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March 12, 2010

It's been a rough year.

Sometime before the 2008 election I had an ophthalmologist who prescribed eye drops I was allergic to. They also contained beta blockers. The point was to reduce the pressure on my optic nerve and control glaucoma. But the cures -- at least the ones Dr. Douglas Buxton prescribed -- were or at least seemed worse than the disease. My eyes itched uncontrollably. They watered. They wept. They were so red I looked like a stoned extra in a Cheech and Chong movie. I went out and got a pair of glasses with tinted lenses. I told myself they made me look mysterious, but it was all about concealing the way my eyes looked. The beta blockers -- at one point Buxton had me taking drops in both eyes twice a day -- turned me into a depressed, barely-functional Zombie. He never seemed to hear my concerns about these side effects.

All this was not good, not for writing, not for the lectures I give on the New Deal and the WPA and their lessons for modern political and financial challenges, not for sailing and my tennis game, not for my marriage.

Finally Barbara and I decided that I had to change doctors. (I should have gotten the message the first time I saw Buxton wearing a Sarah Palin button on his lab coat.) She found an ophthalmologist named Robert Ritch who a blogger raved was a great communicator. We went to see him at the New York Eye and Ear Hospital at Second Avenue and Fourteenth Street. Dr. Ritch was indeed a great communicator. He took care of basics. We had to watch a video about how to apply eye drops. We got sheaves of articles. People can read these things or toss them out, but I slogged through them and learned a lot, much of it about the side effects of my previous prescription regimen. Dr. Ritch started a controlled experiment, taking me off the bad drops in one eye and continuing them in the other. Over time he put me on a prescription regimen that has reduced the pressure to acceptable levels and given me my life back. But I'm pissed off about the months I lost.

Then there was the house. Since my last entry in this space in August, 2009, (OUCH! MY HOUSE HURTS!, Part 2) the work continued. The ground floor tenants moved out. This made things easier for the workers, who could now move tools and bricks through the apartment instead of from the sidewalk through a hatch into the basement and up through another hatch at the back of the house into the courtyard where the work was going on. It was also a psychological relief. Tensions eased. Poisons cleared.

It Only Takes One was the name Lenny Moreira chose for his construction company. As it has turned out at our place, it takes more than that. Lenny's crew consists of Caros Guiricocha, Angel and Julio Puma, Hernan Luis Castro, and Ruben Palaguacchi. They're all from the same city in southern Ecuador, and all started working masonry and other construction skills when they were kids, learning from fathers and grandfathers. They did magnificent work.

Time was important, so we expanded the work we gave to Denis O'Neill, whom we originally met as a window contractor and who was replacing all the windows in the extension. He and his helper Mario Astudillo, also from Ecuador, began to rebuild the back rooms on the second and third floor -- our second-floor tenant's bedroom and Barbara's office. Both those rooms, and the same one on the ground floor, were longer and wider. Removing the fireplaces accounted for the extra length. Removing 130 years worth of builders' slapping new work on top of old gave us several inches of extra width, to say nothing of the ceilings, which hid old electric fixtures and gas pipes unused for decades. Electrician Ed Seelig brought the old electrics up to code and added lighting in the courtyard and upstairs on our deck.

Lenny's workers finished the deck in December, just when it was getting too cold to use it. Our second floor tenant was back in her enlarged bedroom around the same time. Barbara got her office back last month. We prolonged the agony by repainting our first floor before Denis and Mario went on to their next job.

The ground floor apartment, where Lenny's guys were doing the interior work, took longer. We replaced all the bathroom plumbing, which meant taking up the floor and running new supply and drain lines. Philip George and his helper Butch did that work. The bathroom was a problem because it was in a long and narrow space; there was a toilet and sink at one end and a shower and sink at the other and the hall was so narrow you almost had to walk sideways. Our architect, Carl Finer, opened it out by putting sinks in the middle and glass walls for the toilet and shower rooms at either end. The glass contractor turned out to be clueless, but that's another story. As I write this the work is all but finished, the space is spectacular, and we've just secured a new tenant.

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