On October 1, 1993, I re-entered civilian life with a 1985 red Ford Ranger pickup truck and a check for $25,000. Neither lasted very long. Actually, the truck lasted several years. The 25 grand - about 6 months. Now, ask me where it went. Go ahead, ask me. I'm waiting. Fine, I'll tell you anyway. I really don't know where it went. I do know that I had to pay 3 months advanced rent on the full-sized 2-bedroom apartment I rented for my brother and his girlfriend. Oh, and me. Something about none of us having jobs made the manager a little cautious. You see, I had heard for years that ETs got out of the Navy and landed these incredible jobs paying $100,000. Well, maybe that happens in high-tech California cities, but in Nevada, well, it does happen, but I just didn't know where. So, after a month or so, I started looking for something in the $75,000 - $80,000 range. Another month went by and I was dreaming of making $50,000. Get the idea. And all this time, I was spending my bonus like a fool, and my brother and his girlfriend were helping me spend it like, well, not fools. Five months after hitting town, I was broke and 3 weeks away from losing the apartment. I had to find a job THAT DAY in order to get a paycheck in 3 weeks in order to pay rent in order to keep the apartment. I heard CompUSA was looking for a sales person in their software department. Sales. Sigh. I went in and met with the Software Sales Manager. After talking to her for a few minutes and telling her The Very Long Story - Part I, she shook her head and said "No, I need someone with software sales experience". I was just about to ask directions to the plasma center, when she continued "However, it sounds to me like you would do well in the Hardware Department. Let me talk to the manager". And the next day I re-entered the work force, selling Packard Bell computers for $7.50/hour.
So, we kept the apartment. After I found work, Michael decided to follow suit, and the next day landed the job of Apartment Maintenance Man, fixing all of the damage done by tenants when they move out in the middle of the night. And that was where I was living when I met Kathy... again. After the huge success of our lunch date at Your Place or Mine, Kathy and I decided to follow it up with a more daring night-time date. So, one night, I hopped in my trusty 1985 red Ford Ranger pickup truck and headed over to the Silver Dollar, a seedy country bar with a tiny dance floor and a blackjack table. Kathy met me there and we danced till our feet hurt, then decided to go get a bite to eat. But first, I had to make a quick stop at an ATM. The $1.50 I still had after buying us drinks all night wasn't likely to get us very fed. Hmmm, it would have been better if we had just called it a night then. I tried (yes, tried) to withdraw $20 from my account. Oh, I wasn't broke. I think the balance was about $18. It just wouldn't let me withdraw less than $20. We ended up sharing a cup of hot tea at a Denny's, then calling it a night. Driving home, I really doubted I would ever see her again. But I didn't know her then. Months later, she admitted to me that that night, she had had more than enough money in her pocket to buy us both breakfast. She didn't offer to pay because her ex-husband had been a royal loser that never held a job and made her pay for everything, and she had made up her mind after he dumped her (and drained their bank account) that she wasn't going to ever do that again. If I had even THOUGHT about asking her if she had any money that night, THAT would have been the end, and I really wouldn't have ever seen her again. But I didn't ask, so I passed her test. Of course, I would have scored a lot higher if I had actually had money, but passing is passing, and I lived to see her again.
I don't remember our next few dates. I do remember that I invited her and her youngest son (Andrew) to go to the movies with me. Kathy rode up front with me and Andrew rode in the back (the back was fully enclosed by a topper and was basically a mobile storage unit for everything I didn't feel like carrying up to the apartment). For months, he talked about the monsters under the stuff in the back of my truck. Such an imagination...
One night, while I was sleeping, the phone rang. It was Kathy. She asked what I was doing and I slurred "sleeping". After a pause, she asked if she could come over. I was no longer the least bit tired. I gave her directions then dressed enough to avoid arrest before skipping down to the gate to let her in. Back in my room, I offered her a pair of gym shorts and a t-shirt to sleep in, she accepted, and then we went to bed. And slept. Looking back, I realize how brave she was to not just call but then to invite herself over. But by doing so, and by spending that one historic night together, just sleeping, we discovered something...
On November 5, 1994, in Kathy's friend's backyard, decorated by votive candles in mason jars, we were married. I had been living with her for a month or 2 by then. Her mother had been living with her when we met, but she moved out after Kathy and I started getting serious. Kathy had 3 boys, each with his own room. She also had a dog (boxer) and a cat (who the hell knows). The house had been built in 1970, which was old for those parts. The way it was laid out, the living room and 3 bedrooms were on one side and the kitchen, bathroom, and master bedroom were on the other. Down the middle was a hallway that ended about 6' short of the back wall. Those last 6' were our closet. A year or so after I moved in, we formed and poured a full-length patio across the back of the house (but still had to access it from the front of the house). Another year or so later, we were sitting out on our patio enjoying the Spring breeze when I said "Wouldn't it be nice if the hallway came all the way through to the back wall? Then we could have a screen door here to let this wonderful breeze pass through the entire house." Yes, that would be nice, but to do so, we would have to turn our closet into the last 6' of hallway, and then we wouldn't have a closet. True, but we could first build ourselves another closet. A bigger closet. THAT closet (pointing to the Dauntless). Ok, I'm getting my stories mixed up again. And so began the great home-improvement project of 1997. We started by designing a 10' x 12' walk-in closet, complete with lights and a heating/cooling duct. We would turn the window on the side of our bedroom into the door to the closet. We would also have to remove our back window and replace it with a larger one to meet some new building code about the ratio of window area to room area. We drew up plans, pulled permits, and spent hundreds of dollars at Home Depot. Finally, we began. The first thing we did was pour the foundation. Easy enough. Then we started framing. This was fun! We were really getting into the whole do-it-yourself thing. Then the time came to remove part of the roof over our bedroom so we could attach the new closet roof's rafters to the existing rafters. No problem, as long as it doesn't rain! LOL
The indoor waterfall was beautiful. Years later, fancy hotels used the same technique in their lobbies (without all the structural damage, of course). We spent hours trying to figure out how to cover half the house (the half WITHOUT a roof) with an old sheet of black plastic that refused to stay in place with the 50mph winds that the rain brought along for company. We never did. Eventually, a dove showed up with an olive twig, so we continued, and eventually finished the closet. Next, we sledged the stucco off the back of the house in the general vicinity of where the new back door would probably eventually go, removed a few important-looking studs, and installed a nice, new, code-compliant window. By this time, we had about 300 square feet of unfinished wall that would need stucco... and we were planning on stuccoing it, all by hand, all 3 layers, right after we install our brand new BACK DOOR! Then we bought a house.
Remember when I said "funny how some things work"? Well, just between me and you, some things aren't really all that funny. Take, for instance, us spending a year remodeling our house just so we could have a back door, only to go and buy a different house weeks before finishing. Oh, we didn't plan on buying a new house. It was actually just a tiny case of impulse shopping. You see, Kathy's brother Buck is a plumber, and he was looking for a new home for his family and him. So when he found a model home that had good plumbing, he took his wife Debbie to see it, and they decided to buy it. But before they did, being a close brother, Buck asked us if we would like to come and look at the new house they are thinking about buying. So one pleasant Sunday afternoon, we drove out to the far side of Henderson, found the model homes (4 of them), parked, and walked into the first one. A nice one-story, but nothing special. The next one was also a one-story, but it had a wonderful design. Kathy really liked it. Models number 3 and 4 were two-stories. I liked number 3, even though it only had 3 bedrooms. I forget which one Buck & Debbie liked. It really doesn't matter, since they still live in the same house they were living in then. We, on the other hand, enjoyed a friendly debate on the pros and cons of models 2 and 3. Eventually, Kathy conceded that number 3 had enough floor space to make up for only having 3 bedrooms, and agreed that the younger 2 boys would simply have to share a bedroom. Of course, that was all purely hypothetical. After all, we weren't the ones shopping for a new house. So, we walked back to the first model, wrote the sales agent a check for $1000 (earnest money), studied the map of all the available lots, picked one we both liked, filled out a stack of paperwork, and went home. We had some stuccoing to do!
A few weeks later, they started grating the land around our lot, getting ready to start forming for the foundation. We made a habit of driving by our lot every few days, just to watch the progress. After they poured the slab, we walked all over it studying the pipes and wires coming up out of it, trying to figure out what was where. What really confused us was the fact that our house was being built as a mirror-image to the model we chose. Apparently, we picked a lot with the driveway on the left, and a house with the garage on the right. They fix that by flipping the house over. When we discovered this, we were pissed. We had just bought a huge entertainment center specifically to fit in a certain corner of our bedroom. By flipping the design, the entertainment center no longer fit. Oh well, what could we do? We moved on. I remember the day I turned the corner and saw framing. I almost peed my pants! I love framing. I couldn't wait to walk around the skeleton-like rooms, passing through walls as easily as doors, discovering voids and potential future storage areas. While exploring, I saw someone doing the same in the next lot over. Typical to my smart-assed nature, I hollered over "Hey, you're not supposed to be in there". The guy wandered over, said something lame, and introduced himself. He then lied down on his side (on the cement floor), propped his head up on his hand, and proceeded to tell me all about his family back in North Carolina. And so I met Fred.
In July of 1998, we passed final walk-through and moved in. We were the first ones on the block to occupy. A few weeks later, we came home from grocery shopping to see a moving van parked in front of Fred's house. Yippee, our new neighbors are here! Finally, we get to meet Fred's wife and their 2 children. We quickly put away the groceries then went next door to help them move in. But, in our excitement and eagerness to help, we didn't go to the door and introduce ourselves first. Instead, we walked up into the truck, each grabbed a box, and then proceeded to the front door, which opened just as we reached it. In the doorway was a rather short and slightly plump lady with a very shocked, confused, concerned, and suspicious look on her face. Undaunted, I looked down at the writing on the box I was holding then looked her in the eye and asked "Master Bedroom?" Still shocked, confused, etc, she never-the-less pointed back and to the right (back, and to the right... back, and to the right... damn you Kevin Costner). I nodded then stepped past her and proceeded to the Master Bedroom. By the time I returned empty-handed to the front door, Kathy had introduced herself and me, stating that Fred had told us so much about all of them that we felt like we already knew them. Opening the front door, I responded over my shoulder "Not really. We're actually just here to case the joint so we know what to steal when we break in later." And so I met Sonyia.