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