There came a point this afternoon when I retired to my recliner. Like an old, suburban person, I was, seated in my lounger. Ahead of me, the TV screen, its vast expanse, stared at me. It was off, of course. The thing is rarely on. I have no objections, but I have no time, and even less interest. In fact, this applies to my general state. It was why I was sitting there, staring dumbly, numbly. Long day’s journey into nothingness.
At times, it seems that I am shifting gears, getting used to a higher degree of activity. After all, I am my own master, a retired master at that, at least in terms of corporate work. I am hardly clocking in and out of assignments. But the current burst of activity, the convergence of wedding plans, house plans, moving plans, health plans and floor plans. I am planned out. At the best of times, I am no planner, that is the simple truth. Except that there are no simple truths. It’s all Bosch.
That’s right, I just bought my second dishwasher in as many months…not to mention a certain amount of dishwasher service contracts, dishwasher advice and general dishwasher anguish. I am not used to being a landlord, that is the other thing. Boundaries, maybe that’s the issue. The young couple next door, complete with baby, my tenants all of them, well they were having trouble with their new Bosch dishwasher. I was having trouble that they were having trouble. I wanted everything to go so smoothly, the exorbitant rent in Menlo Park seeming to deserve smoothness. Yes, this is a ridiculous equation, something no business person would ever believe. But there you have it. Anyway, tenant’s problem solved. On to the next, well, Bosch.
Which was, it turned out, one Bosch too many. And it all began with a guy and his chessboard.
Honestly, you should see it. Beautifully handmade, a mixture of native California woods, oak and walnut and maple. Though the dark squares on the chessboard are made of a Brazilian hardwood. Patrick rattled off the names of each wood type, inviting me to run my fingers over his handiwork. He explained that the surface was polished to within some…I don’t know, a certain number of angstroms or something. I was impressed that he had any sort of measurement for this. I was impressed by the very beauty of his work. I was impressed, initially, by the fact that I know his brother. All in the family, as it were. High craftsmanship. Sure, for I needed a carpenter, he needed to work, and there we were, me smoothing my fingers over the chessboard, then Patrick wandering about my apartments.
Yes, this gives the spatially challenged, and the organizationally hopeless, an enormous task. I say this only half apologetically. For I know that I am stumbling my way forward with these apartments. Somehow, this is a challenge I have needed to undertake. It’s still a challenge, but what the hell. My way.
Earlier in my remodeling career there seemed to be a team in place. Sometimes even a designer. Problem is, as these artisans became more present in my life, they sensed some opportunity, some weakness, perhaps, in me. No, that may be overstating it. Maybe they sensed some weakness in this situation. Whatever. Speculating is eminently useless here. Let us state the simple facts. The Iranian contractor who does such beautiful work, who promised to have the laundry room done by the end of May came by this week, complete with crew, and made some tantalizing steps toward completion. Then he disappeared. His crew disappeared. As though borne aloft by, yes, flying carpets. Where are they? More to the point, I would not blame my tenants for asking the obvious question: where is that laundry room we were promised in our lease?
I make the occasional (futile) call…which invariably results in a brief flurry of activity. Still, a laundry room is or isn’t. This one isn’t. This entire digression serving to make the simplest, smallest point. That the supposed team is no longer in place. My apartment and its meager projects are a sort of waystation on the construction caravan. I don’t understand. Never mind. The team is gone. And Patrick, master of wood inlay, is what is left.
Oh, did I mention that I made one effort at understanding the young adult market? Matt, my thirtysomething neighbor, assured me he could give some advice in this area regarding apartments and what they should and shouldn’t have. And he still may. Problem is, he has set off for Lake Tahoe, and I can’t blame him. Thus Patrick.
Note the absence of a designer. Note the absence of a contractor, also. Not to worry, anyone who can make a chess set has my fullest confidence. Problem is, my brain is completely fried by the time Patrick arrives. It’s been going on for weeks, practical arrangements, organizing things, trying not to forget, desperately hoping to prioritize. Too late now, for Patrick, who looks very much like an aging surfer, is wandering about the upstairs apartment, the one that Jane will soon occupy. When was the last time I climbed those stairs? Years. A wise person would go up there now and have a look around. But I am making do with this, the sound of Patrick’s boots on the upstairs floorboards. He slams the apartment door, trundles down the outside steps, and he gives me a full report. What will it take to install a dishwasher? That was my question. I hear Patrick’s answer. Then I see it, a drawing.
Which leads to another question. What about the bathroom? I asked a very stupid question here. What does he, Patrick, think of its general modernity? Because I am enormously lacking in style, there seems no other way to frame this. Nonetheless, we are on to this discussion, Patrick and I. He has some ideas. How long, I keep asking, to remodel this or update that?
This entire effort is predicated on one meager fact. The apartment will be empty for a few days. The tenant is gone, Jane is not yet arrived, and there it is, sitting dormant as it were. Meaning that for a few days, I can blast my stereo with impunity. Which I do, of course. But there is more, and that is the practical opportunity inherent in vacancy. Space abhors…a vacuum? Is that the expression? I don’t know. Whatever there is to be said about vacuums and space, Patrick is now filling both with his account of lighting options for the upstairs bathroom. And, of course, the upstairs kitchen. We have also had a complete rundown on counters. No one wants tile anymore, it seems. Granite is the thing. Granite. I decide that I like it. Mount San Jacinto, in whose shadow I grew up, sort of, presented a most impressive face of white granite. And if it’s good enough for the Sierras, I always say. It’s good enough for my kitchens.
Thing is, this takes time, this granite and this no tile and so on. Jane moves in in just a few days. The window of opportunity being so short, my list of projects so long. And one of these days I’m going to install my own dishwasher, cross my heart. It has driven a succession of women nuts, this lack of modern appliances in my apartment. Which finally brings me around to this topic, my own place…what does Patrick think about tile and storage space and cabinets and this 1950s Formica island that currently dominates the kitchen? He thinks a dishwasher could go somewhere to the right of the sink. Which, after a phone call to Jane, represents the end point. Patrick is going to install a dishwasher in my apartment. Everything else? Left to chance, blowing in the winds.
Was it only yesterday that I was editing a chapter of my sister’s book, signing 50,000 papers to simply take out a house loan and generally drowning in repetitive mental motions…when I realized that my old friend Laura, a fellow combatant in the battle to lead a full life without a full spinal cord…was actually quite ill. It was time to visit her in Stanford Hospital. Even without wheels of my own. It was time. Yes, a major logistical battle to get across the Stanford campus on public transport, but there I was, rolling through linoleum halls…only to hear my name called. Laura’s sister had spotted me. And there was Laura herself, in a bed, being wheeled down to surgery. I gave her a big smile, said I would be back soon…and took in her vibes, her expression. All of which said suffering. Maybe even that slight sense of abandonment that comes when life itself, or the worthwhileness of life itself, seems to hang in the balance. Everything sagging, hopeless, or near. A sobering moment in my frantic life, but a necessary one. Which explains why a man can spend much of a Saturday staring at a blank television screen.