Pirate-Style Home Remodeling


pirate paintbrush
When a Clinical Psychologist with attention deficit disorder and an obsession with all things Pirate decided to remodel his traditional 1970’s home in Atlanta Georgia beginning around Stardate 2000 A.D., all bets were off. As a single dad with three young sons and without benefit of intelligent feedback from a spouse, life partner, licensed architect or construction-related professionals of any kind, well-advised precepts of home improvement like “curb appeal”, cost/budget analysis and systematic planning were tossed overboard in favor of better ideas like multiple man caves, poop decks and secret passageways. Architectural treatments that would appeal to feral children, Tom Hanks in the movie “Big” or anyone with more imagination than good sense gained immediate favor over lesser considerations…. such as how much money I had in the bank. How much money you might ask? Well, let’s just say that recouping my total investment in time, man-hours and renovation dollars is  less likely today than the probability of Captain Ahab pulling into port dragging a White Whale behind his battered dinghy on a doggy leash. I also now understand why Ernest Hemingway chose to call his classic novel “Old Man and the Sea”. The weather-beaten old guy Santiago probably started out the trip as a young Cuban stud with velvety soft hands, endless optimism and a full head of hair. Speaking of dog leashes, I have three canines (two mini-dauchunds and a rescue black lab) and they especially love the poop decks and use them on a regular basis. If the pirates of old were people who tended to reject conventional thinking, spurn traditional approaches and had an abiding love for adventure, personal freedom and independence of spirit (even when that might get them in a great deal of trouble) then my house could be considered CaptCliff’s flagship of rebellious remodeling and architectural anarchy.
Over the course of my long (and still unfinished) home remodeling, several things became clear to me and are worth mentioning:
1) Renovations of this size and scope are not just a collection of finite tasks or ordinary home improvement projects like replacing a broken hanging lamp or changing out shag carpeting for hardwood floors. They are closer to epic ordeals and  life-death struggles worthy of their own opera…or at least a biopic documentary narrated by Werner Herzog. Like Timothy Treadway, the manic protagonist in Herzog’s “Grizzly Man” a guy who was literally consumed by his ill-fated love affair with wild Alaskan grizzly bears, I too failed to receive the kind of intensive psychiatric care or psychoactive medications that I probably needed before casually venturing out to tackle my overambitious if not downright quasi-suicidal objective. Like a Kamikaze pilot version of Walter Mitty, I was interested to find out what it would be like to not just immerse myself in a complete home remodel but do it basically all myself. If that wasn’t crazy enough, as a result of watching “Pickers”, “Flip This House” and other related (and probably completely phony) DIY cable television shows, I developed a peculiar delusion that I could accomplish this daunting task by using salvage materials, “sustainable” second-hand building materials and leftover items stacked up or slowly rotting in my basement. Yeah, I know. I should have been watching more episodes of “Intervention” and “Hoarders” instead. On the positive side, I was able to identify and diagnose myself as suffering from a new psychiatric disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Renovation Disorder (OCRD).
2) Death, destruction, entropy, and financial ruin lurk like a gathering of hungry ghosts around every home addition or sizable renovation project. That includes the ghost of some very well-known architects, designers and visionary builders like Frank Lloyd Wright whose own residence burned down not once but twice from arson, electrical issues and extremely bad karma. As a result, throughout the demolition, construction and remodeling I attempted to remain keenly aware of the need to stay focused and well organized. I also knew that there was a certain method to my idiosyncratic form of creative madness. Unfortunately that method along with my very best intentions became lost repeatedly (along with my car keys, drivers license, prescription glasses and wallet) under an enormous pile of important papers, unopened utility bills, hand-drawn renderings on napkins, certified mail, and mountain of purchase receipts from Home Depot and Lowes that came to resemble the aptly named Devil’s Tower in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” .
3) When one ends up taking forever to remodel their entire home, many popular design ideas and current trends come and go. Similarly, ones personal preferences often change because, well, people change as they get older and mature…or at least theoretically mature in my case. Certain things one never considered before suddenly begin to cross our mental “renovation radar screen” or are brought to our attention by deviously clever Facebook ads, Pinterest posts, etc. Through data mining, cookies and spyware these advertisers use personal information and demographics to “target” what they consider to be our most relevant and/or greatest consumer needs. By the way, am I the only person getting a spate of spam and pop-up commercials for Viagra, home catheters and adult-sized Depends diapers? Who knew that those battery-powered and electric chairs that take you up and down the stairs would start to look pretty good over time? Ditto with those walk-in bathtubs and thick stainless steel safety hand-rails. If anything, I came to view my original renovation design theme  ie. Southwest style, as morphing into a much more “international” architectural stew. I happen to like design features of a number of different cultures and exotic far-away places including Africa, Mexico, Hawaii, and the tropical Caribbean islands. As a result, it was natural for me to want to incorporate bits and pieces of these mentally magnetized flotsam/jetsam and ortgeist/zeitgeists into my slowly emerging melting pot pirate residence.
4) While the design components, architecture and interiors I chose over the years are highly individual and personal (particularly in terms of art and aesthetics) they also represent a genuine expression of my overall eccentric and now rather eclectic personality. Furthermore, because of who I am and what I do for a living (professionally speaking) my house attempts to communicate certain things to those brave souls who cross my glass-tiled threshold and “come aboard” symbolically speaking. This includes a number of  key insights, core values, and humanistic principles that I believe are fundamental to “positive pirate living” and living rooms. Such notions include relatively obvious concepts and instrumental values like seeking “peace” and “balance” in all things, maintaining a sense of humor with an appropriate amount of existential irony/sarcasm, and recognizing ones individuality, uniqueness and inherent value in an unusually superficial and materialistic “show-off” oriented society (think Kardashians, Trump, or literally any of the Wives of Wherever reality TV shows). Honestly I’ve already been there and done that and it didn’t make me very happy. At least my current home flaws and all makes me laugh quite often (mostly at myself) and reminds me of mankind’s repeated folly in thinking that human beings have complete control over anything from subcontractors to supernovas (or tsunamis for that matter). A very large home improvement project will most likely teach you this fundamental life lesson. Of course it’s also important to realize what a naive idiot and total fool you or I once were and then forgive yourself for it. That’s not all that different from learning to look back on and forgive oneself for their lost and/or reckless teenage years or even an embarrassing mid-life crisis in which a man I know thought he could restore a Jaguar XJ12 convertible in his garage even tho the classic car was in 378,298 pieces and he didn’t even have a garage door. True story and I am still missing a garage door…..
Hopefully my home remodel does succeed to tell a human story (my own) that is artistic, entertaining and possibly even psychoeducational. As a therapist I learned that once you “plumb the depths” of most people they actually turn out to be relatively interesting characters and multi-faceted personalities. Without exception they ALL have their own story to tell. Like Johnny Depp’s iconic Captain Jack Sparrow character who’s “rogue” persona and scoundrel personality is counterbalanced by a soft heart and rollicking sense of self-deprecating humor, most of us are a proprietary blend of positive, negative, and neutral attributes. A complete or seamless integration of such disparate aspects of one’s “whole” self (totality) is not always possible, nor is it necessarily even desirable. Similarly, my house has many different parts, paths, levels and leitmotifs but with a few common themes woven throughout.
My never-ending renovation and 15 year (and counting) home improvement project not only mirrors my contradictions and ADHD personality but also demonstrates my desire to improve myself, primarily from within. At 63 years old (and counting) my exterior or “curb appeal” has gone the way of my hippie-era long hair, bell-bottom jeans, and silver plated “ID bracelet” from 8th grade at Edgewood School in Highland Park, Illinois. In it’s place is a primarily “trial and error” lifetime that includes many memorable successes, miserable failures, heartbreaking losses, regrets, redemption, romance and resilience. Like my unfinished house and the many small cuttings of bamboo I planted in the untamed backyard, I have grown over the years and endured, at times bruised and bent but still not broken. Naturally, many of these dramatic themes are grist for the screenwriting and storytelling mill and as a result have ended up as major elements in practically every decent pirate novel, movie,  tune, and rum-soaked buccaneer tale told around a wooden pub table or bonfire.
Admittedly, life as a pirate parable or symbolic sea journey is not something often seen or architecturally expressed throughout a grown man’s residence in the leafy landlocked suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia. That’s probably especially true when the homeowner happens to be a 60-something Jewish Psychologist who in real life gets seasick standing on a fishing pier or when riding in the backseat of a slow moving car… However, once authenticity and imagination are given the green light, one is free to do as they please with their home. I chose to express myself and my inner pirate “CaptCliff” through a metaphoric never-ending voyage of self-discovery, through psuedo-nautical art, hand-crafted peace pipes, satirical sculptures, and through culturally diverse architectural spaces. If my very Jewish mother, Claire Mazer was still alive (God rest her soul) I could easily imagine her saying aloud, “Wouldn’t a few pieces of Judaica and a nice paintings from Safat or Jerusalem have sufficed?” Maybe it would have. Instead, I fearlessly (or foolishly) forged ahead and created a pirate style palace where form and function exist but are often superseded by personal meaning. Just like in my therapy practice, my home uses humor, metaphors, cultural symbols, and mental (cognitive)  “anchors” to express both a colorful life narrative and cautionary tale, depending on how you choose to look at it. I choose to see it as both sides of a gold coin with my name on it.
If my main goal in counseling is to help clients feel comfortable and safe while they learn to heal, grow and achieve balance between mind, body and spirit, then my home intends to do the same, but perhaps with my tongue more firmly planted in my cheek. By normal standards I realize one would have to be pretty “off the beam”, or different to custom design their primary domicile and largest financial asset in this way rather than just go to IKEA or call a licensed and bonded designer/architect/contractor. However, Cliff Mazer the Psychologist and CaptCliff the faux pirate both happen to believe that our “authentic self “(through the unfolding creative process and the passionate pursuit of wisdom) is not only the essential and enthusiastic spark of life that is so evident in small children (but too often lost over time) but also the real “buried treasure” that we seek whether we realize it or not. Making my house an honest expression of my dreams and youthful imagination (including my Captain Jack Sparrow-ish alter-ego) and a gallery/showplace in which to display my wonderful but not-so-perfect life story has been an ever-entertaining, exciting, and ego-humbling experience. Of course, on the other hand …or other side of the coin, finding real buried treasure in the form of Spanish gold or silver doubloons, shiny jewels and other awesome pirate booty on a beautiful far away tropical island would also be amazing too!
Cliff Mazer, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist living in Sandy Springs, Georgia. He has three grown sons and three female dogs. His favorite Halloween costume growing up in Highland Park, Illinois was a hand-made pirate costume and plastic sword. Contact: 404-932-7193 His blog can be found at https://captaincliff.wordpress.com
Addendum: Eventually I intend to offer my home and the purely pirate basement level as a community space for free pancakes and pirate-related learning, personal myth and meaning scavenger hunts, a Titanic existential “escape room” and specialized theme Airbnb hotel/hostel.
Soundtrack:  Teach Your Children Well
You, who are on the road must have a code that you can live by.
And so become yourself because the past is just a good bye.
Teach your children well, their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they pick’s the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
And you, of tender years can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth, they seek the truth before they can die.
Teach your parents well, their children’s hell will slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams, the one they pick’s the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

About captaincliff

Psychologist by day, insomniac Pirate blogger by night, this Child of God likes to share sarcastic social commentary as well as topsy-turvy observations about life, love and the pursuit of zaniness, a functional form of insanity in an increasingly insane world
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