As always, when I returned from vacation last week, just before our car made the turn onto Walters Avenue, I conjured up the mental image of the smoking rubble of my home--the smoldering foundation stones--trying to brace myself for my worst fears being realized.
Nope, there it was, roofline intact. Not only that but, trooping inside, we found that the workmen had crept in while we were gone, and installed the kitchen sink, a large, stainless steel bassinet without a divider of any sort (myself, I would have had one of those smaller produce sinks, set into the main sink, because they are useful and look cool. But my wife trumped me and, having scraped my share of big greasy pots into too-small half sinks, I saw her point. But I digress . . .)
I turned on the water. It flowed out. My wife and I looked at each other, smiling mightily. Progress, true progress! The pleasure lasted for all of two seconds. My smile froze as the whooshing sound of the water flowing into the sink was joined by another, fainter but unmistakable sound: water dripping, dribbling really, not into the sink, but under it.
I shut off the water. I opened the cabinet under the sink. Water was cascading down, pooling inside the natural maple cabinet, seeping through pipe holes, gathering on the floor. Already, a puddle began at our feet and snuck under the cabinets. We scurried for towels.
That sort of one-step-forward, one-step-back is an apt introduction to the start of the fifth month since work commenced on our new kitchen. Without a doubt, progress has been made--the stove, sink, dishwasher and clothes washer and dryer (in the laundry room off the kitchen) are all installed.
But each step forward is attended with its own crisis--from the sink emptying out onto the floor (a leaky hose, which was repaired), to the stove and its anti-tip device not being installed (we decided to forget about it--our parents lived without anti-tip devices; then again, our parents lived without industrial stoves). The washing machine vibrated like a paint mixer (one of the bolts used to secure the drum for delivery left on) and the dishwasher didn't work at all (a wire jiggled loose).
Our present, there-but-not-quite-there condition keeps reminding me of one of Zeno's paradoxes, and since this no doubt marks the debut of that ancient Greek mathematician in the Homelife section, I should probably explain:
Zeno left several puzzles that have occupied philosophers for generations. One is a race between Achilles and a tortoise. To make the race fair, the tortoise, being slower than the mythological hero, is given a head start--say 50 meters, or rods, or whatever they used back then.
Zeno claimed that Achilles, swift of foot though he may be, will never catch the tortoise, since by the time he reaches where the animal started, it has moved on, albeit sluggishly. And when Achilles reaches that second point, the tortoise will have again moved farther, and so on, the tortoise always remaining a hair, or a fraction of a hair, ahead.
That's where we are now, kitchenwise. Every day, it seems, the workers finish half the work that remains--trim, knobs, hardware, appliances. The next day--or whenever they come again--they do another half of the remaining work. And then another.
The amount of work left dwindles, but remains. Progress is constant, yet not only don't I see them finishing anytime soon, I can more easily conjure up a Twilight Zone hell of work continuing forever (perhaps, to continue with the classical allusions, it would be better to evoke, not Zeno's paradox, but Penelope at the loom in the Odyssey, the progress of the day unmade every night or, in the case of the kitchen, progress forward perfectly counterbalanced by new problems uncovered).
There have been milestones, which I should mention, lest this column become an unrelieved catalogue of woe. We cooked something on the stove--on April 1, history should note. My wife, only the night before, had announced that she would wait, until everything was complete, then stand back in a shimmering moment of cleanliness and perfection, and only then cook something.
I almost pointed out that I had thought the same thing about the bathroom, then gave it up and joyfully took a shower before it was done. But events proved this for me. The very next morning, our oldest boy expressed a desire for Rocky Mountain toast, and we snapped into action as only people who have not eaten a hot egg in four months can.
Suddenly I was rummaging through dusty boxes in the basement, searching for a pan, while my wife cleaned away construction debris upstairs. Of course there was a setback. The plastic wrap used to protect the stainless steel of the mighty Wolf could not simply be peeled back. That would be too easy. No, it had been applied by some kind of pernicious cement that could only be removed, it at first seemed, by vigorous rubbing with the pad of my thumb, labor that I'd still be at had not my wife come up with a bottle of stainless steel cleaner.
Finally, glue banished, we stood around the stove. I reached for one of the massive red knobs, gave a twist, and a burner ka-fwumped into life with a sound like the Hindenburg going up.
That wasn't the highlight, however. As satisfying as it was to enjoy the first cooked egg served in our home since Pearl Harbor Day, even more--infinitely more--satisfying was to take the plate (an actual plate, itself a rarity, as opposed to paper) befouled with egg yolk and bread crumbs and red splatters of Tabasco sauce, and set it in the sink, then wash away the mess with a gushing river of water, none of which ended up on the kitchen floor.
—Originally published April 13, 2003
—Originally published April 13, 2003