Gone Away ~ The journal of Clive Allen in America

A Little White House
(This article forms part of the Journal that I am writing to describe my impressions of America since arrival in September, 2004. To begin reading this Journal from the beginning, click here.)

Well, we found a house and moved in a while back. It is a pretty little house and we are very pleased with it. In fact, I am delighted with it, as I imagine it to be a perfect example of the average American house in the average American suburb. Strictly speaking, I should not call the area a suburb since it is very close to the center of Lawton and would more truthfully be described as a residential block. But who would want to use such an ugly phrase?

The house is a rectangle, very plain, with a plastic (I think) clapboard covering to the walls. The fact that it is painted white enhances its simple, unadorned nature. It stands on about half an acre of land, the front yard open to the world, the back fenced with heavy duty chicken wire. Both yards are covered with a lawn that shows its age by including a healthy population of weeds and invading grass species. It is well cut, however, and declares its American-ness with precise, well-trimmed edges.

We have one tree, a maple, growing in the center of the front yard. It is a fairly young tree, being no more than three times my height, but it has shed its leaves in the last two weeks and these now cover the lawn. I entertained serious thoughts of buying a rake until a few days ago, when a strong wind removed most of the leaves to deposit them, no doubt, in someone else's yard.

The house itself is old, probably built in the forties, and the outside shows this in being just a little worn and tattered around the edges. It has a single garage at one end and the landlord was kind enough to instal an automatic door just before we moved in. Not having had one of these to play with before, it was the first thing I tried on our arrival.

It refused to open. Undaunted, I entered the garage through the house and tried the remote again. This time it worked and the door trundled up its guide rails and slotted neatly into its assigned open position. Thrilled with my new toy, I instructed it to close again. Obedient to my every command, it hummed and clanked its way back to closed mode. And immediately reversed and returned to its open position.

Puzzled, I tried to close the door again, with exactly the same result: it closed happily enough but then re-opened without an order from me. Kathy joined me in my search for the cause of this behavior and we fiddled with the lock, pushed and pulled at various struts and beams until we had the idea of locking it when it returned for a moment to closed position. This turned out to be a mistake.

The motor strained and tugged until finally, with a loud bang, it pulled the top section of the door into a V shape and gave up. That's torn it, we thought. We shuddered at the potential cost of replacing the door. But at least the door was shut again and we could return to other things within the house. A phone call to the landlord brought a visit from the garage door man the next day.

Of course, he identified the problem straight away. Pointing to a sensor at the bottom of the doorframe, he pronounced it to be the cause of the whole fiasco. A quick twist of his wrist brought the sensor back into alignment and he tried the door. It opened without demur. And closed again when instructed to do so. And stayed shut. Our friendly garage door magician then straightened the top section of the door, riveted on a metal beam to strengthen it and departed, leaving us once again the proud owners of a fully-working automatic garage door.

That should have been the end of the story. But it seems I have an unsuspected knack with garage doors. In the next few days we found that the garage door would not open from the outside. Enter the garage and use the remote and everything would function perfectly. But from the outside - nothing. This gave us much pause for thought but did not worry us unduly since we had no intention of parking the car in the garage anyway (it is narrow and looks to have little room for opening the doors of any car parked in its shelter).

I am proud to report that yours truly solved the mystery in the end. This happened just a couple of days ago when I noticed that the lead from the door motor ran a short distance and then buried itself in the electricity feed to the garage light. Revelation struck me at last. Turn the light on and the door will work; turn it off and nothing will move it. The garage door is entirely dependent upon the light switch for its power.

So we are presented with a few alternatives. We can leave the light on all the time and have a garage door that opens from the outside, inside or probably the side, for all I know. Or I can remove the light bulb, leave the switch in the on position and achieve the same result (the fact that we would have to stumble around in darkness when the door is closed seems a small price to pay in contrast). Or we can leave things as they are and just continue to use the garage as a storage area, opening the door from the inside when we need to move things outside.

We opted for the last alternative.

But I have strayed from my intention to describe our delightful new abode. In common with all American houses, ours has two front doors, an outer screen door and an inner more solid deterrent to unwanted interlopers. Years ago all screen doors held fine wire mesh to keep out insects whilst allowing a free flow of air. These days the screen door is typically a clear plastic and ours is one of these.

Enter the house and you are presented with a living room that would be regarded in England as fairly large. In America it must rate as on the smallish side. It is white, as are all the rooms, and will remain sparsely furnished until we have accumulated sufficient funds to import our stored effects from the old country. Kathy has worked her usual magic on a stringent budget, however, and the room has become elegant and comfortable enough.

Opening off the living room is a small but well laid-out kitchen. This is cordoned off to some extent by a breakfast bar but sufficient room has been left for a small dining table and two chairs. There is a laundry room that leads off from the kitchen and here we find the doors to the garage and backyard. At this stage I say nothing about what else inhabits this room, preferring to leave it for the gorgeous list of technology that awaits us.

Returning to the living room, we find that there is a passage that will take us past a bathroom (adequate in size and prettily curtained by Kathy) to the two bedrooms. These are equal in dimension to the average main bedroom in an average British house. Both rooms have a wall devoted to huge closets with doors that are full length mirrors. One front room has become our bedroom, the other contains a bed and my beloved computers.

Having brought my computers to your attention, I must make a brief departure from this description to mention an important aspect of the American character. I have always found them to be extremely generous. In previous visits I have been welcomed, housed and dined with sumptuous generosity by both relatives and acquaintances. As just one example from my first visit, relatives of Kathy's learned of my support for a particular American football team (the Packers, strangely enough) and presented me with a sweater and cap emblazoned with the team's logos. It was only on a later visit that I searched for a baseball cap for an English friend and discovered just how expensive any team-branded clothing is.

Both of the computers I use now are donations from Kathy's relatives. They are a few years old but adequate to the tasks I require of them. And they demonstrate the fact that Americans will help if they can. Begging is anathema to them (most states have laws against it) but if they see a need, they will do their utmost to meet it. What a pity it is that the rest of the world so rarely recognizes this, preferring to concentrate upon the perceived faults of America.

To return to our tour of the house, I recall that I promised you a list of technology. If there is any area that occasions envy in British hearts it is this: that American homes are filled to the brim with technology. Imagine my delight at being able to parade my acquisitions before those jealous eyes...

I have already mentioned the automatic garage door. Now, these are not unheard of in Britain but are generally limited to the more prosperous households. But if I were to say "garbage disposal unit", I know that the Brits will begin to stir uncomfortably in their seats. We have a garbage disposal unit! And if I were to add that we have air conditioning, my countrymen would squirm uncontrollably with suppressed envy and defensive pride. We have air conditioning! Not the most modern sort, I admit, but air conditioning nevertheless.

Consider too that we have a built-in cooker, a fridge-freezer and, in the laundry room, both a washer and a dryer. The washer and dryer, in particular, would be the occasion of much lusting after in many a heart for these are not the puny machines fobbed off on the long-suffering British public. These are seriously hefty creatures that would not look out of place in a laundromat and they deal easily with a week's washing in an hour or two. And the real wonder of it all, dear reader, is that this all comes with the house. So normal and expected is this technology in America that it is taken for granted that a rented house will contain such wonders.

Having had my fun, I must now admit to a downside to the technology amongst which we live. The American house is noisy. The fridge hums along like any normal fridge but will occasionally surprise us with a louder bout of grumbles and wheezes. The air conditioning will awake and, after a few clicks and grunts, launch itself into an air-blowing frenzy. Our mighty washer makes just as much noise as any British equivalent and the dryer accompanies it with its own whirring noises. The garbage disposal unit grinds and sucks its way through its meals. And the garage door has its own combination of thumps, rattles and hums.

But I become used to it all. In time I will be like any American - totally unaware of the technology muttering to itself in the background, just as in Africa we stopped hearing the constant insect noise that is the signature of that continent.

(to go directly to the next entry in the Journal, click here)


Funny, I was expecting the "Thanksgiving blog" but I get the "Gadget blog". Not a metion of Turkey or that most vile sounding creation pumpkin pie. Keep 'em guessing huh Dad?
Date Added: 29/11/2004

All in good time, Mad, all in good time... ;)
Date Added: 30/11/2004

Mr. Way
Bravo! (and welcome to your new place)I see you have a visitor already, and so I ask: Who is that mad person? Is he not a Swede fellow?
Date Added: 30/11/2004

Thank ya kindly fer yer welcome, suh (you see, I attempt the local lingo). Rest assured, I shall instruct the Mad one in due course as to the delights of pumpkin pie...
Date Added: 30/11/2004

About the only comment I feel inclined to make, is about the Pumpkin Pie. I have had pumpkin as part of both sweet and savory dishes (as my sister in law is Australian and gawfs at the idea of pumpkin as dessert). The sweet, however, reigns supreme.
Date Added: 09/01/2005

Gone Away
The pumpkin pie that I tasted was sweet but not offensively so. My mother used to cook pumpkin as a vegetable and the method involved sprinkling it with sugar and then baking it in the oven. Done like that, it is the most delicious vegetable in the world.
Date Added: 09/01/2005

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