking came and went through my fever.

    Things were shaping up behind the newspaper covered windows. 

    Caleb had the brilliant inspiration to put "Curios" on the transom. Or maybe he just thought of the word and it immediately fell into gold letters up there because it was so Of Course. I put little plate glass shelves in the front window to display some intriguing items. I hung hooks all over the craft wall to hang necklaces from, and used the wall socket conduit that ran down the wall at waist height to hang pocket books and such from aluminum hooks I bent at Eddie's Wheels from scrap. I had planned to have a curtained area to the rear to make the story recording space a little more womb like and comfy, but when I put it up it looked like crap and obliterated the obvious benefits, breeze wise, to having the rear door open (despite the noise). 

    Shortly before I opened, Walt switched his bro to the other side of the building so there wasn't any noise back there anymore. Another couple rented it out and I could here the sounds of people taking care of themselves, washing dishes and things. I couldn't believe it! The enabling thing had a limit! It was a big relief. I didn't have to talk myself into going through more therapeutic revisioning of Jimi and I and our half gallon a day habits. Or drench my brain in podcast after podcast only to be frustrated by my absolute blank recall. (hmm, could there be a connection there?)

    I was very worried about hanging the sign. I was actually very scared to do it. It was a declaration, a sticking out the neck, an announcement, a beginning, a possible guillotine.  I mean I didn't want to be out in the middle of the sidewalk on a ladder doing it while the world watched. My project had thus far been very private, concealed in the 5 foot wide shed between two buildings. It was a coming out! Of course the solution was to get Caleb up there which he gladly did because he doesn't suffer quite the same sort of performance anxiety that I do. He's got his own, believe me, quirks, shall we say, but my crawling shame is my own.

    I borrowed a ladder from my boss, who dropped it off without even taking a peek at the store. That felt a bit weird, I would have expected a bit of curiousity, though actually I had been careful not to talk too too much about my project at work and keep it low key. In fact, only at the very last did I start talking it up in general. I found the secrecy surrounding my creative process  somehow very necessary. I didn't want suggestions except from Caleb and my close family. Ones who had a sense of my "vision" and how obsessively I would pursue it. And, there was the feeling of "coming out" as a shop keeper, and my twinges at baring my venture.

    (And Hey, the spotlights worked, too! )

    In the end, the newspaper featured the store and after a few days I fell into the role without much further problem. (Yet oddly, not one person that I work with has ever stopped by the store to check it out, to this day!) 

    Except for the problem with the sign. Somehow I had a brain fart about materials when it came to making the thing. I used some nice birch plywood, and the expensive sign painters "one shot" enamel from Couture Bros. Unfortunately I did not use exterior ply! Don't know what the hell I was thinking, since I've done other signs here and there before.  It should have been marine grade MDF board. After a few good rains I noticed buckling and separation at the edges. The glue wasn't water proof and it was coming apart, possibly on a pedestrian. Despite the temptation of some very strong material to run through the old Underwood if something so dramatic should happen, I was mostly mortified. All the anxiety I had gone through about the sign raising, and my over active imagination hadn't been able to predict this disaster! My name--my public face--unveiled and then destroying itself, revealing the shoddy workmanship of the rank amateur I truly am.  All I could do was pace around muttering, Fuck! Fuck! while waiting for the real sign maker, Hale Custom Signs, to complete my rush order polypropylsomething indestructible new Nina's Nook sign.

    At either side of the door, Denise DiPaolo had placed some pots of flowers one night as a welcoming surprise. I stopped downtown to water them on days that I wasn't at the store. There was always some cigarette butts around there, right in front of the door. I would see the brother sitting on the stoop at front or side of the building, usually looking pretty red and rough. Loud. Scrapes and bruises. I would try to look him in the eye but he wouldn't meet my eyes. I never avoided him although I felt great revulsion and some fear of him, but sought to show I was not afraid or stuck up by coming close by him and seeking to say hi. COme to find out the man was such a coward one on one at the same level as the street. Only leaning out above me from his window where he felt safe was different and he acted tough then. A coward and a bully. I pretty much lost my fear of him after that, just from having to be aroudn watering my flowers and running into him.

    The mother, Edie, always smokes outside about every 45 minutes when she works at the store, which is every day until Walt comes in the afternoon. She is 70 something. She tries to be nice to folks she isnt' grumpy or anything. You can tell it has been hard life for her though, there is a dead still center in her where some monster sat on her heart. The husband no doubt. Maybe something before then.

    So she opens at 7, first palce in town where you can buy beer. O did I mention that this vintage candy store (same place since 1878 or something) is mostly a packy, too? All summer long the lights are off and there is no candy in the case because Walt pays a fortune to run the coolers keeping the beer cold and doesn't want to pay for the lights or airconditioning to keep the candy from melting. There are all these glass cases, empty, on the one side, and cigs and lottery and penny candy on the other. The beer coolers are in the back.  Some dusty coffee cups in the window advertise New England Coffee, but I never smell it brewing in there. After 4pm Walt comes in and blusters about in a big and loud way behind the counter, shooting the breeze with all kinds of folks who come in and/or hang out front. I think he works at an autoparts place up in Brattleboro. I can hear his voice inside the Nook, through the brick wall and everything.


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