On The Rocks

Scott Fulmer Issue: Section:

The quiet of a porch to contemplate the sunset --a place to hammock. An eden to get away from the busy, a place to get back to the earth. . To dig in the dirt to find one’s soul. To let breath again. To unveil and revel in the history. Still, The trials of owning a house have hit home. The adage “you get what you pay for” applies. I afforded the property by purchasing it on cash advances from two credit cards. I have used the property during the summers with friends and family. I work on it on and off throughout the whole year. I have a front, middle and back yard! My property in the Rockaways consists of two structures which is great but means two “envelopes” insurance wise. Harder to insure, more weeds to pull, more roof to keep track of and more water off them to get rid of. Being so near the Jamaica Bay means the salt mist really pours in. When I got the property it took two 30 yard dumpsters just to clear the trash from around the house! But it has been a great storage facility for my art and extras, which was my rationalization for its purchase originally.

The other day the high tide, pushed by the wind, was over the entire street and up in my yard. I had not seen this in the eight years I‘ve owned the property. Will my insurance cover wind damage if it involves water? Flooding if it involves wind?

There had been no electricity in the house since the early 80’s. It had been a play house for the owners who still lived in their larger house next door. LIPA engineering and my electrician took ten months to get the electricity on. Frustrated , I would go out to the property and start to strip all the old plasterboard and sheet rock out of the first floor. I had one of those solar and crankup powered radios—sweet simplicity. I would move the radio around for the sun and the crank it in the evening.

All the supply lines for the water were stripped and gone. After digging, supposedly I found the water supply line still intact and on! My other neighbor couldn’t believe it—he probably would have bought the house himself had he known that. I uncovered the sewer line and made my way through the sand back to the extruded clay hookup. The smell told me it was still hooked up and working.
I found a discarded, but expensive American Standard blue toilet on Ludlow and Grand in 2003 and hooked it up—still working to this day. At least fifty percent of everything in the house is recycled. I overheard my neighbor remark , “He never throws anything away—a real Sanford and Son.”

After a couple years I finally tried to do some studio work there. I got a commission to build a large model of a Phillip Johnson house which was being converted to a museum. Another house to work on—a bit ironic.
The Structures required new footings (piers) all the way around. The area was a landfill in the 1900’s and they didn’t fill enough. High tide flooding occurred and they filled again. Thus, as I dig in the earth to get under the structures, I find another level of sidewalks two feet below the surface.

I raised the back structure about 36 inches. It was pretty easy once I had it all set up. My brother helped for a couple weeks and the day we started lifting it with three small telescoping jacks we raised it about 12 inches. He left and came back with a couple tall cool ones after he had to quit for the day. Two hours, two tall cool ones later I had raised it another two feet? It almost wanted to be lifted up. My bro couldn’t believe it—I couldn’t either.
People have remarked that this house is a labor of love for me. One close friend said there’s enough yard to have a pony. Another said the rebuilding is like bringing something back from the dead. A Dr. Frankenstein analogy I‘ve heard before. I guess I want this property to be a kind of avant Victorian in which one feels the past walking around.

“I am working on my studio not in my studio,” has become my mantra for the past six years when someone asks me how my work is going. I have determined to get to work on my work! To set up my easel along side the bales of unused insulation. Who cares if there is no baseboard trim or window trim? It won’t be twenty degrees for another two months. Last year only two pipes were frozen and only one of those burst! Break out the rescued LP records , crank up the Gibson guitar amp and try to play along to these secondhand gems. Let the records not played for over twenty years wash over me. Quit working on the house and start working in it. Breathe a bit before I too need to be brought back from the other side and propped up and rebuilt. My arms hurt, my muscles are sore, my chi is somewhere way out there and my voice is weakening. I need to get back.  
I walk around the property and feel my bones become brittle, smell the thickness of soul wafting in the breeze as the planes come over on final approach to JFK. I calm in the breeze from the F train coming into Jay Borough Hall as I stand on the platform waiting for my connection back to the city, a Ludlow street apartment I call home.

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