Monday, August 11, 2014

Hammered and Nailed #8 -- Stirring kitchen dreams

     December. They begin work on the kitchen in December. I've been repeating that, like a mantra, the way prisoners anticipate the day of their freedom. December. Lovely December. Dee-cember! 
      Note the vague plural "they" in the above paragraph. As if the federal government or Amish neighbors were remodeling my kitchen next month. But in truth, I don't know who's doing it. I've never met the fellow--a Tom somebody. A South Sider. He was recommended. My wife called his references and actually went to see a kitchen he had done, to confirm that it wasn't constructed of Play-Doh and contact paper.
     "Do you trust him?" I asked, trying to get a sense of the situation. My wife gave me a strange look, and I realized I had asked the wrong question. As an attorney, she trusts nobody, including me, certainly not a random stranger with construction skills. His brief, jotted estimate--which we were to initial to begin work--was recast into a very specific and detailed contract. You see why I leave these things to my wife. My role is that of the Greek chorus, standing in the background and moaning words of caution. With November dribbling away like slush through an hourglass, it struck me that we should, oh for instance, actually buy the objects that Tom would soon install in our kitchen. 
      "Shouldn't you order the cabinets?" I said to my wife, gingerly. She had not, she said, ordered them yet, because she didn't want them sitting around our garage for months while we tried to hire somebody. I thought that far-fetched; a far more likely scenario is our hard-won contractor drifting off to jobs whose customers actually possessed the materials he was supposed to install, while our cabinets were still in a steel box lashed to the deck of a container ship inching its way around the Cape of Good Hope. 
      "I've got an appointment tomorrow," she said, which I did not find significant. We've run through an infinity of appointments--at kitchen showrooms, at design outlets, at Home Depot, a place we do not visit, but rather we attend, regularly, the way others attend church. Many times, my wife has toddled off to the old H.D. to, I thought, buy the cabinets, only to return needing something: a measurement, a blueprint, a thimble. This week, however, something happened that shocked us both. She did it. She bought the damned cabinets. It came as a surprise, to me and, I believe, to her as well. You'd think with all this foreshadowing--the hiring of an architect, the production of drawings, the signing up, and subsequent release, of two previous contractors, the endless visits, we'd have seen this coming. We didn't. Each of us took the shock differently. My wife acted as if she had just handed $10,000 in cash in a brown paper bag to a stranger who said he'd invest it in Nigerian diamond mines. She was awake all that night, contemplating our ruination as a family, picturing us huddled on a piece of cold cardboard while our boys twirled for tossed pennies. Myself, I slept like death, content, at long last, that some kind of progress was being made. Not that I buy the palpable lie that the Home Depot people gave my wife in return for a swipe of our near-molten credit card--the claim that the cabinets will be ready by Dec. 17. 
     "Did they say what year?" I almost said but, measuring her fragile state, thought better and held back. And frankly, I was in too good a mood to fight.  Just the prospect of the unseen Tom—a Paul Bunyan figure in my mind by now—striding into our kitchen somehow next month and shattering that miserable counter with a single stroke of his mighty sledge—is enough to keep me happy. 
      Seeking to distract myself with numbers that didn't have dollar signs in front of them, I did the math. We bought the house in June 2000. Work on the kitchen commenced in December 2002. That's 30 months, or roughly the span between the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the D-Day invasion. That seems about right. The actual buying of the house wasn't precisely a surprise attack—I mean, we knew what we were signing. But the repercussions certainly were unanticipated, with wave after wave of repairs and set-backs and projects sweeping over us, while we dove behind barrels and tried to get our pathetically inadequate remodeling forces off the ground at Hickham Field. 
      Yet we recovered. Marshalled what energies and spirit we had left after the initial shock. And now the liberation of the kitchen is about to commence. The might of Home Depot, harnessed to do our bidding. Armies of workers, mobilizing. Sleek stainless steel appliances on their way from distant factories. We began moving boxes--sealed boxes of kitchen stuff we had moved into the pantry in June 2000--down into the Stygian netherworld of our basement, in anticipation of The Beginning. I'll probably be at work when they arrive--someone has to pay for this, or try to. But I wish I'd be there, to see the workmen as they file in, led by the mythic Tom, all toting their pry bars and 4-pound drilling hammers. They would stand, in flanneled glory, waiting for the word. I'd cast a final glance at the old kitchen, from its yellow, worn linoleum floor, up through the horrific, warped counters, to the splotched walls and stained ceiling. I'd leap on a stool, twirl my finger in the air dramatically and, trilling my "R's" like a bad Shakespearean actor, shout: "RRRRRRRR-Rip her out, boys!"
                                      --Originally published Nov. 24, 2002


  1. Hee. Such a different voice from your 2014 blog - so lighthearted. Fun series for summer. FWIW, my marriage still recovering from 3 months of rinsing broccoli in bathtub as part of 2004 kitchen remodel.

  2. I'm so glad to be reading these columns again. I still remember when they originally ran, and how much I enjoyed your perspective then. Classic!

  3. This is almost as good as the Three Stooges. Brilliant!

  4. Things have changed. I remember reading this in 2002 with my soon to be ex (same story) different woman. Anyways, nowadays, how it is, no one would print this magnificent work, but now in 2014 with the digital age, my Apple (It's the latest and greatest, trust me) feels like another perfect day with Neil, the Sun-Times, and summer in the city. I do love lake view. (head to the Irish bar and you'll find me at 5 with my Irish coffee. Irish it was 5 !!!)

    Neil, fine man, good work. You keep providing the ideas, and it'll be reported, no matter the year or place.

    Oh dear!
    ex- of an ex is my friend?.

    Ogh well, you rule, I drool. Or something like that. I go on vacay on 8.16.14. Final.

  5. I tried to sell my house during the dot-bomb crash of 2001 (worked at [don't ask, I'll tell.]

    Ipso facto: I am still remodeling, had to gut the place, but I rent out the N. Side condo and am a snow bird. (Senators Byrd and Obama made it possible on a bi-partisan reconstruction/reconciillation bill.)

    Thank you Congress! You got something right in the 70s!

    Sam (uncle to sam jr. and samanthas)

  6. You get tough with your readers when need be, should have stood up more to the Russians.


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