ralph robert moore
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Copyright © 2001 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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small, square holes in the white texturized ceiling
july 21, 2001
When I was in my early twenties, I wrote a story called Waiting.
The story was about how the amount of time we wait for someone can alter our attitude towards that person.
In the story, a boy waits for a girl.
In the first section, he waits five minutes before she arrives. The next section it's fifteen minutes, then half an hour, then two hours, then, finally, the ultimate wait of forever. She never arrives.
The French refer to orgasm as petit mort, which translates as 'little death', but really, although the phrase is much admired, I can't think of anything further from death than orgasm. I've never been more 'in life' than when I'm sharing my orgasm with another person, as they share theirs with me.
Petit mort is a useful phrase, though. I think it should be applied towards the true 'little death'. Waiting for a repairman.
Which I've been doing a lot of this past week. Although, swinging the front door open with each new chime, greeting the various uniformed men standing with toolboxes on my doorstep with a nod of the head, an extension of the right hand, I refrained, for tactical reasons, from telling them that I had, while waiting for them, experienced a 'little death'.
But the waiting certainly was that. You're alone in the silence of your defective home, working but ear cocked for the door bell or the phone braaaang, or sitting on the sofa staring at the front door.
The thing is, you never know when they're going to arrive, or even if they are going to arrive.
Plus, we have three cats, indoor cats, because they're declawed. Whenever a repairman is scheduled to come over, we have to do a kitty cat round-up, hee-hawing them into whatever room the repairman doesn't have to enter, so there's no chance of them slipping outside through the front door repairmen rarely fully close on their repeated trips back and forth from their white, brightly-lettered vans.
The cats hate this. We bring up water, food, a litter box, but each time I open the door to check on them, they look up at me from their four-legged stances on the carpet, eyes full of, 'Why, Daddy, Why?'
And of course you can't explain it to them. You can't get down on your haunches and say, 'You're being put in here for your protection, so you don't bolt outside. Out there, it's not safe. You could get chased up a lawn and mauled by a dog, or run over by people distributing pizza pamphlets'. All you can do is look at them with as much sincerity in your eyes as possible, and go, 'Blah, blah-blah. Blah blah.' But they don't understand.
As I mentioned in the previous entry, mice are attracted to electricity. They enjoy eating it. Last week, when bad luck blew through our lives as it occasionally does, the mice ate through nearly all our phone lines.
I had a telephone repairman come out, but unfortunately, the mice had eaten through a section of wiring inaccessible from either of our two attics (the attic for the downstairs rooms, and the attic for the upstairs rooms).
In order to get to the chewed-through length of phone line, we had to contract with a dry wall guy to come out and saw a twelve inch by eighteen inch hole in our kitchen ceiling.
This would be a three-step procedure.
We'd have the dry wall guy come out and cut the hole. Then we'd have the telephone repair guy come out and reach up into the hole and restring our telephone wire. Then we'd have the dry wall guy return and patch up the hole.
It turns out it's very difficult to persuade a dry wall guy to come out to perform a job that does not include adding a new wing to your house.
I called around to a couple of places, leaving messages because most of these people are independent contractors operating out of their homes, off on jobs during the day.
I got a human at one place, Kountry Karpenters (as always, I'm using real names here).
The guy who answered was about my age. He listened to my problem, chuckled, and related a story of how a mouse had chewed through the hard plastic of his hot tub, rendering it useless. "But we found him and killed him, though."
I arranged for him to come out the next morning, this past Tuesday, at nine o'clock to give me a bid (he had a minimum bid of $200 for jobs).
Towards the end of our conversation, I said, "Okay, I'll see you nine o'clock tomorrow morning."
He said, "Okay, Mr. Moore. See you nine, nine-fifteen tomorrow morning."
Now, by suddenly, casually, changing our appointment from 'nine' to 'nine or nine-fifteen', I interpreted what he was telling me as, 'Don't expect me to show up on time.'
Which he didn't.
That next morning, nine o'clock came and went. Nine fifteen came and went. At ten o'clock, I called his number, and got a recording of a woman's voice, probably his wife. I left a message. 'This is Rob Moore, we arranged to meet at nine o'clock this morning for a bid on removing a section of my kitchen ceiling. Please give me a call to let me know when you'll be out.'
I never heard back from him the rest of the day.
The following day, Wednesday, I got a message on my answering machine from him, saying he 'appeared' to have agreed to come out to my place yesterday to give a bid, and to please call him back if I wanted to set up a new appointment.
Guess what? I didn't.
Kountry Karpenters has a kute name, but they don't seem to be very koncientious.
So I called around to some other places, and got a call back from Drywall Repair Specialists.
The man I spoke with, Chris, agreed to come out that same afternoon, at four o'clock.
Precisely at four, our front door bell rang.
He walked around our kitchen, looking up, and said that actually we could get by cutting only a couple of small holes in the ceiling, rather than a big rectangle. He'd do the whole job for $150.
Mary and I sat out in the living room, catching up on our day, while Chris, on a ladder, sawed his small square holes in the white, textured ceiling.
I looked in at one point to see how he was doing.
He had pinned a large plastic see-through sheet to the ceiling in various spots, so that it hung down like a web, tying the bottom of the sheet around his waist, him inside the web, so that any plaster that fell from his sawing landed within the web, rather than on our counters or floor. Nice touch.
Although I offered to pay him for that day's work, he said we could wait until he had completed the job.
That same evening, I called Southwestern Bell, our telephone service, asking them to send out the same technician we had the first time, since he knew the situation, to restring our phone line above the kitchen ceiling. The customer service representative said he'd be out 'sometime before eight o'clock tomorrow night'. (We live in a world ruled by specialists. It used to be, 'He'll be out around ten o'clock'. Then it was, 'He'll be out before noon' or 'He'll be out between one o'clock and six o'clock'. Soon it'll be, 'At some unspecified time in the future, long after you've forgotten this conversation, to where you're no longer certain if it actually occurred, or was a mere will o' the wisp, your doorbell will ring and there, standing on your doormat, will be a blue-eyed stranger holding up a phone line tester'. President Reagan had a favorite joke. Ivan goes to the Soviet telephone company, asking to have the phone in his apartment repaired. The Soviet telephone clerk says, 'Yes, we will arrange to have a man come out and repair your phone eight months and three days from now, in the morning.' The Soviet citizen replies, 'Can the man come out in the afternoon instead? I'm having a leak in my pipes repaired that morning'. America has become the caricature it created of the incompetence of the communist state. Soon, the rest of the world will be joking about how Americans turn off their car engines when they drive downhill, to save gas.)
Forty-five minutes after the phone guy did arrive, after a lot of scrunching of his face around his eyes, and an 'I don't know if is this going to work' series of sighs, he got all our phone lines up and full of static again.
Chris came out the next morning, pinned up his downwards-drooping spider's web, and expertly patched the two holes he had created in our kitchen ceiling.
I cracked open the checkbook, asking to whom I should make it payable.
"I quoted you $150, but actually it went a lot more smoothly than I thought. I'm reducing my fee to $130."
Which suggests our bad luck may have now blown elsewhere.
Its only additional manifestation has been the sudden reinstatement in our on-line mailbox of over a thousand e-mails we had previously deleted. Right now, as I write, the particular gust of bad luck we experienced appears to have blown into the city itself, where it's swelled, judging by reports: pipe bombs suddenly turning up all over town, and news of a bobcat who pads each night through a dry wash into the Dallas Zoo, where it leaps over the fences and eats the exhibits (antelope, ibex).