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Copyright © 2004 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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"look at this!"
august 1, 2004
The other morning, while Mary fried ham for our breakfast, pink surrounded by yellow bubbles of butter, I placed a white ramekin of unsalted butter in the microwave, to soften it for spreading on our toast, as part of our high-carb diet.
My index and middle fingers pressed against the number pads, but the funny thing is, there was no beep.
Normally, every time you press a pad on a microwave, you get a beep.
I pressed more pads, here, there, everywhere. All the presses beepless. The silence was overwhelming. It felt like I was floating sideways in a space station orbiting Ganymede.
But I didn't care.
We decided a month ago to re-do our kitchen. The past year, we've been slowly spiffing-up our home. Last fall, as the inaugural of the spiff, we re-did our master bedroom. This spring, we had the white trim of our red brick house repainted.
Our home was built for us thirteen years ago, so it's at that point where there are dings, sun-faded wallpaper, that indelible spot in the carpet, by a cat long dead, I still think of you, at least once each day, plus now, we have more money to decorate our rooms the way we really want them.
Our kitchen consists of a fairly large space, kitchen proper in one half, breakfast nook overlooking our backyard in the other half. Separating the two is a broad, two level counter area that extends most of the width of the space, politely stopping short on one side to allow passage from kitchen to breakfast nook.
Both areas are black and white. Our kitchen counters are white laminate, the vinyl floor white, black and white striped wallpaper (with a real, black and white cowhide stretched across the widest striped wall in the breakfast nook, in part to celebrate living in Texas, in part because that large an expanse of black and white stripes sometimes made us dizzy, spilling coffee). Our kitchen cabinets are oak, medium stain.
We decided to replace the white counters with black counters, replace the white floors with wide wood planks, put in a fancier overhead light in the kitchen area- a chandelier-type thing rather than the functional, fluorescent tubes above plastic we now have-- leave the cabinets as they are, and have the entire area re-wallpapered, again using black and white stripes. We'd then replace our white side-by-side, black dishwasher, with stainless steel models. And now, also, a stainless steel microwave. (Why is stainless steel so popular? Is it subliminal, like the loudness of fireworks on the Fourth of July reminding us of the bombs' bright glare? When I think of stainless steel, I think of spaceship interiors, morgue tables, but now, also, really cool kitchens. Are we being prepared for something?)
Our first step was to replace the countertops.
After reading about the different counter options, we decided on something known as "engineered stone", which means quartz that's ground and compressed. The most popular brand seemed to be Silestone. Although Silestone costs as much as solid granite, it's more maintenance-free (granite has to be periodically resealed to avoid staining).
So we went out one morning to our local Home Depot, armed with our countertop measurements, to see how much it would cost.
(As usual, Mary and I played the game of trying to guess the cost. We both figured between two and three thousand).
The home improvement consultant answered all our questions (how strong is it, is it really okay to place hot pots directly on it, will seams show). She pulled open a drawer with all the different Silestone samples, ranging in price from thirty-nine dollars a square foot installed up to fifty-one dollars. The colors on the thirty-nine dollar samples didn't look that good. Washed-out gray, too-pale yellow.
"Is the difference in price based on color? Why would that be a factor?"
She gave me an answer, which is to say after I finished my question she talked for a minute or two, but the answer really didn't explain what the price differentials were based on, and perhaps there is no real answer to that question in today's world.
She smiled at us, sat behind her desk, and, using our measurements, calculated what our cost would be for materials and installation.
The calculations actually took a while, as she entered figure after figure into her computer. I attempted to cheat a few times, leaning forward in my seat, trying to be discreet, but probably not.
Finally, she arrived at the total (there's no sales tax on engineered stone, for some reason). We had sixty-five square feet of counter-top. Our cost for the Silestone we selected (one of the fifty-one dollar colors, a mottled black), would be a little over four thousand dollars (the extra cost is to remove our existing countertops, haul them away, plus we wanted rounded edges rather than square edges, which also costs more).
We thanked her, let her know we'd be in touch.
That evening, sitting outside, we were both a bit depressed. For one thing, the Silestone was more expensive than we anticipated. We still had to pay for flooring, wallpaper, lighting and appliances, and we were hoping to get everything done for no more than nine thousand dollars. A fairly modest amount to re-do a kitchen, of course, but that was our target cost.
Having to pay four thousand dollars rather than three thousand might be only a little discouraging, but what really depressed us was that once we actually saw the Silestone, we didn't like it that much.
For one thing, we wanted a solid black finish, and that was just not available (Silestone actually has rather limited color choices-only a few dozen that we saw, and some of them, remember, are washed-out gray and too-pale yellow).
The closest color we could get, the black with mottled gray, didn't really look that good in the sample, and so probably would look even worse across sixty-five square feet of counter, more gray than true black. The woman had given us a sample to take home, a three inch by three inch square, which we took turns placing on our existing counter at different spots, but it never really "popped" for us.
The other problem with the Silestone was that it didn't feel that good. I expected it to be heavy in the hand, but it was actually rather light, considering it's made of stone. Further, it didn't even look like stone to me, or feel like stone when I set it down and rapped my knuckles on it, ran my fingertips across its surface. What it felt like, in fact, was hard plastic.
We didn't want to pay four thousand dollars for something that didn't look good to us, or feel good.
So we were depressed, because we had been thinking all along we'd be using Silestone.
What do we do now?
Stainless steel counters look sharp, but tend to dent easily, and show more fingerprints than a crime scene. Wooden counters didn't make sense to me, anymore than wooden cutting boards do- too much bacteria.
Mary finally came up with the idea of replacing our white laminate with black laminate.
It's cheaper, we can get it in solid black.
So we went back to Home Depot.
This time, we had to wait a while for the one Home Depot home improvement consultant to be free. A woman and her daughter were trying to get a new hot water heater delivered, since their old one quit that morning.
After about half an hour, the consultant sat back down at her desk, moved some papers around, looked across at us. "How may I help you?"
We explained we had been in earlier that week, gave her the price estimate for doing our kitchen in Silestone, which included the total square feet, and asked her to calculate what the cost would be to do it instead with laminate.
It turns out the cost for laminate is calculated using linear feet rather than square feet, so she couldn't give us an accurate cost estimate, though she said she'd try to come up with a ballpark figure. She swiveled herself in front of her monitor, raising her chin, hands touching down on her keyboard.
The woman with the hot water heater problem appeared out of nowhere, striped clothes and upraised hand, interrupting. "My husband says we have to have the hot water heater delivered today. Tomorrow is too late."
"Well I'm sorry, but we don't control service times. We use an outside contractor."
She held her cell phone out to the consultant. "Will you speak to him?"
What do you do in a situation like that? I said nothing, gave a small smile across at Mary, looked down at the sales counter, which incidentally was made of Silestone, and didn't look or feel that good to me.
To her credit, the consultant shook her head. "These people have been waiting here a long time."
The woman got back on the phone with her husband. "She's waiting on some other people who have been here a long time."
The consultant went back to calculating the ballpark cost, which turned out to be about fifteen hundred dollars. We arranged for someone to come out to do a precise measurement, the water heater lady meanwhile standing at the sidelines with her cell phone, shifting weight from foot to foot like someone who really has to pee.
(One thing I've noticed lately is that a lot of people no longer hold a cell phone to their ear while they talk, but instead hold the phone flat in their palm, down at heart level. What is that all about? Is it because your voice sounds more natural at the other end that way? Is it to avoid brain cancer? Is it just cooler? I've noticed a similar switch in recent years in movies, where killers no longer hold their pistols upright when they shoot, but instead hold the pistols sideways. Does it improve aim? Protect against a jammed bullet? Cooler?)
Anyway, we're waiting for the phone to ring, one of these days, to let us know the measuring guy is on the way.
My father broke his hip earlier this year, in Florida, while attending a circus.
He had a hip replacement put in while still in Florida, but the pins slipped. His legs were in terrible pain. He could no longer walk.
He and his lady friend, Kay, flew back up to his condo in Greenwich, Connecticut. I spoke to him a few times on the phone. The doctors in Connecticut were waiting to see if the pins would eventually heal back up into the holes they dropped out of.
That didn't happen.
This past Wednesday, months after his first operation, he had a second, to replace the original artificial hip.
I spoke with Kay this past Thursday. She said the orthopedic surgeon told her the second operation went well. I tried calling my father at Greenwich Hospital, but the phone rang and rang.
An hour later, I tried again. Kay answered. "They're in your dad's room right now, transferring him to a physical rehabilitation hospital in Stamford. Hold on, let me see if I can stretch the phone out to him. He's in a wheelchair."
As I held, I could hear voices, nurses and aides, no doubt, Kay saying, It's Rob, out in Texas. Eventually, my dad's voice came on the phone. He was having trouble hearing me. I heard Kay in the background complaining to others in the room, His hearing aide's whistling!
"How are you?"
His voice was weak, tired.
The operation, he said, was the worse operation he had ever had in his life. The pain should go away in about four weeks, according to the doctors.
"Where are you being transferred to?"
He asked Kay. She asked the nurses and aides. I could hear them say they didn't know. I heard my dad ask them, What street's it on? They didn't know. My dad's voice, off-phone: You don't know what street it's on?
"Dad? I'll make some calls. I'll find out where you are." And, as always, "I love you, dad."
"It means a lot to me you called. I love you, Bobby."
The next day, this past Friday, I went on the Internet, clicked to Google, did a search on "stamford connecticut rehabilitation hospitals". A long list came up. I copied the names and phone numbers of what seemed to be the top four. Called the first one.
"I'm calling to speak to one of your patients, Ralph Moore? M-O-O-R-E."
I had no idea if this was the right hospital, but I had to start somewhere.
I didn't know if that meant, Hold on while I check to see if he's a patient, or hold on while I connect you.
There was a ring at the other end. Again, again. A woman's voice answered. I recognized the voice as Kay's. "Kay, this is Rob out in Texas. How's he doing?"
"Hold on, I'll let him tell you."
It took a while to get the phone to him. I could hear in the background that there were people in his hospital room, getting ready to take him to another session of therapy, as well as Kay's voice saying, His son is on the line.
"Hi, dad." His voice sounded a lot stronger. "How are you?"
"Pretty good." I heard him breathing over the line, from two thousand miles away. "The food here is incredible!"
I gave the thumbs-up signal to Mary.
Since I've switched to producing a new Lately once a month, rather than once a week, I've gotten an incredible amount of writing done, and have also been able to spend much more time marketing my stories, so that I have a story of mine being published somewhere in the world at least once a month this year.
Since January, I've written six new stories, a lot for me, for a total of about 32,000 words. My routine has been to each month write a new story, then spend the remaining days of that month with other writings, such as essays and Lately columns.
My production has definitely picked up the past few years, and a lot of that I attribute to the Internet, since I can self-publish pieces, and better research markets for my fiction. I rarely submitted stories overseas before I got on the Web- too much trouble standing in line at the post office to get the right stamps. Now, I just wing them over the pond in an e-mail attachment.
The past year or so I've also found myself bombarded with great story ideas, usually two or three a month. Each time I get a new story idea, I write down the essence of it on a turned upside-down legal pad, tear off the strip, then put the strip in a six by nine inch manila envelope. As more ideas clot around that initial inspiration, I add the strips to the envelope. When I'm ready to write the actual story, I pull out all the strips, type up the ideas in the chronological order in which they'll appear in the story, which also helps me see any gaps there might be.
Since I get several new ideas each month, but only write one story a month, the crisp-edged stack of little manila envelopes has grown quite high on the window sill up in my study, so high in fact I recently had to put an amethyst glass sculptor of a curled-up, sleeping cat on top to keep them from sliding.
So I'm happy. I'm doing what I do best. The other sun-shot morning, Mary and I decided to have Quiche Lorraine for breakfast. The recipe calls for four eggs. Each hard white shell I cracked open, dropping the contents into a black bowl, had two yellow yolks.
Crack, double yolks. Crack, double yolks. Crack, double yolks. Crack, double yolks.
I called Mary over to the stainless steel sink. "Look at this!"