I used to gaze at the ceiling and think about life's big questions.
Now, when I look at the ceiling I think: "Is that a water spot?
Is that upstairs radiator leaking? Or could it be (shudder!) the return of the mysterious drip from the bathroom?
Similarly, when I stare at walls, I no longer drift into deep space. Instead I find myself examining how deep the crack in the wall is.
These are symptoms of what I call homeowners' eyes. Or put another way, when you own a house, you start seeing things.
Things like the water that collects on the backyard walk. I investigated and found that there was a hole in the part of guttering, which functions like a drainpipe, carrying water from the downspout and out to the alley. Instead of traveling from the roof out to the alley, the rain water was taking a little detour through the hole, thereby creating Lake Backyard.
The leak was near a junction in the drainpipe. I pulled the sections apart, covered the hole with a thin piece of sheet metal, and put the pipe back together. I told myself how clever I was, having fixed a leak without having to buy a whole new section of drainpipe. I awaited the next rain. It came.
From inside the house things looked good. But when I walked outside for a closer inspection of my workmanship, I saw water was still working its way out of the hole.
The flow was not as strong as it had been, but there was still an pool of water to water to step over. Lake Backyard had become Pond Backyard.
I begin to see nature differently as well. Recently, I spotted a tiny insect working its way across the floor. It was mid-December, off season for bugs. Instead of marveling at the surprising tenacity of this critter, I squashed it. Then I immediately began searching around for any creepy compatriots. Finding none, I tried to figure out how in the name of pesticides that bug had made its way all the way to middle of the house.
Not all things seen with homeowners' eyes are distressing. I also see things that make me feel proud. Things that most other people don't notice. Like the tile on the bathroom floor that still looks good and is still in place after my wife and I put it down last year.
And the caulking I recently squeezed into place around the bathtub. It is still expelling water. I find myself admiring it as I take a shower.
The other day I thought of how my view of the world had changed, as I recalled a New Year's Eve dinner party in Washington, D.C., I attended about 10 years ago.
One of the diners was a young man who worked for "The Senator" on "The Hill" and who had a habit of pausing before he issued a statement and saying, "I'm not sure if this is public information yet, but . . ."
As the New Year approached, this fellow suddenly suggested that everyone at the table list the significant events of the past 12 months.
He would take charge, he said, of "national and international" events.
Once the year's "national and international" events had been taken care of, nobody else at the party had anything to say, including me.
But I was younger then, and less certain of what I regard as really important issues. If that same scene were to be replayed this New Year's Eve, I know exactly what areas of interest I would comment on.
I'd say: "I'll take plumbing and heating."