Your diarist is filing this dispatch under duress. I am surrounded by chaos. I am living in confusion.
I feel somewhat like Maureen Dowd-dazed and truculent-as I survey the landscape around me, baying: “How the hell did this happen?”
At first, I thought I could trace my current state of agitation back to a bright and beautiful Sunday morning some 18 months ago. I remember the day well, for I was watching James Carville shamelessly exploit his own children, using them as props on Meet the Press . And it was during this demonstration of enlightened fatherhood that I heard the words that strike fear in the hearts of all otherwise rational, sane, calm human beings:
“Honey,” my wife said, apropos of absolutely nothing, “I think we ought to move. We need more room.”
I will spare you the color commentary on the year and a half that followed-traipsing in and out of strangers’ living rooms, appalled by the decorating schemes (or lack thereof), after which we’d stand in the street, looking at each other and wondering: “How do people live like that?”
But as I sit here today, I now realize that it wasn’t the searching, the bidding, the buying, the closing or even the moving that has put me in this funk. Rather, it’s five short words that comprise one painful sentence:
“We’re just going to paint.”
In the entire history of human habitation, from the time we crawled out of the primordial ooze to the day Saul Steinberg put his furnishings up for auction, no one, anywhere, ever , has “just painted.” In fact, I am certain that when Java Man heard Java Woman say, “We’re just going to paint the cave,” he headed for the hills, migrating north to China, then up over the Bering land bridge into Alaska, to get as far away from the collateral damage as possible.
This is something I’m certain that Maureen Dowd would not approve of, but is relevant to the story at hand.
For the past two weeks, since moving into our new digs, I have done nothing but played general contractor. No writing, no reading, barely talking on the phone. I spend my days supervising tradesmen, trying to communicate in Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and the lovely, lilting Dublin-via-Canarsie brogue of America’s professional plastering class. In each language, the plea is the same: “I’d like to finish the job sometime before we make the last mortgage payment. I would greatly appreciate it if you don’t deliberately destroy each other’s work.”
Part of my problem here is that I actually know how to do most of this stuff, having spent my weekends and summers at Boston University working on a professional house-renovating crew. I can do almost anything, save major masonry. So I can spot not just when a job is going wrong, but when it’s being done stupidly.
My larger problem, however, and the real reason I’m up to my eyeballs in this, lies in a slightly different field: It’s a male-female thing. I’m the guy. I’m the Alpha Male of my own life. My wife has supervised hundred-million-dollar movies. But when she looks at me-pregnant, to make it worse, and with twins, to send the whole thing skyrocketing off the guilt scale-I somehow feel that it’s all my fault, and, unquestionably, my responsibility. (I’m not certain whether or not she truly believes this. It’s one of those unspoken, undissected things in our marriage. But I’m willing to bet that after adultery, home renovation is the No. 1 cause of divorce.)
In virtually all the male-female media images we’re exposed to, the subliminal message is almost always the same: For men, success equals money or power. For women, success equals family. I dare you to find a successful book, movie, TV show or magazine where this isn’t the case. Which is why, I suppose, that after all these eons, and after all the social change and gender revolutions, the vast majority of people revert to form. Maybe it’s just a guy thing. She’ll have the kids. I’ll fight off the carnivorous animals, kick the crap out of the subcontractors and get the damn cave painted.
So, the work and the unpacking go on. (Speaking of which, I can’t help but remember the press releases from Hill and Bill’s first night in Chappaqua. They were supposedly reminiscing over long-stored mementos, whereas we were frantically searching for the towels. I already know the answer, but do those two ever stop spinning?)
In any case, one of the more interesting things about renovating today is the number of modern-age tradesmen you deal with: The satellite TV guy. The computer network specialist. The telephone contractor. The electrician who schedules you on his Palm Pilot, sends the estimate by e-mail and asks not just if you want “clean power” for your computers (read: a dedicated line at $1,200) but whether you need NASA-level solar-flare protection. (I think not, thank you. I’d prefer to fry along with everyone else on the power grid.) And let’s not even discuss the painting contractor who shows up with a video of his work, references from celebrities and a bid on finely cut vellum for $56,000, proving a theory I’ve long had: No matter what service you want in life, there’s always some gay guy who’s already done it for Madonna, better and more expensively than anyone else.
And then, of course, there was the feng shui master. Don’t laugh. Maybe it’s the time I’ve spent in Asia. Or a sense I’ve had that there’s always one perfect spot in a room. But I believe in it. So I called a Chinese friend for the name of the person she’d just used. I expected a 70-year-old mandarin. Instead, the 40-ish Angi Wong arrived in pearls and Chanel, fresh from an appearance on Oprah , requesting payment in “cash, in a red envelope,” after advising us about earth, fire and
I’ll let you know how it turns out. In the meantime, I’ve got to get the workers out of here. Otherwise, I’m going to spend the rest of my life in what I have now been assured is the world’s most perfectly placed Alpha Dog House.