Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Year In Review: Part II

Note to Readers: This is a narrative. To start at the beginning, click on the "Blog Archive" to the right and click on the last entry, which is the first written, on 18 February 2014. Or simply click here: Hoosier Daddy?: Beginnings

Nothing jolts you into wakefulness more than the realization that your life's work, your collection of rare books, and countless irreplaceable photographs are likely underwater.

Nate had calmly announced the watery disaster and walked out the door. He had left his bathroom toilet overflowing overnight, and eight hours worth of water had been cascading downward into my home office. Although I was standing in a significant amount of water at the door of the bathroom and in the hallway, I knew that the basement was probably far worse. Before sprinting down the steps to the office, I grabbed towels from the hall closet.

Yes, panic is not rational. A handful of towels was likely not going to absorb a deluge, but it's where my mind went at that moment.

I was met with ankle-deep water in the northeast corner of my basement, and the water rapidly rising. I also had an amazing waterfall feature coming from the ceiling air ducts, and the surrounding plasterwork from the finished textured ceiling had collapsed and was floating in front of my bookshelves as if to offer a life raft for any who would like to jump to safety. Ironically, the toilet lies directly above the unfinished part of my basement directly over a drain. Although admittedly there was a significant amount of water on that side of the finished wall, Mother Nature decided the path of least resistance was not directly down, but along the duct system and directly into my office.

There is really nothing to do at a moment like this. Even I was deeply torn and confused as to whether I should weep uncontrollably, scream with anger at the top of my lungs, or scurry about in some vain attempt of looking like I could actually accomplish something.

I did the latter... with a fair smattering of the former.

I threw the towels down. They floated briefly before becoming saturated and sinking to the floor. I ran upstairs and grabbed more.

In those panic-stricken moments, Kirk had silently left his bedroom upstairs and slipped out of the house. This was obviously all my problem and only my problem, regardless of who caused it. Assistance was not to be found within the home I shared with two utter morons.

Confession: I am a book whore. I have thousands of books. My genealogy library is arranged in a useful manner, mostly geographically. The books in the lower shelves were in obviously affected by the rising tide, and because of the waterfall and ceiling collapse, many of the books in the upper shelves were also in standing water. Geographically, Ohio and Indiana experienced the worst flooding. Who knew the corn belt would be swept away by a toilet?

The following days and weeks were filled with insurance agents, water remediation people, deafening industrial fans and dehumidifiers, contractors, flooring specialists (since my ranch home is all done in hardwood floors that were now buckled and warped), and the sounds of drilling into every baseboard and wall to dry it out. Finally tally: $30,000 in damage.

I could write several more paragraphs about the shoddy job done by the restoration and remodeling people, and their dogged determination to pocket all the insurance money when only doing a third of the work of what was estimated by my adjuster. My insistence on paying them for only work they had done lead to months of battling, a lien against my house, and the repetitive use of the phrase, "Dr. Lacopo, you just don't seem to understand how insurance claims work." Uh huh, yeah, I do....

Or I could tell you about how Kirk and Nate complained and whined bitterly about the need to move out of the house for a week when the floors were being replaced, stripped, and stained. They reasoned that since insurance was paying for me (and two cats) to live in a hotel, I should logically pay for the roommates to live somewhere for the week, while deducting a week from their rent. The work was delayed by a couple days, but on the final day of treating the newly-stained floors Kirk and Nate were instructed by me and the flooring crew that they could move back in the following day, and then in   stocking feet only. A sign was posted on the front door not to enter. I went back to my hotel room, but I returned to the house around 2 a.m. to dump some of my belongings in the garage to make moving back into my home the next day with freaked out cats less traumatic. My desire for minimal drama ended as soon as I turned the corner and saw the exterior of my house.

Kirk and Nate had decided that waiting for the floor to cure was unncessary. They were already in the house. The "Keep Out" sign was still firmly attached to the door.

What followed was a string of expletives not fit for this blog, and a complete breakdown of any sort of sanity or decorum. I nearly broke my hand beating the Nate's and Kirk's bedroom doors down. Yelling. Drama. And a not-so-kindly worded verbal invitation for the two of them to leave. Leave now.

Nate tried to argue that he never touched the floor. Apparently he floated down the hall. Kirk was a bit overwhelmed by my insistence that he leave my house and go straight to hell. He got out of bed, put on his clothes and shoes and started into the hallway.


Kirk left. I never saw him again.

Nate left, but he returned minutes later in an attempt to convince me that he crawled through his window. It is a crank window that opens vertically with a screen on it. I called him on his ridiculous lie. He threatened to come back the next day to show me what happens to "pretentious little faggots."

Then the police came. Apparently screaming on your front porch at 4 a.m. alarms your neighbors.

Nate returned in the following days, but only long enough to start packing for his departure to a new apartment. He was gone within two weeks, and with him an assortment of my electronics and cable equipment. Left behind in his wake was just the mess that had become one of my bedrooms... and the smell.

So, the water damage is repaired, the roommates are gone, and life can go on, right? I can chart a new course of gleefully living alone in a freshly remodeled home, right? Of course not.

Hours after I kicked out the roommates, I went back to the hotel to attempt an hour or two of sleep. The sun had barely risen above the horizon, before my cell phone was ringing with a call from the owner of the flooring company.

"I'm sorry, Mike. I'm really sorry. This has never happened to us before."

As an aside, this is NOT how any phone call should begin, regardless of the circumstances. Nothing good can follow. 

Hem. Haw. Apologize. Stutter. Stammer. Apologize some more. Delay. Throw out some clich├ęs. Stall. Stammer some more.


In the course of finishing my hardwood floors, the crew had cut through the water line that leads to my refrigerator and freezer. Their sander had severed it, and it had just slipped and fallen back into the basement. As the crew was sanding and staining and finishing my floor for eleven days, my basement was again slowly filling with water.

Destroyed books, photos, heirlooms. Dryers. Dehumidifiers. Mold.... Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

If you have read this far, you are likely getting a good idea of my 2015.

And I am only to August.

The remainder of the summer and most of the autumn was dedicated to fighting insurance companies, unfreezing salvageable books one at a time and drying them out, remodeling the destroyed bathrooms on my own, gutting the entire basement and deciding what to keep, donate, salvage, store, file, trash, and making lists and lists of books damaged and destroyed from two floods. You see, in the minds of an insurance adjuster any book that cannot be found in Barnes & Noble's present-day inventory is worth $9.58. I have no idea where that number comes from, but additionally, ths value is then depreciated by 50%, thus making every destroyed book worth $4.29.

And guess what? Most of the books you find in a genealogist's library ain't gonna be found in Barnes & Noble's inventory.

So, for example, the original 1913 history of Crawford County, Ohio, that I paid to have restored and rebound, and is obviously not in print, is worth $4.29. After receiving the book inventory from the insurance adjuster, my return email started with "Okay. No. Just no. No. No. No." Oh, and that additional $10,000 home insurance rider I added to my policy years ago to just barely begin to cover my library's worth? Nobody at my insurance company had any idea what I was talking about, nor is there any record of it. The idiot agent I had worked with years ago was long gone. Oh, and you use these books for your work? Your insurance policy doesn't cover as much for work-related items as it does for personal property.

While trying to pull my home together, I still had bills to pay. There were lecture and research trips (and associated travel disasters) to Virginia, Ohio, California, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Kentucky, Texas, and throughout Indiana. Talking to researchers about genealogy gave me great joy, but they always ended with the knowledge that I had to go home to deal with ongoing chaos.

On 5 October 2015 the call came that my father had ended his own life (see Hoosier Daddy?: Phase Two: Life is Messy). Although we had not spoken in over a year, I was still the one people turned to with the hundreds of unanswered questions. "You know how to find things! Find out what happened!" Calls to police detectives, lawyers, medical examiners, crime scene investigators filled my early days of autumn. Much like genealogical research, the more information you discover and process, the more questions it raises without providing any answers.

Two weeks later I received another call much like the one before. Another unexpected death. My best friend from childhood had died unexpectedly at his home at the age of 48. David and I grew up one block away from each other, and our friendship stretched back to the days when I was allowed to ride my bike around the block, but I was forbidden to cross any streets. David lived around the block AND across the street. He too was not allowed to leave the safe confines of the sidewalk. So we would chat from opposite sides of a suburban neighborhood avenue almost always devoid of traffic.

We were inseparable in grade school and junior high, and being the fifth born in a hard-working, busy family of six children, it was easy for David to slip away to spend days with my family, eventually gaining status as my unofficial adopted brother. He joined us on family vacations. We shared secrets. We occasionally fought like brothers, but the bond you make with someone you choose to be your family often runs even deeper than blood.

Our high school paths differed, and he married and started a family shortly thereafter, while I went off to college. Time spent together lessened, but there were always visits, phone calls, emails, texts. The advent of Facebook allowed a closer reacquaintance with each other's lives. He fathered four children: the youngest a mere toddler at his death. I was busy with work, travel, trying to establish myself in a new field while shedding the skin of a veterinarian. The story is familiar. Our lives are busy. We are (relatively) young. There is always tomorrow. The last message I have from David was a few months before. It was a random Facebook text checking on me: "Hello Brother... you doing OK?"

Now he was dead.

Like the news of my father's death, it initially felt like a cruel joke. I think that was my first response, "You're kidding, right?" Once the information is truly processed, the hope that what you've learned is merely macabre humor is replaced with numb disbelief. Unlike the news regarding my father, the numbness was replaced with utter despair. One man in an anonymous sea of billions was plucked from this planet far too soon, but he was a special man -- to me, to his children, to his family, and to many others. So many previous opportunities to get together gone and wasted, never to be offered again.

I had the opportunity to go to David's viewing and funeral service. I was not given that chance with my father. I noted the time and the place. I made sure the proper shirt, tie, and jacket were not at the dry cleaners, but in the end, I did not go. I know the funerary rituals we embrace are largely absurd, and I am aware that they are performed for the comfort of the living. Perhaps his father, brothers, sisters, wife, children, mutual friends all would have felt consolation by my presence, and shared stories of David's life would have lessened everyone's grief. In the end, I could not do it. I can give you a million reasons why it was a good decision, but the bottom line is that I am a chicken shit. I did not want the last view of someone young, vibrant, meaningful, and loved to be an artificially recreated rendition in a box. Admittedly, the spectacle of me collapsing into a formless blob of tears, wailing, and spewing snot also figured into the picture. I mourned alone, in silence, and cataloged my regrets and missed opportunities without having to wear a tie.

The physical toll of 2015?

I gained 25 pounds. I hate those people who lose weight when they are stressed, at least they can look svelte whilst being distraught. Clothes that fit at all are uncomfortable. The shirts at the back of the closet I rarely wore because they were "billowy" now fit well. I am tired and easily overwhelmed. I have probably over-embraced the lack of roommates, and I cling tenaciously to my reclusive ways. Never having been a good phone person, I leave my cell phone mailbox full to avoid people leaving messages. It's a good thing. I rarely checked it anyway.

My hair turned white. No, I do not mean that I began to see white hairs. That happened long before. The smattering of white in my beard is now well beyond the salt of "salt and pepper." My chest hair turned white. Even my arm hair is now turning. The temples of my head hair are predominately white, with the remainder of my once-brown hair replaced by a dingy colorless gray. Spoiler alert: it's all dyed.

Conspicuously missing in this entire assessment of 2105 is the primary focus of this blog. This year of chaos should have been somewhat redeemed by the opportunity to get to know the fascinating man I chased so aggressively during the entirety of 2014. Had I been granted such an opportunity, it might have been. But the biggest blow of 2015 was one I have yet to describe. 

Harold James "Brighton" Daugherty died, on 25 March 2015, at the hands of the daughter he never knew existed.