Susanna Salk



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Barnhouse Blog #6
Monday, January 30th, 2017

Barnhouse Blog #6 There’s a moment when you’re deep in the middle of rehearsing a play where the joy of beginning is as far away as the euphoria of opening night, that a director once told me was called “Uglyville.” Our neighbor’s new construction and now – surprise! guest house garage – doesn’t seem to be getting any nearer to completion and the near constant echo of their hammers has become taunting. Each cold day unfolds with gray uncertain skies that seem more symbolic of the mood of much of this country rather than seasonal. And in my tiny corner of it, the reality of ripping out old cabinets, shag carpet, cracked yellow tile and filling dumpsters with the detritus of someone else’s discarded life before building my own, definitely feels like Uglyville. I know it’s a deep privilege to be in the middle of a creative process with the common goal being pleasure. So I turn up the music to cover the sound of bulldozers and I go on Pinterest and pick images I want to transform the now empty rooms in to and feel a little closer to opening night. The demo guys who started this morning in the guest house handed me two tarnished brass trophy labels they found on the floor. One was from 1965 and the other from 1975. I took a picture of them and asked the former owner if he’d like them sent to him. He emailed back with much surprise and appreciation that I would take the time to ask about his “mediocre baseball career” and that I could toss them. I keep thinking how I was a baby in crib near Boston while he was running bases here in the fields of Connecticut. As they peel back the old linoleum tile in his kitchen and I am deciding what kind of floors I want to put back down, it occurs to me that I’m as much creating a future archaeological site as renovating. Who will find what of mine long after I’m gone? I am keeping the plaques not necessarily because I think he’s going to change his mind but because they will remind me of this question. #barnhouseblog

Barn House Blog #5
Monday, January 23rd, 2017

In which the sign for our property arrives! It’s one of those big small things. In much the way animals like to mark their territory I suppose humans do too. It reinforces our place in the world and makes us feel safe. I am beyond lucky to have this luxury. A simple wood sign made by a kind and patient stranger in Niagara Falls I found on Etsy to help guide future strangers and friends to find our new house feels like the best kind of karma. I hope someday it will guide Anne @woodfinds to our door so I can thank her in person. In which our town permit and zoning meeting is canceled yet again for inclement weather that never happened. We can’t start until we have their nod so in an effort to reassert my control over mother nature and red tape, I go down the rabbit hole of finding the perfect white. An online village helps me narrow the hundreds of seemingly identical whites down. Throughout the process I keep reminding myself that Eskimos have 50 words for “snow” and in English we have more or less one word for”patience.” I also go online to get velvet samples for our living room sofas for a house that has not even been approved yet. Meanwhile Jo the painter, a.k.a. the actor Kevin James, began painting the old new kitchen cabinets after we settled upon @benjaminmoore Wrought Iron. Ordered brass hardware to pair. Joe thinks this is a brilliant combination. Don’t have the heart to tell him it wasn’t my idea: I’m just copying the 10,000 other examples I’ve seen on Pinterest this week. But at the end of the day nobody else has our Pinnacle Valley sign and house number and for that I am so grateful. #barnhouseblog

Barn House Blog #4
Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

I don’t watch The Bachelorette, but I suspect that my current task of choosing a white for the guest house walls isn’t entirely dissimilar: I need a hue mate that has extreme compatibility, longevity, yummy warmth and a glamorous spirit without an overbearing attitude. Oh and no muddy undertones. The longer I look at them, the more the choices start to look the same. I am immensely grateful to the thousands of people who weigh in on their favorites on blogs and via magazines but the decision ultimately must be mine. I’ve been whittling it down to a favorite via some sample dating, but I am ashamed to admit how I sometimes am attracted to a contestant merely for their pretty name ( ie; Lily of the Valley over Simply White.) I know paint isn’t a human. But there are hundreds to choose from and The Bachelorette only has to pick from appx 30 guys. And we both have to live with our choices. That is, until next season. #barnhouseblog

Barn House Blog #3
Tuesday, January 17th, 2017

Barnhouse blog Week #3: in which I test drive some modern bathtub shapes and realize I’m never going back to the clawfoot days. In which I realize that our painter Joe looks EXACTLY like Mall Cop’s Kevin James and therefore it’s sometimes hard not to start giggling when we discuss hardware dimensions. Joe will begin repainting the old / new cabinets this week so they’ll be ready to install in the guest house. In which new BFF Rebecca at Northwest Flooring inspires me. Even on a dreary Monday morning she’s always dressed in cute black shawls and boots and jewelry and I make sure to put on a fresh coat of lipstick before I go in for the 4th time to tell her our “final choice!” Instead of cork (may be too corky and too quirky – sounds the same!- for such an expanse) that we may go with new HD vinyl flooring. Choices are surprisingly elegant not to mention waterproof and absorb radiant heat beautifully and look exactly like wood. Husband worries he will feel shame with every man who walks across our threshold and is told planks actually vinyl. So I’m alerting any future male visitors now that real men may not need real wood in the area. With the weather and the project in this kind of unsexy way station, it’s important to treat one’s eye to the equivalent of a spa day: basking in the healing powers of Oberto Gili’s house in Italy in this month’s AD is such a thing.I’ve been lucky enough to visit this house and to me it’s everything a home should be: layered personal, whimsical and full of life from roses to donkeys to dogs. I almost feel like a fraud going online shopping for velvet sofas that will try to capture that old world spirit. But like I’ve always said: design is one of the few places where it’s OK to plagiarize because exact duplication is impossible. That being said, I may have some convincing to do with husband that it’s OK to hang artwork below the knee line in our bedroom…

Barn House Blog #2
Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Barn House Blog Entry #2: The part where you work on your house virtually because there’s nothing you can do in reality while permits wait to be approved. So you cobble together inspiration and resourcing from a village of experts to feel more in control. For the guesthouse kitchen cabinets, you buy a pair of new cabinets that are being ripped out of a new house nearby by a newer owner who is tearing down the house to build an even newer house. Will paint them a comforting gray (decided on hue by googling “Designers’ Favorite Grays” and then lied to painter that you had seen a sample in real life when he asked if you were sure. You will add brass hardware found on eBay and slather the kitchen dingy walls with white paint. You are especially pleased to see this vibe works via a recent Instagram posted by designer @grantkgibson. You remember @alexahamptoninc using cork flooring in her amazing NYC apartment you just shot with @quintessence and suggest this is a viable option for the barn flooring to husband in lieu of costly, finicky wood. He is surprisingly game. Dog helps consult cork brochure with you. Depressed since boys have left to go back to school so trudge over to new property in snow storm to be reminded of its reality. Stunned to see that in the course of a few weeks a neighbor’s brand-new and very large weekend house has shot up on the once bare hill in full view of guest house. For some ridiculous reason think of Trump looming behind Hillary Clinton at the debates. Soothe self by reinforcing boundaries. At the base of our new driveway (which is at the end of shared driveway with existing house) there used to be a Pinnacle Valley sign nailed to a tree. Email former owner who explains he’s taken it with him to North Carolina for memory’s sake. Middle of night go on Etsy and design a new sign which will hopefully greet visitors for generations to come. When the artisan asks if she should treat wood to make it look old, you tell her you’d rather the sign earn its years. #barnhouseblog

Barn House Blog #1
Saturday, January 14th, 2017

Day One of the Barn House renovation:
The former owner- whose family has occupied the property since the 1880s- vacates this humble yellow house where he raised 2 daughters since 1980. He calls on our landline which never rings anymore and I happen to pick up : he wants to gives me the meter box numbers to the electricity to switch over to our name. As I take down the numbers I realize the reality of what we have done. The fantasy of buying the dream property literally next door is now transforming itself into things that are our responsibility now. He is a steely lawyer who suffers no fools. However his voice is softening, the way when the lake unfreezes in March. I ask him how he feels and he says: “Strange. I’ve never seen the house empty before.” His children have now grown and soon he will leave the keys on the kitchen counter for us and drive to North Carolina where he has purchased a new home and retire. Eventually I will have to leave my keys on the counter for whomever buys our current house. And so will the people who buy our house to their house and so on and so on. We bond more over this than we ever have as neighbors in seven years. His home will ultimately become a modern guest house to a barn style house just up the hill that will be our main house. Right now it’s an empty barn from the 70s, its floors drenched in bat shit and slates of sun pouring through the broken glass windows. The only furnishing is a rotted bookshelf full of titles like “Understanding Russia” and “Arabian Nights.” Their dusty print is so minuscule it’s like another language. I stand and imagine where our new fireplace is going to be and where the sofas are going to be and how someday I hopefully will sit on them and read my iPad and look through the renovated windows to the yellow house -now painted another color -where my sons will hopefully live when they visit and their children and so on. It’s one continuous chain. And in order for it to flow, change must come. “Please visit,” I tell him before hanging up. #barnhouseblog

House Trained
Thursday, December 8th, 2016

I should have seen it coming. Two new rugs in our bedroom. Three dogs. You see already where this is headed and yet you continue to perhaps read with the same faith I possessed upon buying them and believing that their integrity would remain intact. (The rugs, not the dogs.) “You got shag ones,” my husband pointed out to me as though I had been blindfolded and forced to purchase them at gunpoint. “They think it’s grass.” And while he definitely wasn’t defending them, (the dogs not the rugs) he was reiterating- the way you do to someone who continues to walk into a glass door- that the plush-like feel of our rug was inspiring our dogs to pee with abandon as though we were living like a frontier family out on the open plains of the Wild West. Our dogs are house trained. And I’ve sen them hold it in for great lengths of time. I’ve walked miles in the cold, hard rain, encouraging them to let it fly but they won’t stop for a beat. After driving all the way home I tuck myself into my sun-filled bedroom which doubles as my office and suddenly, like it’s intermission at a Cats matinee, the dogs scamper in after me and treat each square like its their own stall and the house lights are flickering urging them to hurry back to the show.
“Are you kidding me?!” I’ll often shout and they just look blink at me, defiant yet polite.
I run to the bathroom, grab my designated sponge, spray bottle of trusty “Zero” and get down on my hands and knees and immediately eliminate any smell in hopes they won’t remark. Ironically, this always leaves an even greater wet mark, so that when my husband comes home and dampens his socks walking across the rugs, he inevitably will ask me if the dogs have, yet again, peed upon them.
In the morning, after I feed them and they’ve have a good hour of romping outside (their equivalent of Starbucks) I often come out of the shower to the sight of one of the dogs back on the rugs, mid squat (Tink, the girl) or mid lift, (Cheddar, the male). The worse is when I don’t catch them doing anything at all: they are curled sleeping around me and all is well in the world until….I get a whiff. I know then it has already happened: when I wasn’t looking or left the room, someone squeezed one in. I jump up and grab my bottle and spray (I might as well them around my waist like a tool belt, to be ready at all times or how I even wished for some light saber-like weapon I could simply wave in the air and the spot would magically evaporate) and then get down on my hands and knees and start sniffing to find the exact area of infraction. Sometimes I imagine the dogs quietly snickering to themselves while I, butt in air, have my nose pressed deeply into the synthetic pile sniff like a truffle pig on steroids.
But they would’t do something so premeditative and naughty would they? They are good dogs, wonderful dogs.
I keep returning to my husband’s comment about the grass. My craving for a chic, polished modern rug has triggered a primitive reaction and it is not their fault. So the battle continues, a push-me-pee-you affair that seems to feed on itself ad infinitum. For a short awhile, I thought human research and civilization would be the victors: I would simply out maneuver their moves with my technology (at $30 a bottle from PetSmart) After all, a dog and traveled to the moon but man had built the rocket ship and eventually landed on it themselves.
Then slowly, I could see the shift move in their direction…the rugs, while cleaned to every inch of their fibrous lives, were starting to take on scents that, while not pee, almost smelled as bad as pee. I’d add a dash of expensive cologne to try and cover them, but a third equally offensive smell was then born: a smell that reminded me that my dogs were still peeing.
Today something clicked- no snapped- as I tried to ignore its gushy scents. I suddenly rolled each rug up and pushed them down the stairs. Soon I’d haul them to Goodwill. For now, I enjoyed a brief repose at the top of the stairs. It was over. The dogs clustered around me and we stared at the rugs, as if we were on the prow of a ship and watching our wake float pleasantly behind us.
I suddenly felt a wet mark on my ankle. Tink was licking it affectionately with her tiny pink tongue. I stood up and looked at three tails wagging at me. Then I said “Now: who wants to go for a walk?”

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

I still see women like her all over the Upper East side, holding a few too many shopping bags, some from stores that have long since closed. The traces of a privilege childhood and dissolved marriage linger on their faces like dinner guests who don’t want to go home to an empty house.
I met Jeannie during the summer of my junior year at college and while at the time she seemed of an indeterminate age with her blonde page boy hair cut, apple cheeks and squat little body, she was likely no older than 40. Our paths had literally first crossed in Nantucket: she was barreling down Main Street in a large group and bumped into me: wearing an oversized Mickey Mouse t-shirt, white jeans and holding a gin and tonic between fingers full of beautiful rings, she told me had inherited from her grandmother when I admired them. She hugged me as though we had both won a game show and told me I reminded her of a niece of a brother she no longer spoke to. Her eyes welled as she began to explain before being jostled away by the herd. We continued to run into each other in the ensuing summer weeks: on people’s boats, at the beach (she tucked a large pink towel around her entire body, explaining: “No one is seeing what’s underneath this anymore!” ) One time I found her crying at the back of a bar because her boyfriend had gone off to another party without telling her. As she hugged me, the top of her head smelled like fruit. I realized it was coming from the wedges in her drink she clutched in one hand.
When I needed a place to crash in Manhattan while looking for a job she insisted I stay with her for a few days. “I’m in the right neighborhood,” she said as if that’s all there was to it. She lived in a dignified yet small building off of Lexington Avenue in the 70s. As the doorman buzzed me in, I fleetingly entertained an image of me coming home after a glamorous day at the office, to join my husband at cocktail hour before a fire. Jeannie lived there with her teenage son, his father and her ex-husband no longer in the picture or even mentioned, his absence like silt on a window obstructing what could otherwise have been a glorious view. Jeannie had been a model in her twenties and for a very brief time, an actress in a Broadway show. On the day that I arrived she was flush from a visit downtown, wrapped like a prize fighter in a mink coat having asked the producer of the show to see if he would lend her money to help pay for her son’s prep school education. As she recounted her encounter to him with me, I could see how the coat’s sleeves were too short but she looked fearless just the same and I believed in her cause. She showed me her old Playbill and kept repeating: “I was here, don’t you see? I was here!” I nodded, even though I wasn’t quite sure what she meant.
She was leaving that night for her boyfriend’s house in the Hamptons and she insisted I take her bedroom. I lay down that night in her bed, unsure of what I was doing the next day. For a moment I pretended my husband was about to lie down next to me and that our wonderful son slept down the hall. On a handsome antique bureau sat a cluster of silver-framed pictures: one of Jeannie as a child on a lush lawn by herself and another of her dancing in a white dress and gloves with an older man. Below I could see that one of the handles on the top drawer was missing. And below that, another. I walked over to admire the oil paintings on the wall until my eye settled on water mark stains blooming on the floral wallpaper above them. In the corner was a box full of large unopened bottles of Evian. I got into her bed and pulled the worn Porthault sheets closer.
The next morning, as her son and I awkwardly stood in the kitchen as though we were siblings, I asked if the water was safe to drink. “Oh absolutely,” he said from underneath his bangs. I explained about the Evian bottles. “When my dad and she first moved into the apartment they were doing a bunch of work and had no water for like a week so my father arranged this delivery service for her.”
“How long ago?” I asked as causally as I could, as if by knowing, it would set back the clock, reverse anyone and anything who had ever crossed the threshold and not come back home.
“Before I was born,” he said, handing me a bowl already filled with what looked like Rice Krispies. He then poured the milk over them, sloshing it slightly, so that the liquid almost keeled over the sides until I righted it just in time. Then, like we had been doing so all our lives, we both sat down. I never saw Jeannie again.

What Would Hillary Do?
Sunday, February 21st, 2016

As these things go it was small. But like a paper cut, its unexpected slice was swift and surprisingly sharp.
I can’t call it an assault. I was not touched. Sexual harassment is closer but it did not involve a colleague. It was more than a quip and a cousin to the insult. To many generations of men and even perhaps women, his words would have been deemed friendly if not downright complimentary and I, as their bearer, as being too sensitive.
And that was the most frustrating part. A woman could very well be our next president, yet still a 92 year old man’s targeted words made me feel as primitive as dirt.
It was at a tennis club where I hit once a week during the winter. He was dressed in warm up suit but clearly only there to watch his male cronies play. He sat facing a wall of windows that looked out onto the courts.
As I entered, I noticed his frail frame out of the corner of my eye tracking my arrival. When I came out of the locker room in a tennis skirt, he had fully shifted to face me. I could almost smell his intent as I headed down to the courts.
As a woman, starting at about age thirteen, you become skilled in priming yourself to the various ways men receive your presence. It has very little to do with beauty and much to do with age. I remember as a young teen suddenly getting a whistle when I walked by some men after buying my first pair of heels and my mother congratulated me. Soon after, I got used to crossing the other side of the street when I saw a construction site coming. In college, on my way walking to an off campus party, a bunch a teenagers on bikes sped towards me and one of them jumped off and grabbed me. I instinctively kicked him hard and high between the legs and surprisingly, the group pedaled off.
Later to my date, I shouted over the throbbing party music what had happened or worse, what could have. He listened and then handed me a beer. I took it, ready to enjoy my evening, strangely calm.
At my first big movie pitch in Los Angeles with my female colleague- who also had blonde hair- we walked into a conference room and were greeted by a man in his sixties with: “So let’s hear what the blonde bookends have to say!”
Little instances like this- and every woman has had her share in varying degrees- had indeed dissipated as I had gotten older but, like the lack of oxygen felling even the best climbers to a halt atop Mount Everest, there is never such a thing as easy acclimation.

“Hello Legs.” I pretended I couldn’t hear him. His friends had now come off the courts and were gathered round him.
“I said: HELLO LEGS!” His voice had a tear of annoyance through it now like a run in a stocking. I looked up and he was grinning, scanning me up and down.
“I heard you,” I said and gripped my racquet more tightly.
“Uh oh, Bob, you’re in trouble!” One of his peers teased and the group laughed along.
Then Bob mumbled a joke that ended with the phrase, “Did you get a happy ending?”
“I don’t appreciate being addressed that way. It’s wrong!” I chided and then hurried down to the court, for some reason thinking of when Donald Trump made fun of Hillary Clinton for going to the bathroom during a debate.
To say I played out of my mind that day is an understatement. As I left the club, I told the owner what happened. He kept his eyes down as he strung a racquet. “Someone needs to please tell this guy he can’t do that,” I said. The woman at the reception desk was listening carefully but she said nothing.
The following week Bob was there again. He spun around in his seat to receive my approach.
“Hello Gorgeous!” I nodded in response and he repeated the greeting, more loudly. Calm down, I told myself: isn’t this better than calling you “Legs?”
The next week Bob was not at the courts but an elderly gentleman was waiting for me as I got off mine.
“Look, Bob’s my best friend and the only thing he gets out of bed for all week, is to come watch us play. But I told him he couldn’t come today because I felt badly what happened to you the other week.” He explained.
“Did you tell him why?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “I was scared. I don’t want it to hurt our friendship. You see we are from another generation. He thinks he’s just being friendly. And he forgets.”
“You understand it’s not like he’s asking me for the time of day repeatedly.” I said, feeling like we were both on sinking life rafts staring at each other across a vast ocean. “His comments, for lack of a better word, feel letchy. I don’t think you’d want your wife or your daughters to feel that.”
“He’s a great guy. He loves my daughters and he’s beloved by the community.”
“It seems small but it’s hard to explain how it feels when it happens to you-” I tried to counter.
“I feel responsible because I’m the one that brings him,” he continued. “I’m sorry.”
“He’s responsible,” I said. “If people don’t tell him how it’s wrong it just kind of enables the behavior.”
The image flashed in my mind of Chelsea Clinton walking across the White House lawn toward the awaiting helicopter holding her estranged parents’ hands on either side.
“Look,” said Bob’s friend. “Can we just try this? Can I bring him one more time and if he does it again just tell him to stop? I mean really lay in to him.”
An old man lying alone in a bed upstairs, life’s last pleasures being played out in a shoddy tennis club against my middle aged legs which were now shaking: was this really cause for a debate?
A ball suddenly rolled over and bounced off my ankle. A teenage boy playing on the last court gestured that it belonged to him. I gave the ball a targeted smack. He caught it with his free hand, then offered me a bow of appreciation.
“Alright,” I told Bob’s friend. “One more time.”

Monday, January 25th, 2016

The other day while in the dentist chair, I was asked if I wanted to watch TV during my cleaning. I used the baby remote to scan through the horrific morning choices before eventually stopping at an HGTV episode where a young couple visits various houses for sale with the aid of a host (wearing a short teal dress and high heels) to guide them towards their best real estate choice.
The camera followed the couple – let’s call them Jim and Sue— clutching hands as they toured three houses, all in their price range. House One and Two I immediately knocked off the list as they had absolutely no character, merely offering cookie-cutter rooms with a rigid ability to ever go beyond what they had originally been designed for.
Over the dentist drill, I could hear Sue exclaiming how much she loved the built-in closet in House One and the HGTV host nodded and smiled. “But the master bedroom has no view and you’re in the country!” I exclaimed in my head. “A view is more important than a big closet.”
Jim, meanwhile, could imagine grilling on the patio on House Two especially since it wasn’t far from the shopping center where he could easily pick up whatever was needed. “But that patio feels like it was slapped on by a contractor that just wanted to flip the house, Jim: it has no relationship to the rest of the house or the yard!” I was clutching the hands in my lap in bursts as though trying to send him my message via morse code.
“We’re almost done,” the dentist said sympathetically.
Then came House Three: looking completely different than the other two, like a wildflower in a bunch of carnations.
It was a funky, rambling affair, its imperfect rooms floored by old wood and embraced by large windows on almost every side. Unfortunately the previous owner had left the heavy curtains and I could hear Sue commenting on the lack of light. “Just tell her to the take them off: there’s plenty of light!”
“I’m sorry, is it too bright?” asked my dentist. “Do you want to wear the sunglasses we provide?”
House Three’s wraparound porch stretched out like a lazy Saturday afternoon overlooking a lawn made for cartwheels and silly croquet. This was a house that had held lives that loved it and was ready to hold many more.
“Now this one,’” said the hostess with a tiny frown, “Does need a lot of work but that’s why it falls in your price range.”
I could see Sue looking in the master’s slightly small closet discouragingly. When I saw Jim’s face look discouragingly at the porch railing which was painted black, I knew it was over for House Three.
“We’re almost done,” the dentist said soothingly.
By the end of the show Sue and Jim were sitting on a very white porch somewhere clutching large goblets of white wine and clearly discussing the merits and disadvantages between all the houses.
“So what’s your answer?…” the host- who always seemed to be leaning in- asked them.
Sue took another big sip of wine and reached out to hold Jim’s hand.
The dentist was rinsing my mouth out with huge squirts of water and then placing a suction tube at my lips and asking me to hold on.
I could see the way the screen was flashing pictures of House One repeatedly that Sue had gotten her wish.
I sunk back into the chair resignedly. It was, after all, her choice, not mine.
I longed to use the remote to transport me back in time and look at House Three with my husband and boys and start a real estate journey all over again. For me it was always the very best kind work despite that there was no greater effort. The idea of it made me cringe with joyful and painful memories.
“Are you experiencing extra sensitivity?…” the dentist asked.
I paused, not sure of the best answer.