Once upon a time there were two people who thought it would be a good idea to buy a house built in 1924.
Those people were my parents, and that house is the house I’ve been staying at since graduating college. It’s a nice house, a big house, but allow me contextualize that year, 1924. That’s before ballpoint pens were invented. Before the legendary Leonard Cohen graced this earth with his presence. Perhaps most shocking of all, it’s before IKEA was founded. How does one even furnish a house without the help of IKEA?
Old houses have their charm, but they require upkeep. The only act of home improvement I personally find absolutely essential is getting a WiFi system that doesn’t conk out whenever it feels like it, with a signal that reaches all remote corners of the house, i.e. my room, preferably all the way to my bed. Alas, my parents consider matters such as painting and gardening to be of much more pressing concern.
(A gardening-related side note: the other day, my mother actually said, “We’re getting new grass.” Grass grows. Grass is a plant life-form. People don’t get grass, grass just sort of happens. It’s not the launch of the latest generation of iPhones, but the fact that people can unironically utter phrases such as “we’re getting new grass” that makes me feel like I’m living in the future.)
Gardeners stopped by a couple of weeks ago. My mother was at work; my dad – the one who hired these people in the first place – had left earlier that morning, yelling “Make ’em some coffee at some point, will you?” before heading off to Malaysia or Ireland or wherever. I was all alone with my breakfast and five men bustling about outside, trimming random branches and doing other gardeningy things.
After a while, I poked my head around the door and said, “Would you guys like some coffee?”
“Uh, sure,” one of them said. “I guess we could eat our lunch inside.”
Which had not at all been my intention, as a. I was in the middle of something (I can’t remember what; it’s entirely possible I was just looking at pictures of cats) and b. forced chitchat with strangers is something I generally avoid like the plague. And yet here they were, traipsing into the house with their lunch boxes and colonizing the kitchen table.
I made them coffee and, as they sat eating silently, lingered – you don’t just hand people coffee and bolt, right? That’d be impolite – and said something about the weather. Then, something about tree branches. It was the most awkward and one-sided nonversation I’d had in weeks. Much to their relief, probably, I eventually admitted defeat, abandoned the socially desired behavior approach and curled up on the couch with my laptop again. Even when a brief clattering sound broke the silence, I didn’t look up.
“Um, ma’am?” someone said a full five minutes later. “Do you happen to have a wet cloth or something like that?”
One of them had spilled his coffee and, understandably, been too reluctant to tell me.
“Yes, of course,” I said, abandoning my corner of safety and cleaning the table as they watched on. Silently. Uncomfortably.
Once they were done eating and had gone back outside, I kept the door firmly closed.
I’d only just barely recovered from my own mortifying display of social incompetence when, one morning, a pair of house painters arrived to put up scaffolding and then proceeded to rip the rain gutter off the house. At seven AM. Right under my window.
I shot out of bed and went through my morning ritual at record speed, all the while repeating I can deal with this I can deal with this I am a strong emotionally stable individual and I can deal with this in my head, and fled into town with my laptop.
The painters (my dad keeps stubbornly referring to them as painters, despite the fact that they ripped the rain gutter off the house—surely a more accurate term would be ‘construction workers’ or ‘extreme home make-overers’) spent the rest of the week working right under my window, and I spent the rest of the week working on my thesis in various coffee places and libraries all over town. I got lots of work done. I should’ve written them a thank-you note.
In fact, I still could, because they’re not done painting yet. The front of the house is up next. (First step was ripping the flower boxes off the facade.) Fortunately, though, there’s no more mortifying social interaction. These guys just do their thing, making their own coffee when they feel like it and loudly singing along to their radio.
The day before yesterday, the doorbell rang, even though the painters leave the front door open while they work. When I went to investigate, the door was indeed wide open, and a man I didn’t recognize was standing on the doorstep.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Ben. I’m here to replace some windows?”
I had no clue what he was talking about. “Sure thing, Ben, come on in,” I said. “It’s a free for all in here.”
I went back to my laptop and texted my dad: Some guy named Ben just showed up to replace some windows, do you know about this?
Also, how about we burn this house to the ground and just order a new one?