The stairwell leading from the kitchen to the basement is the ugliest part of this old house. There are holes in the plaster, sections where the plaster is loose and large sections where the plaster is gone entirely and the wood lath strips are exposed. There is a section of foundation wall that is completely exposed, the old terra cotta blocks having lost all of mortar and plaster covering. There are holes, too, and sections where someone used expanding foam to fill in gaps and never trimmed the excess. Ugly orange-ish blobs protrude from the wall.
The treads and floorboards of the sections were painted Kelly Green many decades ago. Two sections were covered with Masonite board, also painted green. What wall paint hasn’t flaked off is yellow. Long cracks run through through the plaster of the ceiling and there are sections where it sags, just waiting for the right bit of vibration to drop to the floor beneath.
The back door has been cobbled up, metal braces added to compensate for joint weakness caused by rotting near the floor. Also at the bottom, the wood has completely rotted away from the exterior corners of the doorframe. It, too, is an ugly yellow color. The kitchen door hides the view of all of this mess from visitors.
Over the past three years, I have gotten used to seeing it on my few-times-a-day trips to the basement for laundry, tools, paint. I have gotten so used to seeing it that I really don’t see it anymore. I travel up and down the steps without really even looking at it, much less even bothering to think about it.
Sometimes, blocking out the ugly is a survival technique. Sometimes, we have to live, at least for a while, amidst ugly that we cannot change. Maybe it’s our neighborhood, maybe it’s a particular house. Maybe it’s something totally beyond our control or even our influence. And so, we adjust. Since the constant “pain” of awareness would be an unprofitable consumption of emotional energy, we deaden our senses and continue our lives. That’s fine for the harsh realities of a universe in which we must face our limitations.
But it can also be a dangerous way of refusing to acknowledge changes that we know that we should make, a way of avoiding making things better. Got any old stairwells in your life that could use some work in 2014?