…and half the staff is on vacation made me feel virtuous for doing anything at all. I put in earplugs, which for some reason help me concentrate whether it’s noisy or not, and finally finished reviewing a 140-page research paper I’ve been slogging away at for weeks now. Now I just have to make the corrections I’ve noted in ink, and, since I would really like to get this thing off my desk, I might even work on it this weekend, although I’m famous for saying that and not following through. Working on the weekend can sound good during the week, especially when I’m feeling virtuous and the end of a project is in sight. But then, on the weekend, it occurs to me that it’s, well, the weekend, and my strong leisure ethic kicks in. I’ll let you know how it turns out.
At 5:30, Kevin gave me a lift to our usual Friday happy hour at Dizzy Issie’s, and it was nice to find that Greg had already secured a couple of seats at the end of the bar. That place fills up so fast these days that, if we were just discovering it now, I probably wouldn’t come back after one evening of standing around awkwardly behind the bar stools, watching out for elbows and shuffling back and forth to accommodate through traffic. A seat changes everything, although my seat yesterday pointed me right at the television, where CNN was posing questions like “should a lobbyist be appointed to be in charge of our national safety standards?” It’s the kind of question you would have seen on The Simpsons six years ago, and the subtext of the joke would have been something like, “can you imagine if our government got so bad that questions like these could be posed with a straight face, as if such a thing were legitimately worth reflecting on?” But American society parodies itself these days, faster than the TV writers can keep up.
After drinks and dinner, the three of us returned to my house, where we checked on the 12 strawberry plants Kevin planted in the garden plot a month or so back. He has no access to bare dirt at his Patterson Park-area house, and asked to use ours last summer, when A., the true gardener in the house, was going to be away. I agreed, since I would otherwise have let the thing lie fallow. This led to an enjoyable Sunday morning ritual of coffee, bagels, and puttering around in the dirt with a friend, and we decided to keep it going this year again. This time, as I mentioned, Kevin went the all-strawberries route, and there is talk of strawberry shortcake for a Fourth of July party.
The plumbers were later than they said they’d be. I got up this morning at 6:20 a.m. to empty out under-sink cupboards and clear a path through the lumber pile to the main water cut-off valve, but the heavy knock on the door didn’t come until almost 9:00 a.m. After saying good morning, Jimmy, the head plumber, looked around uncomfortably for a second, then said, “well, I guess I’d better see where that main water cut-off is.” I told him I would take care of it, and did, and he and his younger assistant put down their gear buckets and set right to work.
The plan was for them to replace two sink-supply valves, the cold water in the kitchen and the hot in the upstairs bathroom, that were so choked with rust that water flow was slowed to a trickle. This meant it was extremely difficult to avoid scalding yourself in the kitchen and to get your hands really clean in the bathroom. There was also a hole in the pipe leading to the rear hose bib, a hole that has prevented us from being able to use a hose through two complete gardening seasons. And, finally, the big job: I had purchased a new water heater a few weeks back, and I wanted them to hook it up.
I sat at the dining room table while they worked, which meant that they were almost under my feet while they installed the water heater. The floor jumped underfoot as they clanged at pipes, their hacksaws singing through shiny new copper. After the water heater was done, the valve jobs and the pipe replacement didn’t take long at all, and by 12:30 I was waiting inside while Jimmy wrote out a bill in his truck. I was thinking, it couldn’t be more than $500, but if it is, how much more can we afford?, and I was also thinking I wish I had the slightest idea what a fair price for this really would be. As a homeowner, you must constantly work to rationalize yourself into feeling good about spending money. Sometimes this can go too far, like if your main criterion is expense, as in, it’s expensive but the guy’s a craftsman, but fortunately the price ended up sounding preeminently fair.[Edit: Reviewing this entry Sunday morning, I realize that I neglected to mention “the bad news,” which is that the surgery on the upstairs bathroom’s hot-water sink-supply valve was unsuccessful. Whereas the problem in the kitchen really had been the result of the valve alone, the problem with the bathroom sink must extend further down the pipes. Jimmy told me that he’d need to go in through the dining room ceiling, which isn’t as bad as it sounds since that part of the ceiling needs replacing anyway (it’s stained from an old leak), but this would take the better part of a day and cost $800-$1,000 he told me, which is as bad as it sounds. I think we’ll have to do this, though, as you can’t really expect people to pay full price renting a house from you and not give them useable hot water in the bathroom sink.]
Strolling around on an inspection, I opened the hose spigot and watched the water splashing onto the concrete. Hadn’t we bought a hose, I was wondering. I could remember turning one over in my hands in the aisle of the outdoor plants area at the hardware store, hefting and comparing different pistol-grip nozzles. I looked around in the basement but nothing jumped out at me. I called A. but had to leave a message, as she is now in the phase of the summer where she will be on and off the grid. While Kevin was here for his strawberry inspection, I missed her return call. Joy of joy, we had bought a hose, I learned from her message; she advised me to look in “the serial killer room.” This was good news, for although the strawberries don’t need any water now, I can now look forward to standing self-satisfiedly over my garden, spraying it with water. I guess that doesn’t sound that dramatic now that I wrote it out. Do you at all understand the feeling I’m imagining? Omnipotent, the life-giver, my strawberry plants rustling in gratitude. It’ll be great.