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Archive for October, 2011

The way I interpreted it:

In the side yard — a narrow flagstone path between the privacy fence and the side of the house, where the outdoor kitchen stadium will one day arise from its present-day ashes (and weeds) — is a large dumpster’s worth of entrails harvested from Chez Mattison’s original kitchen, as well as from every other nook and cranny in the house and adjacent out-building.

Old cabinetry; boxes and odd-shaped Styrofoam chunks that once cuddled new appliances; various bags of dirt and bottles of spray stuff and rusted cans of unrecognizable wall color and random important pieces of wood and countless other representatives of merchandise once thought vital to sustaining life in our little corner of the world have been collected with abandon and piled in this once proud and vibrant alley.

It is here, after work on Wednesday, where I would find myself, I was certain, rooting around for the boxes that once contained the Roman shades that, for a brief time, occupied (with magnificent — if not surprising — laser-like plumb) one of the kitchen windows.

The boxes would be easy enough to find, although pawing across the top of the garbage heap was guaranteed to prove a bit more of a challenge. It was the packing materials, like the bags that once held the screws, the instructions, the paper insert that described the contents, and the various other things stuffed into a typical carton of merchandise, that would be more difficult to wrangle. I was sure of it.

I threw them away late Tuesday because I didn’t realize that once the shades were hanging in the window and working properly, they would have to be taken down, returned to the store, and swapped for shades that are 1 inch wider.

One inch wider. That’s “one.” With a “wuh.”

All that work to get them in the window, space them evenly, carry the ladder back into the garage, locate the remote, and get back to the ninth viewing of The Sopranos, Season 1 — all for nothing.

During the installation process, I didn’t realize the wind beneath my wings had brought home the wrong size shades. They fit. They kept out the daylight. What. One chore checked off the list; 12 more remaining … to be ignored for the time being.

I didn’t realize this because for one brief moment on Tuesday — when those shades were no longer wedged uncomfortably yet securely up my to-do list — it slipped my mind that no matter how difficult or effortless the project, I remain, until death do I part, severely married.

A main difference between a wedding and a funeral (I rarely, if ever, believe with all my heart) is that at one of them, the guest of honor gets to eat.

Also, the Hokey Pokey. But that’s about it.

See, I think one of the roadblocks in the whole marriage thing stems from the eventual realization that there will always be someone else in your space, under your feet, messing with your head, hiding your stuff, driving you to the edge, and making you do hard things twice (or more than twice), and griping about how you handle all of it.

I should have thoroughly read the instructions before installing the wedding ring. I was young and foolish. I mean smitten. Also, hungry.

But that doesn’t explain everything.

I have been going through the marriage handbook — skimming through the remaining pages and paragraphs that have not been entirely blacked out by a magic marker — trying to find where it says the wife has the right to make the husband repaint the living room a slightly different shade of green, even though he just finished painting it the shade of green the wife had previously approved.

Or why the husband has to hang the laundry room shelves more than once, even though the first time he hung them he did so in wife-approved locations.

Or why, as we fast-forward to today, the Roman shades have to come out of the window, back into the box, and off to their place of origin because someone in the marriage who is not me brought home the wrong thing.

It does not pay to complete tasks while the wind beneath my wings is off at work and I am home, on a day off from work, doing things I much prefer to do by myself so as to cut down on the number of times I am required to be reminded that the way I am doing it makes no sense. And I’m stupid.

When word came down on Wednesday that yet another chore had to be torn apart and redone, the first thing that went through my mind was: If I had a nickel for the number of times I have had to suffer through this inexcusable process, I’d have about 15 cents, if memory served. So that was immediately discarded as a weapon.

The second thing I thought of was pouting. Nothing beats a sustained, spousal pout when trying to convince a slight inconvenience that it would serve a greater purpose if it could more closely resemble a tectonic shift. I also spent some time alone in my office practicing my heavy sigh.

The way it really happened:

I didn’t have to climb through the garbage pile. By the time I got home, Karen had already grabbed the shades’ cartons, which I had tossed neatly on top of the stack, and placed them in the garage, with the accompanying packaging materials neatly stuffed inside. This immediately rendered moot my hours of sighing practice. So that very kind gesture on her part threw me off a little.

It originally took me about 30 minutes on Tuesday to hang the two Roman shades in the double-wide kitchen window. I’ve become quite adept at the task, thanks to the intuition of the well-paid engineers who sit at giant drafting tables with t-squares and protractors and sharp pencils who are constantly inventing easier ways for challenged do-it-yourselfers with their flexing muscles oozing from sleeveless t-shirts trying hard as they might to impress their blushing brides with their nesting abilities — me included, although not so much with the oozing muscles and the underwear.

It actually took longer to get the stuff out of the box, figure out what all the pieces do, determine if I am indeed supposed to have extra pieces (because there are always extra pieces) and figure which end of the shade faces front and which end is up. (Learned that one the hard way.) Securing the brackets and hanging the shade was nothing.

So replacing the wrong shades was a piece of cake. Snap out the old one; snap in the new one. Done. I even used the old hardware. Stuffed the new hardware back in the old cartons, unopened. Genius.

But none of this is the point.

The point is it’s a lot harder — down right impossible — to fake anger and earn sympathy if the source of all things evil and wrong tries her hardest to make my life ridiculously easy.

She cheats. Best thing for a marriage.

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I know I shouldn’t complain, because it will do me no good. But to ignore an opportunity to do so would tear at the very core of my professional being.

Also, I’ve heard it feels good.

Chez Mattison is a two-story jobbie that sits on a cement slab. A high water table did not permit us the option for a basement when she was being constructed lo those 19 or so years ago. So our utility room — featuring the furnace and water heater, a broken water softener, an erector set nightmare of copper and plastic tubes and pipes going every which where, several colonies of spider units, rusted cans of long-forgotten wall colors, and the screen door we never use because the air conditioning seeps through its tiny mesh — sits on the ground floor of the house, in a closet accessed through the garage.

This is where the gas lines connect to the house. It is also where, for approximately 19 or so years, I have smelled what has always to me smelled like gas. Not the matrimonial kind; the kind used for heat and hot water. Every time I’d open the utility room door, it would hit me right in the nose.

The gas smell; not the door.

About a decade and a half ago, I called our utility provider (not being one to name names, I’ll refer to them here as Schniagara Schmohawk) and had someone come out, inspect the place, and tell me all was OK.

I must have been smelling things.

Being as gullible as I am, and also thinking people who know more than I do are smarter than I am, I took the word of the guy from SchniSchmo and went about my life.

Mind you, it has been a good 15 years since I first smelled the gas … and have smelled it every time I have gone into the utility room to marvel at the big appliances and wonder what they do and how they work. Also, to change the furnace filter once a year — whether it needed it or not.

A couple of weeks ago, when our best good house flipper friends were over unhooking our plumbing and tearing out our old kitchen on Weekend I of Kitchen Reno 2011, friend Mike opened the utility room door and asked me if I had noticed the gas smell.

Struggling mightily to shoulder past the opportunity for fourth-grade humor, I told him the whole SchniSchmo story and he suggested I call the utility company again, because the smell was noticeable and blah blah blah …

Something about danger. …

I was too busy thinking about the fourth-grade gas jokes I was passing up.

But it eventually clicked that Mike smelled it too. Maybe I wasn’t crazy; I wasn’t just smelling things.

So on Wednesday morning of this week, bright and early, I called the utility company. And that’s when my day began to spin right into the weeds.

It amazes me that a company as big and powerful as the utility company I presently employ (which is no longer SchniSchmo) does not hire people who possess the ability to receive instruction, pass it to an appropriate party, and then progress with their lives.

Especially when it comes to the smell of natural gas. This company’s protocol, I was informed, is to drop everything and run to the scene as soon as a potential gas leak is reported.

“We will be there within the hour and if no one is home, we will be forced to gain entrance by our own means,” I was told.

So I made sure the person on the other end of the phone understood in no uncertain terms that one of our doors would be unlocked because no one was going to be home.

[Sidebar: It will forever amaze me how people whose jobs require them to access your house (cable guy, countertop measuring guy, etc.) during the middle of your inconveniently scheduled work day always assume you don’t have a job and when they schedule a time to come to your house they sound incredulous when you tell them you can’t be there because you work. “What do you mean you can’t be there? You work? But I’m the cable guy. How dare you?”]

I’m over it.

I told the woman on the phone that the person responding was to use the unlocked door, and not break into my house. I spent a good 10 minutes explaining how to access this door. I received assurances that everything would be OK. I could expect a call in about an hour or two, letting me know what was found and what course of action was being taken.

Use the unlocked door, I said; no one will be home. No problem, I was told.

Well, I never received a call about my predicament, which made me as nervous as a wet hen for the rest of the work day. Upon arriving home, I did find an official note on the front door, telling me they could not get in to check out the gas smell because no one was home.

So they did what they could: They turned off the gas. (A maneuver that angered me somewhat but I was eventually able to rationalize.) What I couldn’t figure out was how the guy found the gas shutoff but could not find the unlocked door — which was right next to it. Right next to it.

I called the utility again, complaining about the door thing, the fact that the gas smell was still not identified, and to get my gas turned back on. I was assured by a different person on the phone that someone would be at my house within the hour (because gas smells are considered serious emergencies).

A couple of hours later, I called back to learn my request was not handled as an emergency because all I had requested was my gas to be turned back on. That’s not an emergency, I was told.

So I was forced to go through this entire story a third time. This time, the guy on the other end of the phone was yelling back at me just as loudly as I was yelling at him. Eventually, I was assured someone would be at my house in an hour to look at my problem. When I asked this third knucklehead why the first two knuckleheads failed so miserably at their jobs, he told me he couldn’t say because we were talking on a phone line reserved solely for emergencies. So we yelled about that for a while.

I then called a fourth time — this time for customer service (to bitch about the three knuckleheads) — and spoke to a refreshingly nice young lady who soothed the savage beast. She double checked to see that a person was indeed on his way, she checked her computer and learned that during my original phone call very early Wednesday morning my “the door will be unlocked” instructions were never given to the field crew. She also apologized up and down for the way I had been treated.

Turns out, I did have a gas leak. Oh, yeah. It was repaired on the spot by the friendly utility employee who came to my house after 9 p.m. and tightened a couple of joints. It was just that easy.

And inexplicably made so difficult.

But it does feel good to complain. I get it now.

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