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  • Something I read today made me think about the hillbillies up the road. We’d been living in a second-floor walk-up in South Philly, where life teemed all around us, the neighbors were in your face, and your nose (Steve downstairs ran a lunch wagon, and when the trash collectors went on strike – Hoo-boy, that place stunk to high heavens!); where the lady down Mole Street was always yelling at, or for, her little boy Joey – “JOEY!!!” JOEY!!!!” – with such a shrill tone, it made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and take notice, and was guaranteed to interrupt any decent thought you had going if you were trying to write something, which it seems I was always trying to do in those days. I have never been able to listen to Bob Dylan’s song on the album “Desire” by the same title (“Joey”) since living there, because everytime he starts whining “JOEY – JOEY…”, I am reminded of that battle-axe on Mole Street yelling for her boy Joey.

    None of which has anything to do with the Hillbillies down the road, I know, but hang in there, I’m getting there. We’d been in South Philly for close to a year, and I had just about had my fill of the concrete jungle – I literally craved green grass and trees. My soul yearned for open spaces. I needed out, and I needed out, soon. I felt like I was choking on concrete, and actually began to feel some claustrophobic panic attacks. After a trip to upstate New York to visit Kathy’s sister and her husband, who had just bought an old fixer-upper 100 year old farmhouse outside of Saugerties in the foothills of the Catskills, we came back with an inspirtation and a determination to get a place of our own in South Jersey.

    Kathy, as is her wont, did a lot of the legwork, found the realtor, and we went looking. It didn’t take long before we found our place on the lake. After the concrete jungle of South Philly, and “JOEY!!!”, and smelly Steve downstairs, I was certain that we had died and gone to heaven. Three quarters of an acre right on the lake, complete with a dock and a shed. What more could a fellow possibly want? Our friend Polly, who lived on a farm about 25 miles south of us, gave us a canoe as a house-warming gift. Heaven was complete.

    Paradise lasted right up until the first weekend we had a bunch of friends out for a labor day house-warming picnic, and the toilet started backing up. Uh-oh. Plunging was no help. Gets a bit awkward when you have 30 – 35 people and the only toilet don’t work. Couldn’t call the landlord – welcome to home ownership! “Hello, Dad? Yeah, I tried plunging it. Yeah, I ran a snake down there. What’s that? Septic tank? What’s that? Yeah, I have a shovel. Did you just say ‘Can you dig it?’” First, I had to find it. The neighbors were very helpful – “Oh, yeah. It’s right there off the side of the driveway. They were always digging that thing up.” Oh, yeah? That doesn’t sound good!

    Home ownership was a journey of discovery. I was constantly discovering shit that didn’t work, or things that I had not the first clue about how to fix. I did learn to be resourceful. It also helped to have a friend like Chuck, who would come out to spend a weekend, and in between feeding him and all night games of Risk, and “Axis and Allies”, we would work on the house. I had been Chuck’s sponser in the program, but very quickly, the roles became reversed, as he took me under his wing and taught me everything I know about keeping a house from falling apart, sinking into the ground, installing poly-butyl supply line plumbing (don’t do it!), insulation installation, evicting squirrels from the attic, etc., etc., etc. For the next 9 years, there were no vacations involving going anywhere fun. Vacations were opportunities to complete major projects.

    Which finally brings me to the hillbillies down the road. Just up the road, and across from the cornfields, lived a very large family of the most hillbilly-looking crew I’d ever seen. They were very nice people – very quiet – mostly mono-syllabic words used with the sparest of economies - and they truly looked to have walked right off the set of “Deliverance”. I swore, on more than one occasion, that I heard the theme for deliverance playing in the background as I drove by their place on the way home from work.

    They always had stuff on their lawn that they were selling. All kinds of stuff. You name it, they had it out there. We were redoing the kitchen. Complete overhaul. We barely had 2 nickels to rub together, so we were doing it all on the dirt cheap. Kathy would come home and announce that she saw some kitchen cabinets on the side of the road somewhere, and we would go looking for them, and they would become our kitchen cabinets. We’d scored a cooktop from “Builders’ Square” on the discount rack, but still needed an oven. Kathy really wanted a double-oven. That was not happening.

    Coming home from work one day, driving by the hillbilly-homestead across from the cornfield up the road, Kathy spotted a beautiful, General Electric Double Oven, circa 1962, sitting right there among all the junk on the hillbilly lawn. She was beyond excited. She wanted that oven – wanted it badly. I was dispatched up the road to negotiate with the hillbillies on the GE Double Oven. I went up there, armed with all of my negotiation strategies that I had learned to prepare me for dealing with the union at work.

    I nonchalantly strolled onto the lawn and nosed around, looking at different items, trying my best to look as disinterested as I could possibly look. I inquired about a lamp, then asked about a rake, then finally said, “So, does that oven work?” “Yup” “Both ovens?” “Yup” “How do you know they work?” “Used to be in our kitchen here for 20 years– just replaced it – still works!” “Hmmm…so, how much you asking for it?” “20 bucks – delivered!”

    Holy shit! I was expecting to have to talk them down to 75 or 100 bucks from 200 – 300. Twenty dollars? “I’ll take it!” I forked over a twenty, and they swiftly moved into full-fledged hillbilly action, as about 5 or 6 of them emerged from the house, and they hoisted that GE Double Oven up onto their hillbilly wagon, and brought it right down the road to our place on the lake, and brought it right on into our kitchen.

    And it worked…well, it worked once we hooked it up right. Following the little schematic that came with it, we thought we had it hooked up right. I had never seen an oven light that bright before. That sucker lit up the entire kitchen. The oven clock was awfully loud, “BZZZZZZZZZZZ”, and ran a bit too fast. Then the oven light just exploded as someone opened it. That’s when we realized – we had the clock and the lights wiring connected to the 220 V breaker, and the ovens to the 110, instead of the other way around. Fortunately, this was discovered before any further damage occurred, and once we had the electrical hooked up right, we used the hell out of those ovens over the next 8-9 years.

    Best 20 bucks I ever spent. I’ve paid triple that just to have appliances delivered, and that 20 bucks included the hillbilly delivery. I’ll be willing to bet that double-oven is still in use in that house today, 16 years after we moved out of there.
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