The House

45 Remsen Avenue, Monsey, NY 10952. I grew up in it, knew it like the back of my hand, was formed there. Lived in it from when I was five in 1965 (I remember it storming the day, the evening?, that we first drove up the driveway to the new house) until when I went off to college in 1977, and finally moved out in (what?) 1981. Dad's sold it now, and it might as well not be there anymore, so I should write down everything I recall about it, because it seems like I ought to.

It's a red house. There's a front yard where there used to be a big triple tree (an oak? a maple?), but they blew down in Hurricane Bell when I was a teenager. The couple of days before that storm went through, I was in Harriman Park by myself, hiking the Long Path, or the Suffern-to-Bear-Mountain Trail, or the Appalachian (the SBMT, I think it was). The last night that I spent out I camped on Black Mountain Ridge; the sunset was spectacular but the night was nightmarishly windy. I force-marched down Black Mountain and on to the Bear Mountain Inn to call Mom (or Dad?) to come pick me up, a day early and ravenously thirsty for a milk shake. The next night, my first night home from the park, those trees blew down.

The house had (has, but the past tense is probably more natural; if it'd been knocked down since I last saw it, I wouldn't know it) three stories (two above ground). Only the main floor is finished (present tense is fine too). The attic is a hot dry fragrant place, one big room running the length of the house, with a peaked ceiling. You can stand in the center; if you're a kid, you can stand most of the way to the side walls. There's a window at each end. The floor is solid, sheets of plywood, only in the center where the ceiling's highest. At the sides, it's just the tops of the rafters of the ceiling of the main floor, and you have to be careful not to slip, or you could put your foot right through the livingroom ceiling. Considering the amount of time I spent on those rafters, it's amazing that I never did. Or did I? I also vaguely remember a little crack in the main-floor ceiling, sometime in there. Was that me?

In one place in the attic, not too far from the top of the stairs, on the rafters near where Dad kept his old Playboys tied with string (another reason I spent time in the attic, later on), there was a place in the floor, between the rafters, where you could push the insulation aside and see the top of the light-fixture and fan in the ceiling of the bathroom. I guess the bathroom fan vented up there or something. I knew this, but only vaguely, and for some reason it doesn't form a very important memory. I don't recall using it to spy on anyone in the bathroom!

There were chests up there with mysterious old things, and old bureaus with who-knows-what in the drawers, some of the drawers without pulls, but with holes that you could stick a pencil in and open them if you were careful (sometimes the pencil would break off short in the hole, and then you were stuck). Some boxes with plastic army men and plastic monsters to play with sitting in the special place on top of one of the chests for hours.

There was a big fan in the attic; we called it the Attic Fan. There was a switch at the bottom of the attic stairs, just inside the door between the stairs and the front hall, that turned it on and off. Then there was a wooden box-thing in the attic, an enclosure that the air-conditioner was in, and as I remember it if you had the attic fan on you had to have the top of the box open, so the fan could draw the hot air up and out of the house to cool it off, but if you wanted the air conditioner on you had to go up and close the top of the box, so the air conditioner's cold air wasn't wasted trying to cool off the attic.

When you first come in the front door of the house, you're facing across a short narrow hallway, with the kitchen to your left and the livingroom to your right, and just opposite you the door to the attic stairs. At the top of the attic stairs is another door, set in the ceiling (or the floor, if you're in the attic). It's a big heavy door, and I got bopped painfully on the head by it once or twice, either not being careful or intentionally being dangerous. That door was usually left open; on the attic side of the door at the bottom of the stairs Dad had hinged a slatted wooden something so that it could prop the door open. When the Attic Fan was on, that door was propped open, again to increase the amount of air the fan (a big impressive grey thing with large bare blades) could draw through the house. And you'd open the windows, of course.

Downstairs was the basement. The stairs to the basement ran right underneath and parallel to the stairs to the attic. To get to the basement, you'd go through either the kitchen or the livingroom, into the back hallway (my room at the left end, the bathroom next to that, the middle bedroom next to that, and Mom and Dad's room at the other end), and through the door (the only big door on that side, between the bathroom and the middlebedroom doors but of course on the other side of the hall; there's a little door next to the basement door, with a linen closet behind it) and down the stairs. At some point I was allowed to pick the colors we'd paint the basement stairs, so they're all bright red and blue and yellow.

On the wall of my room, which was a dark blue at the time, there were some old white paint-smears, probably from when the former owners (Steinstra, or some spelling) painted the ceiling. One of them looked just like a dragon's head, and I loved it, and when they repainted the walls of my room, I persuaded them (probably it was Mom who said yes?) to leave it, so there was one dark-blue square with a white dragon-head smear in the middle of it in the new light-blue of the wall. The light fixture in the ceiling was a ship's wheel around a flat cylinder with the bulbs in it. I had the same light fixture in my old bedroom back in Illinois (255 Allegheny Avenue, Park Forest, Illinois, phone number Pilgrim-something something something something something). I don't know if this was a big coincidence or if Mom and Dad just brought it along when we moved. I think it wasn't exactly the same, though. Or I think I remember thinking that.

The floor of my room was a hard-to-describe pattern of red and maybe green and yellow lines, or dashed lines, or slant-dashed lines, intersecting on a dark (dark blue?) background. Made for good imaginary streets and stuff.

The outside of the house was some strange red stuff, not paint, and if you touched it you got red on your fingers. Almost like it was always wet, but it wasn't wet, and somehow the stuff that came off on your hands didn't come off in the rain; it was just always there. Come out the front door onto the front porch, and you're facing the front yard, where the triple trees were just ahead and to your right. To your left is a rose trellis, and ahead of that a privet hedge that varied in height as I was growing up. Walk down the front porch steps and along a short walk which veers left at the end of the privet and goes down the steps to the driveway. I don't remember the concrete of those steps ever not having a big crack in it, and sometimes chipmunks, which Mom loved, would dart in and out of the cracks, and in and out of the drain-holes in the concrete wall below the privet, that I never saw any water draining out of.

At the house end of the driveway is the door to the garage. The garage is under the livingroom, and a door opens from it into the basement (right at the bottom of the basement stairs). Across the driveway from the stairs that lead down from the front yard is a bank that slopes up into the Remsen side of the property (the house is nominally on Remsen, but actually faces Cuculo Lane (spelled somehow), an unpaved rutted path that leads back through the back woods eventually to College Road). At the top of that bank is a big dogwood tree. Dad planted a Rose of Sharon there one year; I don't remember it doing very well. (There's a very round Japanese Red Maple on the other side of the driveway, just past where the steps come down.)

One year some bees built a nest in the ground under that bank, and some friend and I investigated it one day, putting rocks down it as I recall, and eventually the bees noticed us and attacked, and one actually flew down between my glasses and my eye, but it didn't sting me. I remember thinking, or claiming, that it had been the other boy doing all the bee-bothering, so why was it me that got attacked?

I also remember, long long ago, using that bank as just the most wonderful place to race little cars down for hours and hours by myself, and coming back a few years later and trying it again and being puzzled by how boring it was, and wondering what I was doing wrong or different from when it had been so much fun.

In the basement of the house, or actually in the tiny hall between the basement and the garage, there were marks on the wall showing the growth of the Steinstra children over the years. Somewhere in the house (I don't remember where!) there were marks on the wall showing my growth over the years. The Steinstras built the house themselves, just like the Manions next door built their house, and the Neiros next to them built their house. Art and Rose Manion were the adults next door (still are last time I looked), and the kids were Arty Joe and Laurie. Don't remember knowing the Neiros adults at all, but Tiger was a boy just about my age, and his kid brother was Joey. Later on it occurred to me that Mom may not really have approved of them; they were rough unintellectual kids of conservative parents. But they were nearby. And for all I know Mom had no such sentiments at all, and I'm just reading my own snobbishness back onto her.

I remember once getting mad at Tiger about something, and storming into the house saying "he's off my list" most grownuply and self-righteously. Shortly after Mom said something to the effect that it was too bad he was off my list, because he'd just come over to see if I wanted any watermelon. Perfect set-piece!

Once Tiger and I were out on our bicycles tearing around the neighborhood, Tiger in the lead, speeding down Dolson Road (parallel to Cuculo, a block away), and just over one rise Tiger for some reason stopped and sat there looking back, and I came flying over the rise and crashed into him. We ended up with just one working bicycle worth of parts between us, as I recall, lots of scrapes and bangs but no serious injuries, and for some reason some bad feeling temporarily between us or between the families or something.

Tiger had an older sister, Karen I think, that I always vaguely had a crush on, just because she was an older girl who I had some vague excuse to occasionally come somewhere near.

Underneath the basement stairs is a little place, a little unfinished oddly-shaped room or niche, that was my hideout. One wall of it (its only wall, really, under the stairs between the niche and the laundry room) was easy and legal to write on, and I wrote things there. Once I put up a sign saying "Crytologist" or something like that, in my Secret Code days. Mom pointed out, or I noticed, the missing "p", and rather than just writing it in I tried to make the case that "Crytologist" (or maybe it was "Crytographer"?) was a word also.

Once I (me and Norman England?) was playing with fire and plastic down there, and I remember how much it hurt when you got molten plastic on your hand! Unlike wax, it didn't cool very fast, and it didn't come off.

The basement is also big, as big as the attic if you include the garage and the laundry room. The door from the basement into the garage, at the bottom of the steps, is old, and the big pane of glass in it is cracked. The basement is cold and dampish (the attic is hot and dryish). There are tiles on the floor, and sometimes the basement would flood. Once, the worst flood I remember, there was an inch or so of water, and I remember playing with a boat in it. What did my parents think of that? Making a virtue of inconvenience.

There was a matress leaning up against one cinderblock basement wall for a long time, and there was a rope ladder (to nowhere) hanging from the ceiling. Once, maybe it was at a birthday party, I was sitting on the top edge of the matress, and jumped off intending to grap the rope ladder, and missed and cracked my head hard on the floor and was actually unconscious for a second. But probably not a concussion; I'm surprised Mom didn't insist we take me in for X-rays.

Through a door from the main part of the basement is the laundry room, with the washer and dryer and also the furnace and the hot-water heater and the head end of the well pump. There was an old folding table set up in that room for as far back as I can remember. That table's in the corner of Dad's new kitchen now, down in Florida. I think it's the same old table, anyway.

The main part of the basement was half Dad's hamshack, the place where his radios and teletype and eventually computer stuff was, and half play area with a big plywood table (that Dad built?) holding the model train and race-car tracks and the dartboard and the rope-ladder to nowhere.