Today, if all goes well, will be my last day in the casita. My new apartment is ready. It is in the east wing of Delia’s house.
Who is Delia?
Delia is a lady my age who was born and raised here in
Casas Grandes. In 1970 she married a man
from Ciudad Juárez, and they moved to the Rancho Cucamonga area, east of
Delia never particularly liked living in
Now the house here is a bit over a hundred years old. It is built the way city houses were built at that time—right on the sidewalk. There are two wings forming an ell. The main wing faces west on Calle Libertad; the other wing faces south and runs back along an alley. I refer to the main wing as the “north” wing and the other as the “east” wing, since they lie respectively north and east of the point where they meet. Behind the house is a patio, or enclosed yard. The house itself forms two sides of the patio; the other two sides are formed by high walls. The architectural message is clear. This house offers the incumbent family and their guests the pleasures of the outdoors in complete privacy. The rest of the world is shut out.
From the beginning of the renovation the east wing was slated to be an apartment, useful for a caretaker, as a guest suite, or as an income generator. But finishing it was not a priority until Delia offered it for my use late in 2003. Preparation involved building a bathroom and kitchenette, making other plumbing and wiring changes, installing air conditioning, tiling the floors and refinishing the walls. There are three rooms, of which the rear two form my apartment. The third, with adjoining bath, is a guest room.
For a price, a job like this can be given to a single contractor for rapid completion. It can be done much more economically if one hires craftsmen directly. But in the latter case, as a rule the craftsmen will have full time jobs, or shops of their own, and will only work on a small project such as my apartment in their spare time. Thus the job took six months, and in fact the guest room is still unfinished.
But my two rooms are ready. Two rooms and bath! I will have the comfort of an indoor bathroom, built in a corner of my bedroom. It is about the smallest bath you will ever see outside of a camper. But it has the three basic fixtures, and is nicely done in light bluish gray tile, and has an exhaust fan and a light I can see to shave by.
And it has hot water. The casita has hot water too, but with a kink. There are two water heaters, one for the kitchen sink in the casita, the other for the bath huts. The kitchen water heater is on Bany’s big tank, so there is always gas for it. But the other water heater has only a small cylinder of gas, enough for two or three months of showers. To conserve gas, I would light the heater thirty or forty minutes before a shower, then turn it off just as I began bathing.
Still, sooner or later the heater would run out of gas, and do so without warning. I would light it, come back in thirty minutes, and find it extinguished and the water cold.
Then came the fun part. A truck loaded with gas cylinders makes rounds in the pueblo, playing a jingle over a loudspeaker, not unlike an ice cream vendor calling kids. One runs out, flags the truck, and buys a cylinder of gas. But as the casita is on the very edge of town the truck rarely comes here. Nor can the drivers ever find the place if I call and ask them to visit. Rather I have to drive around until I find a truck, then lead the driver back to the house. All this when I was wanting to take a shower, and perhaps had just enough time to shower and get to an appointment. The solution, of course, is to keep a spare tank ready. But because I never intended to keep the casita for very long, I neither wanted to buy a spare cylinder nor ask Bany to buy it.
So the new place has hot water. All the time. The heater is one of those that fires only when the water flows, so it is very efficient and one can never run out of hot water. It is also hard to regulate, tends to be too hot. But it is always ready, and after I get moved in I will read the manual and learn to regulate it.
For the many years that I have lived alone I have cultivated a style of military simplicity and cleanliness as best I could. I dreamed for years of living in one room, and that room designed so as to be easy to clean.
Two facts militated against my living in a single room. One was that I had a roomful of computers, necessary for my business. Two was that I kept about a thousand books with me (these are now in storage).
A third element had a catch-22 aspect to it. If I owned a house and lot, as I did in Lordsburg before coming here, I had to have tools, ladder, and lawn mower to maintain the property, and an inventory of parts and a test bench to maintain my computers. All these had to be guarded and sheltered. So I needed the tools to maintain the house, and the house to shelter the tools.
As for cleanliness, most living spaces are not built for it. Curtains and carpets capture and hold filth. Delicate walls cannot be damp wiped. Inaccessible corners fill up with dust. And what is more obnoxious than washing venetian blinds?
Changes in computers today mean that I work on a laptop. The six big stationary machines, and the two desks and steel rack that they occupied, have all been stored or disposed of.
And I have brought myself to accept that I can live with about 150 books, mainly reference works, such as will fit a single bookcase—and at the moment even these are in storage.
So I have lived in one room now for a year. But I have not achieved either the military simplicity or military cleanliness that I desired. Not the simplicity because much stuff has been piled in boxes along the walls, not out where I can access it. Not the cleanliness because the place is cluttered with boxes, and has a bare concrete floor that can never be got very clean, and because the windows must be open in summer, admitting the dusty desert air. The place could have been made orderly by the installation of shelving. But from the beginning I knew the casita would be too hot in summer, and subsequently I found the other drawbacks I have described elsewhere, so I always regarded the casita as temporary and did not want to spend any money on it.
The new apartment will be different. I have ample cabinets to store everything I routinely use. I have ample space to sort out other stuff and dispose of at least a third of it. The tile floor lends itself to cleanliness, and the air conditioner will deliver only filtered air.
The rest is a matter of discipline, and of attitude.
Attitude. For over twenty-five years I have thought of wherever I was living as “temporary”. I was always thinking of moving on. And always holding onto gear thinking that I might need it the next place I went.
Here in Casas Grandes, finally, I am trying not to be “temporary”. As with other places, I have no plan to stay here. But unlike other places, I have no plan to leave. Other places always had sufficiently strong negatives as to impel me to leave. After a year here, no such negatives have come to light, and the longer I stay the more I think I may stay longer.
So I am not aware of any urge to move on. But I have the habit of “temporary” ingrained in my thinking. It is time to overcome this. And time to unburden myself of the things I carry around on the outside chance I might need them next place I go. If I can do this, I can achieve the goals of orderliness and cleanliness that I have had for so many years. And I can also achieve the goal of fitting myself into a single room, while enjoying the luxury of two rooms to do it in.
Now I have been moving stuff for a week and I would like to finish today and sleep in the apartment for the first time tonight. So I have got to break off writing and move on to other things.
© 2004 Joseph Mansfield