Monday, January 19, 2009

In Praise of Usefulness

I spent the weekend refinishing a table that I bought on Craigslist.

My dad gave me a one-and-half-page list of instructions for the job, including half a page of things to buy. Buying the stuff seemed like the least exciting part of the exercise as all the stuff was really specific and I kind of didn't know what I was doing. But I found a really good local hardware store. If you've been in a really good hardware store, you know what this means: incredibly narrow aisles with stuff stacked to the rafters, people there to help you who have bifocals and the creased, hardened fingers of workers, and a lot of built-in grime (at my BC Ferries job, our old terminal building before they knocked it down had an amazing amount of built-in grime -- counters with the laminate worn down to the wood and everything so smooth and dirt worked into all the crevices -- I liked that building a lot better than the new one they built).

There is no substitute for a good hardware store: it has no aesthetic other than sheer utility, which becomes its own aesthetic. This hardware store was in the middle of West Hollywood too, so that's saying something. I walked past a very old man who could hardly stand up wearing a store apron who shouted out hello. His store?

I had to go way in the back to see the guy about screws for the arms of one of the chairs. The screw expert guy was so satisfyingly expert that he spent 25 minutes focused on figuring out how the hell the screws would work for the arms (and was not distracted by his coworkers' repeated requests to "explain Groundhog Day") and then sold me two pieces of hardware at the total cost of a dollar and ten cents. And said, "Bring in one of the other chairs and I'll have a look at it and we'll figure it out."

I had a closer look at the chairs when I got home: the puzzle is that they are designed for a long screw to go in one direction that has two holes through it for other screws to screw into perpendicularly. Seems weird. But I'll bet they have that piece of hardware somewhere in a creased cardboard drawer with a masking tape label ten feet up the wall.


So the other day I met the woman who used to live in my apartment.

I've been checking in on my upstairs neighbor, who was AWOL for a while and I thought maybe deceased? until she was back again after I got back to LA. My upstairs neighbor is old enough to talk about the plans she and her husband made when they got out of the concentration camps and these days is back from hospital but still poorly, so I fetch her mail and visit. My angelic good neighborliness has kind of backfired on me as I have been entirely unsuccessful in diverting our conversations away from the sole discussion topic of how crappy she feels and the unsaid implication of "and soon I will die". I feel like a shit for even complaining about this, but man it's a downer, plus there are very few ways to resuscitate (so to speak) the conversation at that point.

Anyway, last week, she had visitors and one of them was the woman who used to live in my place. As much as this neighborhood is full of orthodox jewish people, I haven't really talked to any of them besides my neighbor, so talking to her was an exercise in mediating my curiosity about her (she's got to be my age and has three kids-- is that a wig? does she have to wear that skirt?) while trying to have a normal conversation. She was very bubbly and sarcastic and friendly and translated the occasional yiddish phrases for me.

In a reciprocal curiosity exchange, I invite her in to look around my apartment and see how different it was. Our shower still has a glitter sticker of birds that I left up because I like to look at it in the mornings. She was on the phone to her oldest daughter describing the place as she walked through and the daughter said she got the sticker from her ballet recital. It's interesting to think of what a place that means so much to me means to someone else, not to mention all the other someone elses who have lived here for the past 80-odd years.

When I was sixteen, I got a baby-sitting job from people who had moved into the house I grew up in. I put the kids to bed and then wandered around in the house. I probably spent about ten minutes in each room.

Now, sometimes when I can't fall asleep at night, I imagine walking through my old house, what the rooms looked like, what kind of carpet, where the lightswitches were, the sound the cabinet doors made when you closed them. They tore that house down last summer.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Snow Day


While in Vancouver, next year's Olympics were a frequent topic of discussion. With only a few variations, here's how the conversations went:

Discussion topic #1: Did you get tickets? We put in for tickets in the draw and got only biathlon.

Discussion topic #2: The IOC is so stupid that they threw down with Cirque de Soleil about creative control of the opening ceremonies and now Cirque is outie.

Discussion topic #3: Are you renting your house out?

Applause to Stacie's husband Darryl for the most illuminating suggestion re: topic #2 -- "Okay, so the lights are down in the stadium and you hear a rhythmic "crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch" and then the lights slowly come up and the stadium is full of two thousand and ten guys in perfect formation crushing beer cans against their heads" After this suggestion, we laughed very hard and then talked about Neil Young for half an hour. I know, eh?

Street Opera (In Three Acts)

This weekend, I was walking out of my house and I noticed this big black BMW SUV parked blocking the building's driveway. Not a little; a lot -- half the car was hanging out into the driveway. Someone had written "asshole" in the dust of the back window.

When I got home, a tow truck was backing up, angling its bar under the rear wheels of the BMW.

Later, as I was washing my car in the back courtyard, I heard an anguished scream and yelling and swearing from the street.


Joining the Milk Line

I went to the grocery store last Monday night because I, like everyone else in the entire city, just got back from holiday and needed milk. It was around 8:40 at night. The company line from the staff was that they were doing inventory, but I went to the milk fridge and there wasn't any milk there.

Well, to be totally accurate, there were four cartons of organic unseparated milk, but who's going to gag that down? No milk. Also, no bread. People were wandering the aisles in a daze. It felt like communist Russia.

Was this a shipping problem? Did the huge demand for post-holiday perishable essentials take the city by storm? Does this have to do with the economy? Is there more of this to come?