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Copyright © 2004 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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thunder, or trucks?
september 1, 2004
I mentioned last month Mary and I are in the process of re-doing our kitchen.
Any home improvement is a descent into discombobulation. You've got all these strangers in your home, buffaloes wearing sneakers, whose names you frequently don't catch during that front door handshake, was it Junior or Jerry or Jason, who make a lot of noise and occasionally, after a particularly loud, tooth-drilling sound go, "Oh, Nelly!", plus until the project is completed, your house is an absolute mess, woodwork torn up, dirty floors under appliances exposed, dust bunnies, dead bugs, beer bottle crowns, drawer contents on kitchen tables, disassembled bed slid sideways into the master bath.
We went to Home Depot to select new kitchen counters, finally decided on black laminate. The price was about half that of engineered stone (the engineered stone, looking at it, holding it in our hands, wasn't as impressive as we thought it would be, plus we wanted solid black counters, and we couldn't get that with Silestone, one of the leading manufacturers of engineered stone) (the closest we would be able to get was a black countertop with brilliant pearl flecks buried within the stone, so they shone three-dimensionally out of the counter like tiny diamond stars. When the woman at Home Depot ushered us over to a counter with that variety I thought, Cool! These Silestone design guys must have names like River and Jasmine, but then, watching the counter another half minute, it did look more and more like the bar at a seventies disco, across which pink Pina Coladas and Big Black Cows would pass, so we reluctantly shook our heads.)
A couple of weeks ago, two guys came out from the installation firm Home Depot outsources for laminate counters, to perform a precise measurement of our existing counters, to determine what our cost would be.
Home Depot used to sell products you had to install yourself. After a while, it dawned on someone who's now in a corner office with his own washroom (square window in that washroom so he can look down at his green Jacquar, which is now pronounced with three syllables instead of two, according to the latest commercials), that most people don't know how to install, for example, a hot water heater, and really don't want to learn- they'd much rather pay a professional to do it, so they don't wake up one night and on their stumbling way to the toilet confront their green garden hose floating on steamy water past the refrigerator. That's just not something you want to see at three o'clock in the morning with a full bladder. America has a long, "Do-It-Yourself" tradition, stemming all the way back to the American Revolution, but let's face it, a lot of self-done bathroom remodelings look a little Texas Chainsaw-ish.
So we've had a lot of home improvements done through Home Depot. We purchase a product in one of their stores, then have them contract with a service vendor for the actual installation, and I have to say, we've never had a problem. The contractors have always been courteous, knowledgeable and professional. I get called "Mr. Moore" and "Sir" even if I don't want to be; the end result is always exactly what we anticipated; and they sweep up afterwards. I think part of the reason for the good service may be that we're going through Home Depot. If we contracted independently with one of these installers, they may or may not be extra careful to do everything we want. After all, if we contract directly with them, and don't like their service, they've only lost one customer (perhaps one tenth of one percent of their business). But if we go through Home Depot and don't like their service, to where we can complain to Home Depot, they risk losing a lucrative referring source (perhaps forty percent of their business).
After the two guys took measurements of our counters, and told us we'd hear from Home Depot in a week or two with the pricing, we decided to move ahead with the next phase of our kitchen improvement, buying a new dishwasher and side-by-side refrigerator. We lay in bed, coffee cups on our two night tables, local TV news talking about people being maimed in Argentina, trains derailing in Uzbekistan, an earthquake that crushed forty people under a wall in China, flipping through recent Consumer Reports to see which brands we should buy.
Of them all, the Kenmore Elite seemed like the best for both the dishwasher and side-by-side. Both are built by Whirlpool, which has the most reliable record for lowest number of repairs (although we have a Kenmore Elite stove which in just five years has already cost us about a thousand dollars for three separate repairs, plus cleaning the range on that thing is like the thirteenth labor of Hercules- you have to use razor blades to get the burnt-on grime off, and even then, some remains. But still, it's otherwise a great stove.)
So we went out to a local Sears that Saturday, down their escalator to the huge, well-lit basement, and in fact Sears was having a sale on appliances. There were banners strung.
Despite the sale, the appliance department was empty, just us and a couple hundred dishwashers, refrigerators, stoves, clothes washers and dryers, an odd stillness suggesting that perhaps elsewhere in the mall, unbeknownst to us, the living dead were jubilantly tearing torsos off hips.
We lowered the big, square, good guy jaws on a couple of dishwashers, looking inside, seizing the upper racks, wiggling them to see whether or not they were flimsy.
We wanted a dishwasher with a stainless steel front and stainless steel tub, but soon realized to get stainless steel inside and out, we'd have to pay about seven hundred dollars, which seemed like a lot, especially considering dishwashers don't last that long (dishwasher repairmen have consistently told us over the years, kneeling on our kitchen floor, that American dishwashers are shit- they're slapped together but aren't expected to last longer than five years, tops.)
So we wound up buying a Kenmore Elite with a stainless steel front, but hard white plastic interior. Four hundred dollars.
After that order was written up, we wandered over to the side-by-sides.
It was immediately clear one side-by-side was better than the rest. Kenmore Elite, with the type of stainless steel that doesn't show fingerprints. Huge. Taller than me, impressively wide, with an enormous front that bowed out, in a convex of stainless steel with two tall black handles, one for the freezer side, one for the refrigerator side. It looked like something that could slowly tumble through outer space forever. Two thousand dollars. Reader, we bought it.
We arranged for delivery of both appliances the following Tuesday.
Sears doesn't coordinate deliveries, which meant the side-by-side would arrive around nine o'clock in the morning, but the dishwasher wouldn't get here until four in the afternoon. Which meant we had to keep our cats locked up all day, since they're strictly indoor cats, Lady and her five kittens in an upstairs room, Sheba, who has issues with the kittens, in Mary's sewing room.
About eight o'clock that morning, I walked out to the living room, where most of the kittens were. I saw exclamation points rise over their furred heads. Hey! There's that guy who feeds us! Does he want to play with us? What's he doing? Gee, it looks like he's going up the stairs, looking back at us, making kissing sounds! Should we follow? Could there be food up there? Look at him! Now he's going in that back room! What's up with that? And he's still making kissing sounds!
Sheba, older, a bit wiser (but not too wiser- like most cats, he never has a "Plan B"), had to be caught, hoisted up in the air, my left thumb and index finger under his back hips, so he couldn't scratch me (I have a thin, white three-inch scar on my right forearm from when I first grabbed him up from our backyard, a stray, to bring him inside, years ago).
As almost always happens, there was a seemingly unsolvable problem about installing what we had bought, in this case, the side-by-side.
The Sears guy disconnected and pulled out our old, white side-by-side, rolling its height through our kitchen, our living room, out the front door, across the sidewalk leading to that door, to the driveway, then across the driveway to the garage door, pushing the side-by-side to the back of the garage, where Mary and I intended to set it up as a spare refrigerator (we now have three refrigerator-freezers in our garage, as well as six ladders, as if we're collectors).
But when he returned to the kitchen, pulling out a wrench, after a half minute on his knees he announced he couldn't get the water valve on the wall where the new side-by-side was to be installed to loosen (side-by-sides have cold water dispensers and ice cube makers, so they have to be connected, at their rear, to a water supply.) So that means we can plug our new, two thousand dollar side-by-side into the wall socket, but we can never get cold water or ice cubes? I took the wrench from him, got down on my own knees, worked the wrench, got the valve open.
Him: "All right!"
So we got our side-by-side installed. He gave us the usual instructions. Drain a gallon of water from the cold water dispenser, throw it out, then the water is drinkable. Throw out the first bin of ice.
During all this, we got a call from Home Depot telling us the total cost to install our black laminate kitchen counters would be two thousand, five hundred dollars. We approved the cost, me reading a credit card number and expiration date over the telephone.
A week ago this past Tuesday, two guys came out, used a crowbar to pry all our existing white backsplashes from our counters, removed the second tier white counter between the kitchen and breakfast nook, then made a template for our new, black counters, using sheets of brown cardboard and an exacto knife.
That Friday they showed up with our new counters, tore out our old white counters, then installed the first of the black counters.
While they were out in their van getting the next counter, Mary and I inspected the installed one.
I had been nervous about how the new counters would look. Actually they were beautiful. If our white counters were a t-shirt, these black ones are a tuxedo.
It turned out the installers forgot to make one of the backsplashes, so one of the guys drove to the factory.
The other guy, young, with a Texas accent (he wore a cowboy hat his first day out here, to make the template), busied himself cleaning and polishing the installed counters for the next hour, while I read a shooting script for Blue Velvet I had downloaded from the Internet. It fascinated me what changes Lynch had made between that script and the finished film.
We talked off and on. He bought a baby Hereford cow for his son, as a pet, to teach him responsibility. "It was a bull, and a Hereford bull's no use, so it only cost me fifty dollars."
"Wow. You can buy a whole cow for fifty bucks?"
"Did your son learn about responsibility?"
"He fed the bull for maybe for the first few days, but then when it started getting cold in the morning?"
"Daddy fed him?"
"How much does it eat?"
"Well, it eats a lot now, because it's seventeen hundred pounds. It would come charging down the hill to the pond on our property where the family'd be, and all the guests, they'd start running, they didn't understand it was a pet that wouldn't harm anyone."
Since he had used the past tense in his second sentence I asked, "Do you still have him?"
"My son does. He lives with my wife. We're divorced now."
After about an hour the van pulled up in our driveway again, and the last backsplash was put in place.
In order to install the counters, they had to pull out our kitchen sink. We arranged with Home Depot to have a plumber come out afterwards to hook the sink back up (the counter installers will pull a sink, but not reinstall it, in case they don't reinstall it properly, which could lead to a leak, which could lead to a liability suit against them).
The plumbing firm Home Depot contracts with had failed to contact me, so I called them directly. It turns out they had never been notified our installation was taking place today. This was around ten in the morning. "I'll see if we can get one of our plumbers out to your home today."
I waited until two-thirty, called her back. "I left a message with the plumber in your area to call, but he hasn't yet. Could we have someone come out tomorrow instead?"
"Will they definitely come out tomorrow? We don't have use of our sink, or our dishwasher."
She assured me he would definitely come out tomorrow, and would call me between seven-thirty and eight in the morning, which is when he schedules his day's appointments. (Can anyone see where this is going?)
Mary and I thought the sink might not be re-attached that day, just a hunch, so we planned on just having hot dogs for dinner. Even so, it was a pain to not be able to wash our dishes (we couldn't even wash them by hand). I put a feather duster in the stainless steel sink to remind us not to pour any liquid in it, since it would just spill out the hole at the bottom into our cabinet.
The next day, we made sure we were dressed by seven-thirty. Eight o'clock came and went. I called the plumbing company. Even the operator's extension led to voice mail.
I had an 888 number for Home Depot's home installation services, called it. Explained the situation. She put me on hold, and about five minutes later said she had talked to the plumbing company. The plumber was stuck in traffic (it was raining). He'd be at work in ten minutes. "Let's give him half an hour."
I gave him an hour. Called Home Depot back, figuring they would have more influence than I would, asked for the same customer service representative, since she knew the history, told her I hadn't been contacted. I was put on hold again.
"Okay, Mr. Moore? Thank you for waiting. Evidently they had the wrong phone number. They called it a half hour ago, and the people on the other end of the line didn't know what they were talking about."
"To be honest with you, they're beginning to sound a little unreliable."
"Well, that was our fault, though. Home Depot gave them the wrong number. There's two Mary Moores in our system."
"So where do we stand?"
"The representative you've been dealing with at the shop? She has your right number now, and she told me she's going to call you right now."
Half an hour later, I called the plumbers again, asked to speak to the same woman I had been dealing with all along.
After a brief wait, a man got on the phone. "Mr. Moore? My name's Larry, I'm the owner of the company. I realize you've been having some problems trying to get an appointment scheduled."
He went on for a couple of minutes explaining it wasn't really their fault, Home Depot gave them the wrong information. "People don't understand scheduling an appointment takes time. We get some people who have their countertops installed at eight o'clock at night, then expect us to come out that same evening."
"Our countertops were installed at ten o'clock in the morning."
"Well, that's true."
"So what's the bottom line?" (Mary and I had been thinking of simply getting a refund from Home Depot for the sink hook-up, and contracting independently with Roto-Rooter or someone to get the sink finished.)
"I have a plumber out on a job now, and he's going to call you in the next five minutes to set up an appointment today to get your sink installed. It will definitely be today."
Twenty minutes later the plumber called. An hour later he was out at our place, from clear across the metroplex, kneeling into the kitchen cabinet under our sink. An hour after that, he was gone and we had a working sink and dishwasher again.
During the process of re-doing our kitchen, we decided to clean out our garage, to be able to move some of the books and CDs in the kitchen out to the row of tall bookshelves we have against one white wall of the garage, to give the kitchen a cleaner look.
We went ruthlessly through everything we had in the garage, filling a half dozen thirty-gallon garbage bags, carrying to the curb large items like an old microwave from fourteen years ago (a group of Latinos in a pick-up truck, passing out flyers for a lawn service, spotting the long line of phones, gym equipment, stereo speakers, little TVs on our curb, asked if they could go through our trash. I said, Sure. They opened each garbage bag, extracting anything of use, carefully retying the yellow plastic loops at the top of each black bag when they were finished).
We were amazed at how good the garage looked afterwards, and in fact the spareness of it probably gave us as much pleasure as getting our new appliances. We even found ourselves wandering out there occasionally, just to marvel anew at how much cleaner and tidier everything was.
Inspired by that clean sweep, Mary started throwing out a lot of old stuff in her sewing room, and I went through shelf after shelf of old magazines I had, keeping Cinefantastiques going back several decades, and copies of Paul Krassner's The Realist from the fifties when I, a precocious boy, was a subscriber, but bagging and tossing years' worth of The New Yorker.
One item Mary showed me was a small box she made several years ago.
I'm going to describe the box, because it may be important.
It's diamond-shaped, three inches long, two inches wide, two inches high (I've just measured it with a tape measure).
The diamond body of the box is covered in a pale peach satin, with a raised pattern of long leaves. The interior of the box is lined with puffy, gold lamé. If I put my index finger down into the fabric, I can feel a cottony softness under the bottom of the lamé.
A smaller gold lamé diamond under the lid fits the lid snugly to the base of the box. The diamond top of the lid is the same pale peach satin, with a half-inch scalloped white lace fringe. Tied atop the lid is a flat bow in the same pale peach satin.
So why is this important?
While Mary was cleaning out her sewing room, she came across this box. Wondered whether she should keep it or throw it out.
"Well, it's something you made. Maybe you should keep it."
"Yeah…" She turned the box over in her hands.
In truth, it did look a little time-worn. Mary has so many other objects she's created. "Well, what are you thinking? Maybe get rid of it?"
She sighed. "Yeah."
So she threw it in the thirty-gallon garbage bag she was dragging around the white carpet of her room. I saw the box in the black bag, base and lid.
Tuesday, August 24, was our next garbage day. We dragged all the bottom-heavy bags from our clean sweep out to our curb.
The garbagemen eventually came by, hauled off all the bags.
Later that day, I was doing something, and Mary came over to me, said, "Look at this!"
She led me through the garage to the row of windows three-quarters up the garage door.
I looked outside.
Our green lawn, which at that point needed a mowing, our beige concrete driveway. Then I saw it. A diamond shape at the end of our driveway.
I went out, picked it up. It was the base of the diamond box. Weird.
Looked around outside, but couldn't find the lid.
I brought the base inside. "Maybe we should keep it."
Mary put it back up in her room.
Friday, August 27, I was writing this Lately after the kitchen counters were installed. Mary was working on a new blouse, when she came out into my room, holding something in her right hand.
It was the lid of the diamond box.
"Where'd you find that?"
She led me into her room. Pointed at a small table behind her chair.
"We threw it out. I saw it in the garbage bag."
Mary nodded. "I know!"
We reunited the lid with its base. It would be great to say at this point the box had a special meaning for us, which would explain its reappearance, but the truth is the small, diamond-shaped box doesn't hold any particular significance to us, other than supernaturally finding its way back into our home. Mary didn't associate it with anything in particular when she made it, it was just something she wanted to do, and she says she never put anything inside it.
I don't know why it's come back.
But it has come back.
So this time, we're keeping it.
I mentioned we got some rain the day our kitchen sink was hooked back up.
North Texas had a terrible drought in the mid-nineties.
It was awful. In the Summer, the temperatures would climb to over a hundred degrees, sometimes up to one hundred and twenty, and stay stuck there for forty days. We would go months without rain. The ground would crack, like small earthquake fissures, and more than once Mary and I would be driving down a street and see dry treetops burning red and yellow. The drought is cyclical, arriving every four decades.
The past few years, the Summer weather has gotten better, but rain is still an event, here.
There's so much you look for in life, little things to big things. You don't want to be tricked, but you also don't want to miss out on the joy if what you think is true is, in fact, true.
Even now, if Mary and I are lying in bed, or cooking in the kitchen, or upstairs projecting, and we hear a deep rumble, we look at each other. Is that thunder, or trucks?