My Adventures Staying at Home

I work at home.

Right now, I don’t know where the quotation marks in that sentence should go.  Around work?  Around home?

Our new condo — which will be wonderful someday!  I can almost see it! — is in shambles.  Two painters have cordoned off the wall of shelves in the living room with plastic sheets.  Outside the plastic paint world, furniture’s piled on furniture, books and boxes are stacked on the unplugged TV and DVD, the coffee table has to be leapt over if you want to get to the master bedroom, which, occasionally, I do.  I don’t have much faith in my leaping abilities, but I keep hopping.  It counts as aerobic exercise, I tell myself.

This is the second day for the painters, who were preceded by the movers, the millwork guys, the barstool and patio furniture people.

Today was also exciting because our dryer arrived.  “I hate to tell you,” the dryer delivery guy said when he called to let me know the dryer was on the premises, “but the dryer has two dents in the front.  You might want to send it back.”

I always hate hearing sentences beginning with “I hate to tell you.”  I hopped on the elevator to go down to see the dryer, which, sure enough, had a couple of dents.  “You could send it back for a new one,” the delivery guy said.  “Or you could get compensation for its damage.”

I perked up at the mention of “compensation.”  I asked the delivery guy if I could get, say, $200 for being so upset about the dryer and its dents.  He said sure.  He put me on the line with the retail woman who told me $200 would be impossible, since the dryer was pretty cheap to begin with.  Instead, I got some kind of coupon for $100, which will never expire.  (On this point, I should mention I am perhaps the worst negotiator on God’s earth, so eager to please and reluctant to put anyone else out, that I usually end up in worse shape than I would have been had I kept my big mouth shut.  Frankly, I am surprised I didn’t end up promising to send them a check.  I must be improving with age.)

The delivery guys installed the dryer, dents and all, then left.  The painters say they’ll start applying the primer this afternoon.  Someday, the plastic shrouds will come down.  We’ll be able to see this new condo we’ve bought.  We’ll stop feeling like squatters.

In the meantime, I comfort myself with thinking how fortunate I am to “work” at “home” at a time like this.  Otherwise, I would miss out on approving drier dents and — any minute now! — inhaling paint fumes.

I would also have missed out on this conversation I had last week with a workman who was here.

“Do you know what the bestselling book in history is?” he asked when he heard I was a writer.

“The Bible?”

“That’s right,” he said.  “What about the second bestselling book?”

I shrugged.

“It’s by Adolf Hitler,” he prompted me.

“You mean, Mein Kampf?”

“Uh-huh,” he said.  “You ever read it?”

“No,” I said.  “I’m not really … a big fan of Hitler.”

Silence.   More silence.  He didn’t look happy with me.

“Well,” he said, after a long pause, “I wouldn’t say I’m a really big fan of Hitler, either.  But I got the book.  I just wanted to get inside the guy’s head for a while.”

I nodded, he nodded, he went on working.  You know, conversations like that give me perspective.  The inside of our condo may currently look like one of Dante’s rings of hell, but I would hazard a guess that the inside of Hitler’s head is a whole lot worse.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)

See marginally related posts on the day the plumber came! and
evil, shameful stories from my old jobs.

17 comments… add one
  • Mein Kampf? Really? Well there you go. You’d think it at least would be the Koran!

  • Hmmm … that particular conversation would have creeped me out. Sorry to hear about the dryer dents. That too would have made me sad, if I’d had my heart set on a new, perfect dryer.

  • My husband wanted to read Mein Kampf for the same reason. He is not a big reader usually. But he couldn’t get through it. I guess if we want to avoid the mistakes of the past, we need to understand how it happened. But I am not interested in reading it.
    Good luck on the renovations. I work from home as well, and I can truly sympathize.

  • Craig

    Don’t be bothering those workmen. It’s not like you chat about a la recherche du temps perdu to the manicurist

  • Cindy A

    You’d be surprised what helpful information you can get from delivery guys and workmen. One last week (a Mexican national with a visa) told me that if I ever went to Mexico, I’d need to wear cheap clothes and shoes. If your clothes and shoes are too nice, young rogues will beat you up and take them from you. Then he noticed my one-size-fits-all Mickey Mouse shirt and flip-flops — and seemed to realize that I did not need this information.

  • That end is too much — glad you keep your sense of the absurd when surrounded by chaos and inhaling paint fumes.

  • Well, if he likes to read subversive literature, you could have offered him a signed copy of your new book. That would have really confounded him!

  • This post made me laugh. Needed that this morning.

  • Great post. I love talking to random people. You find out all sorts of stuff. And I bet it is the Koran. Your workman probably wasn’t counting books foreigners read.

  • I love working at home, but boy do I hate it when everything is in chaos like that! However, I don’t have a clue how you can manage it all if you’re not home. I hope everything settles down and you can really feel like you live there soon. At least your painters are not blaring loud music while you are trying to work.

  • Working at home. All the travails and tribulations that occur necessitating workmen enter the home– sometimes for long stays. And there you are, just like a spider, creeping around, looking, listening, interacting with them. Perhaps even serving toast and coffee for them when they come loping in mornings, shedding carpet tacks, tying on toolbelts. “Hello boys, can’t work on an empty tummy! Try some of that damson preserves. I found it at the most marvelous out-of-the-way bread shoppe. Tell me, do you think Nietzsche would have liked it?” But you’re working, remember? At home. Craftily gathering material for that next novel: “Blue Collars on the Verge of a Purifying Spin Cycle.”

  • Sheryl

    Funny! I’d keep a fair distance from the Hitler wannabe. One day this will all be behind you, and you’ll be in love with the peace and quiet and beauty of your new place.

  • Love hearing about your adventures in moving and re-settling, Ruth. I’m sure it’s way more fun for us than for you having to go through it. Plus, you remind us that a sense of humor is not only a good thing, but an absolute necessity as we move through the years.

  • I’m reading this out loud to my husband right now. You crack me up (or, should I say your painter does).

  • This is hilarious! “You know, conversations like that give me perspective. The inside of our condo may currently look like one of Dante’s rings of hell, but I would hazard a guess that the inside of Hitler’s head is a whole lot worse.” Good to get some perspective!!

  • Merr

    See, when you work at home, you meet the most “interesting” people–maybe more so than at the office!

  • Heh. I don’t envy you all the moving chaos. Or the weird book guy. But I laughed about your negotiating skills. My husband has those same skills. I actually bought our first new car by myself when he was out of town. People couldn’t believe that I’d do that – or that he’d be okay with it – but I’m sure I saved thousands of dollars by not having him there with me!

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