This essay first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Pa’lante!, a publication of Cerritos College. I am grateful to the editors for giving this essay a home.
“Out, damned spot! Out, I say!”
My next-door neighbor Cathy has lived in her house for thirty-four years–since the homes here were built–so naturally she seemed like a good person to ask about the history of our carpet. On a Sunday evening, I sent her this text message: “Do you remember any previous owners of our house having new carpet installed?”
I had been thinking a lot about our carpet in recent months. That’s because the longer I stared at it, the more it looked like one of those antique maps of the world. It was parchment-colored with darkening, amorphous micro-continents that seemed to bloom if I gazed into them long enough. It was like watching clouds move.
Minutes later, Cathy responded: “The first owner lived a rather wild life,” she said. “So the second owner had to replace the carpets.”
Suddenly, I was much less interested in the tenure of our flooring, which my family of five plus two dogs–Winnie the Poodle and Perry the Incontinent–have walked upon for almost a decade. During that same time, based upon nothing more than keen observation, both dogs have hiked up their haunches and dragged their anal sacs upon it no fewer than four-thousand times, give or take.
At sixteen years and counting, Perry has gone full grumpy on us. He snaps at every groomer who gets near his face, which is why his damp maw now looks like a pot scrubber. And somehow, despite all the arthritis and having just a few teeth, he wriggles free of his nighttime diaper just to show me who’s boss. I can see the contempt in his blind, milky eyes; his voice, if he had one, would be Vito Corleone’s: “What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully?” The Dogfather has lost quite a bit over the years, but his dignity is apparently still intact.
I texted Cathy and asked her to tell me more about “a rather wild life.” That’s one of those things I just couldn’t leave hanging in Cyberspace.
“Drugs and dealers and kids who rode their bikes from the street into the house,” she replied. Those were her exact words, so I imagined kids riding bikes directly into the house without stopping, just cruising past a chained German Shepherd, through an open front door, and into the living room. In my mind, these ruffians dropped their greasy, muddy bikes on the carpet, then demanded sandwiches, which the drug dealer homeowners likely told them to fix themselves.
“Get your own baloney,” they’d have said, and since it was the eighties, they might have been nervous and wide-eyed and overstimulated, maybe a few months behind on their BMW payments.
Another text or two with Cathy and some simple math brought me to the conclusion that the carpet in this former trap house was thirty years old, the shelf life for a bag of potato flakes but still more than a decade older than Perry, whose loose, unruly bladder brought me and Karen to a long-overdue tipping point a few weeks ago.
I am a clean, fussy man, and after several months of piddle pads and doggie diapers and scented carpet powders, after absorbing and scrubbing and steam cleaning, after the very last time I stepped on a wet spot in my socks, I’d had it: I called a local flooring store and spoke to a nice young man with exceptional sales skills, but let’s face it: by that time, I was a pushover. I was an easy sell. I couldn’t get new flooring in this house fast enough.
It had gotten so bad, in fact, that I’d convinced myself it was time to sell our house and move to a place with clean, shiny floors. A museum, maybe. Or a castle. Or a mental hospital.
A couple of weeks later, at the bidding of our flooring salesman, two workmen came to our house and brought with them a remarkable capacity for destruction. In a few short hours, they sledgehammered our kitchen tile, then razored our carpet into sections, which they rolled up and carried to the front yard. Since old carpet holds four times its weight in dirt and dead skin, I am sure the carpet rolls were very heavy, especially since their undersides were also covered in a fine layer of moss and mold spores.
Immediately, I felt like a derelict for letting my children grow up in what may as well have been a rainforest.
When our kids were young, Karen and I would take them to see the elephant seals in San Simeon. Occasionally amongst the animals flipping sand over themselves, we’d see a rotting seal carcass covered in flies. This is what I thought of as I was taking pictures of our old carpet and a young mother appeared on the sidewalk across the street with her toddler. They stopped on the corner. The little guy pointed at my old carpet with his tiny finger, then his mother placed her hand on the back of his head and moved him along. Though I couldn’t hear them, I imagined the boy asked his mother why there were dead elephant seals in my yard. She would have said something like, “Oh, that’s just nasty carpet, sweetie. That’s what people used to put on their floors in the old days.”
Once the workmen got all the bad stuff out of our house, they scraped and buffed and shop-vacced until all that remained was a concrete floor, which smelled faintly like mildew and, in some spots, featured what looked like ancient cave drawings.
Then, for three more days, these nice men whom we fed and cared for returned very early in the morning to install something called “luxury vinyl plank,” which folks-in-the-know will tell you is the latest in durable, urine-resistant flooring.
The fact that “luxury” is part of the name makes me feel like a better, more accomplished person. After fifty-two years on Planet Earth, it’s about time a little luxury came my way. Until now, the most luxurious thing I’ve ever owned is a velour bathrobe.
Interestingly, my garage floor, which I have painted and epoxied, was cleaner than our old carpet. A few years ago, I rolled-out black, industrial carpet strips to protect my shiny floor paint from hot car tires. Sometimes, on Saturday mornings, I open the garage door and run the vacuum in there. This has been a great way to attract the attention of my neighbors as they pass on the sidewalk with their children and their Yorkies. These folks are unfailingly friendly. They always have a smile on their faces when they see me in my garage, running my vacuum.
My garage as a whole is so clean that I considered moving my twin daughters out there. Since they were Covid-gypped out of life in a freshman dormitory, I transformed the space into what could easily pass for a studio apartment. I thought this might give them a place to play beer pong and watch TikTok videos with their friends so they wouldn’t miss out on the true college experience. Plus, they’re individuating, and it’s impossible to fall asleep in your clothes and wake up next to total strangers when your parents are around.
The space features a sectional sofa, a worn easy chair with ottoman, and Netflix streaming on a wall-mounted flat screen. There’s the ping-pong table, a Nerf hoop, and a space heater. A sash bar window with horizontal blinds. To create a kind of starry night vibe, one of my daughters strung twinkle lights from the rafter beams. She laid out a welcome mat in front of the private side entrance, so guests, if they are so inclined, can wipe the excrement and E. coli from their shoe bottoms before entry.
Not that I’ve ever worried about excrement and E. coli on shoe bottoms.
Inside, we have a red, overstuffed chair in the corner of our living room. It has broad arms with space to set a book or a pair of eyeglasses. It has a matching ottoman on wheels, and Winnie the Poodle has learned that when she jumps on it, those wheels will carry her over the luxury vinyl as though she were riding a skateboard. One of my twins has been trying to capture this on video because among her hashtag goals is to be TikTok famous.
I have been sitting in this red chair quite a bit over the past week. Mostly, I just sit and stare at the opulent new flooring that spreads before me like a palace hall.
I am doing this on a Saturday morning when I hear Perry walk in. I hear him before I see him. His toenails click like tiny castanets. Very slow, tiny castanets. It’s a sound that echoes, something I am told I’ll get used to. The echoing, that is.
Perry passes in front of me. He turns his head in my direction and sniffs the air. In the absence of functioning eyeballs, this is how he now finds things. He sniffs them out. His clammy nose leads him to his bed by the fireplace bricks. He climbs inside, wheezes, hacks, and brings his head to rest. It takes him one-point-two seconds to begin snoring.
Sitting in my big red chair, staring at my new, luxurious floors, I feel like a king on his throne. “Bring me fine wine and stinky cheese!” I feel like I might just sit here a while. Why would I ever leave? I have a cup of hot coffee. I have morning sunshine sluicing through the blinds, warming the back of my neck. And I even have a robot vacuum that spins around the luxury vinyl like a giant hockey puck on tractor wheels, retrieving the millions of tiny menaces that once drove me mad.
Yes, I might just sit here a while. A good long while, in fact. It is time, at last, to luxuriate. So bring me a velvet diaper. Bring me a Balinese dancer in a golden crown. Bring me all things soft and warm. Then bring me a silken pillow so I can rest my weary head.
(Author note: Sadly, just a month or so before this essay published in the Spring 2021 issue of Palante!, our beloved Perry died. R.I.P., old friend, OG d-o-g. You are missed.)