Sunday, October 25, 2009

Renovating The Winter's Hut: A Saga in 16 week parts


16 weeks. 16 weeks. 16 weeks, we will cook in a kitchen the size of a solitary confinement cell. 16 Monday mornings, we will make coffee in a shower stall. 16 Shabbat dinners the chicken soup will be poised on a closed toilet seat.

Welcome to Scarajevo.
When the demolition of our kitchen began, we still had not gone from 0- 60. We did not know how much the renovation was going to cost, we did not have a SmartBuild spreadsheet with line items. When we asked how long the renovation was going to take, we were told breezily, 16 weeks.

Like Management Consulting, SmartBuild was a scam.

“No it isn’t.” LeBruce was inspecting the brickwork on our former wall where the fridge used to be.
Rob came home and put his nose against the plastic door that separated the first world of our front foyer from the third world.
“Holy Shit…it looks like.,….!”
“London after the Blitz!” I shouted
“How come she knows about the London Blitz.” Bruce thought. “My girlfriend thinks the Blitz is something you get at Dairy Queen.”
“Ah…don’t worry about it, Sprucy, she’s probably better in bed than I am.”
Bruce looked at me for a minute. “Yeah, she is probably is.”
“Glad we got that settled.” I thought.
“Greenwich Village after 9/11!!” Rob yelped.
“Pyongyang after…after…the nuclear reactor overreacted!” I shouted.
“Is it better to have a girlfriend who can used the word “Pyongyang” in a sentence or to have a girlfriend who is good in bed?” Bruce wondered.
“In your case, the latter. Definitely the latter.” I reassured him.
“No…it’s Sarajevo.” Rob said softly.
We all stood in silence in our naked kitchen with the wires scattered in piles in each corner and the windows covered in plastic.
“Sarajevo.” I repeated reverentially.
“Sarajevo.” Intoned Le Bruce.
A moment of silence.
“Nah,” said Rob. It’s not Sarajevo. It’s Scarajevo!!”
And it was. Emes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Renovating the Winter's Hut: A Saga in 16 week parts

Going from Zero to Sixty with Le Bruce

“I’m going to take you from Zero to Sixty.” Le Bruce repeated.
“What do you mean ‘Zero to Sixty'? Rob asked.
“He means that we are feeling relaxed and now he is going to tell us how much this is going to cost so that we can both have simultaneous heart attacks.” I said. “Duhhh.”
“Yes, but just think about the simultaneous orga…”
“We don’t have sex in the kitchen, Bruce. We just cook in it.” I was having a very clear visual of Le Bruce and his 25 year old slice of non-Kosher cutie pie in my kitchen and it was getting in the way of my going from Zero to Sixty.
“Ok Ok. So, take us from Zero to Sixty.” Rob said with a little more confidence then I think he felt.
Le Bruce took out his calculator from his man purse. He started a fresh Excel sheet and began filling in items:

1. Fix existing knob and tube.
“What’s knob and tube.” I asked
“It’s wiring. It carries electricity.” Rob said. “Didn’t you know that?”
“What’s wrong with wiring that carries electricity. That sounds very necessary in a house.”
“Jewish Princess.” I heard Bruce think.
“Oh please. I’m sure 99% of the female population regardless of religious affiliation has no clue what knob and tube is. Quite frankly, it sounds like a euphemism for getting one’s tubes tied.” I telepethied back.
It’s ‘irregardless’, not’ regardless’.”
“Oh no it ain’t. I might be a Jewish Princess, but at least I’m literate.”
Rob explained. “Because knob and tube is more exposed than other wiring, it is considered a fire hazard.”
Calmly, Le Bruce said. “That’s why we are going to fix it. So that you won’t have live in a fire hazard. This is all part of going from Zero to Sixty. You thought we were just doing a kitchen renovation, but we are going to do all kinds of things.”

2. Air Conditioning“Well thank God. I have an asthmatic condition you know.” I said.
“An asthmatic condition, not just plain old regular asthma?” asked Le Bruce.
“It’s like asthma but not as serious.” I explained. “I just have an inhaler, no Epipens although once when I was a counsellor at a nice Jewish camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, I once stole one of my camper’s Epipens and stuck it through my thigh just to see what would happen. It was a total rush but not nearly as much fun as taking their Ritalin.”

Rob’s Blackberry is bleeping out of control, but Rob is in another world—a world of gleaming 36 inch stoves and French door fridges and granite countertops. He is excited and terrified all at the same time. And while I cannot share his enthusiasm, I promise to make more of an effort. But not right now. It’s enough. Really, it is absolutely enough.

“I can only digest these things in small chunks.” I declare to Le Bruce. “I know you want to take us from Zero to Sixty, but could we call this Zero to 4”?
Le Bruce looks at me. “Fine. I appreciate that it’s a lot of information.”

“When you say ‘fine’ does it mean ‘fuck you’? because that’s what it means when I say it.”
“You got it, dear.”
“Do not call me dear or I will call you a Poutine Lovin’ Panty Waist.”
“Poor Rob.”
“No, poor you. Your stuck with me for…how long?”

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Renovating the Winter's Hut: A Saga in 16 week parts

Le Bruce and his SmartBuild

Rob and I looked at the Excel spreadsheet. Every detail of a kitchen renovation had been given its own line with a dollar figure next to it.
“Wow,” I said it complete awe. “That seems so logical. I feel like I’ve seen something like it before.” I thought very hard. “Wait, I do this kind of budget every single day to create a new book. We have to do it. We are accountable to it.”
Le Bruce looked at me anew. I heard him thinking: “Maybe she’s not a little Jewish Princess after all. Maybe she actually has a brain.” I mental telepathied back at him: “True dat.”
“Natalie is right.” Le Bruce folded his hands over his washboard stomach—one of several clues that he was divorced and dating someone younger. “This is what keeps me accountable to you. I lay out every line item on this spreadsheet and put a dollar figure and a time limit and we stick to the plan. We have never gone over budget and we are never late. Ever.
Emes.” I asked.
Emes.” He responded.
“Well, you can’t argue with him if he says Emes.” I looked at Rob. Ah what the heck, even an Emes needs to be questioned once in awhile.
“OK Bruce,” I said. “If this keeps renovations on time and on budget, why don’t more people do it?”
“Good question, Natalie. I don’t know the answer.”
Rob’s eyes which had lost their characteristic sparkle in recent days became bright again.
“I like this Bruce. I like it very much. Everyone complains about their general contractor’s being full of shit but this seems very honest and clear.”
“It is Rob. Really, I could do a sales job on you, but I don’t have to. SmartBuild speaks for itself.”
“What do you think, Natalie.” Rob asked.
“I’m feeling good about this. I’m feeling relaxed and ready to go.”
“OK. Now that you are relaxed, I am going to take you from Zero to Sixty.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Renovating the Winter's Hut: A Saga in 16 week parts

The Arrival of Le Bruce

The phone rang. Tina advised that during a renovation, you should only pick up the phone every third time your spouse call. This was only the second time, so I let it go to voice mail. A peaceful hour went by and I happily read about the medieval monestaries. Then the phone rang again.

“Hey...what’s up?”
“Are you busy tomorrow morning?” Rob asked with some excitement in his voice.
“I’m not moving to Winnipeg.”
“No no no...I know. Neither am I. You know what the problem with moving to Winnipeg is?”
I could name about 400,000 problems in the space of a minute.
“Even though you live in a mansion, when you go outside, you are still in Winnipeg.”
“And you will die of cancer.Everyone who lives in Winnipeg dies of cancer. Winnipeg has the highest incidence of cancer anywhere in the world. That’s because you get no Vitamin D and the air is sprayed every summer with toxic chemicals to keep the hordes of mosquitos which plague their 2 week summer.”
Rob sighed. “OK, listen. Tomorrow a guy named Bruce Danner...”
“Didn’t he play the Incredible Hulk?”
“Not Bruce Banner...Bruce Danner. He’s coming over tomorrow to talk to us about his process.”
“Bruce Danner was a working man...He used to load that Econoline van. A sparkle was in his eye. But his life was in his hands.” I started to sing.
“Nat...for godsake, give it a rest.” But I was too far gone to stop. I grabbed my hockey stick and belted:
“OK. Are you done yet.”
“Yup, I’m good. Ok, so we are going to talk about process. What process?”
“The process for making us a new kitchen.”
“Process...that sounds kind of serious. Is this going to be a big job?”
“Nat, don’t you want a new kitchen. Don’t you want a beautiful space to cook in. Don’t you think that if you have a clean, big kitchen with lots of cabinets and a big fridge and a stove that even you can understand how to use, don’t you think you would cook more...maybe even better. We could get you a little recipe holder where you could follow directions...”
“Not happening. This I promise you.”
“I bet when you see it, you’ll change your mind.”
“Not happening. Emes.” I said. “You can’t argue when I say Emes.”
“Ok. But can you at least try and participate. Can you try and proffer an opinion.”
“For you, I will do this.” I promised.

Bruce Danner arrived exactly on time. He wore pressed blue jeans, a blue button down with no white undershirt underneath. His socks were blue and he had on brown penny loafers.
Bruce Danner was either gay or a Jew from Montreal-it was hard to know which since they are often confused, but I required him to turn to the side and check his profile to know which.
“Wow, Those are beautiful!” He said turning his head to look at the stained glass on our bathroom window.”
Montreal Jew.

“Should we get started?” He asked. We sat down in our dining room.
“Hey, look at this. This lesbian I went to Sarah Lawrence College with is now marrying a guy. A Jewish guy. And a doctor. Wow. She totally scored.” I am going through the Wedding Announcements in the New York Times. Le Bruce is not amused.

“Natalie,” he says. “Aren’t you interested in what your kitchen is going to look like. Doesn’t this mean something to you?”
“No. Why should it?”
“Because you cook. And once I create a nice kitchen for you, you will have a nice place to cook.”
“I don’t cook.”
“What do you mean you don’t cook.”
“I don’t cook. I hate it actually. Rob does most of the cooking.“
Le Bruce looked confused. “Rob, I thought you were a lawyer.”
“Yes, he’s a lawyer that cooks. The two are not mutually exclusive.”
“ Enough. Nat, remember last night. Remember what you promised.”
“Ohhhhh Kayyyy,” I whined.
Bruce opened up his man-purse and took out an Excel spreadsheet.
“You know how everyone complains about they take too long and go over budget, yada yada.”
“We know.” We responded in unison.
“Well, let me introduce you to SmartBuild

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Renovating the Winter's Hut: A Saga in 16 week parts

Abandon every hope, ye who enter here

“My husband and I don’t renovate.” Stacy said in the changing room of the JCC after spin class.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because our marriage couldn’t take it.” She said matter of factly.
“After we gutted our house, I went into labour 3 weeks early. The doctor said it was because of the stress.” Tina added. “I was trying to breastfeed and talk to the painters at the same time.”
“Rob wants a dream kitchen. Better than a dream girl.
“Have you tried telling him that you will commit to reaching the national average of number of times having sex per week if he forgets the whole thing? asked Stacey.
“Have you told him that you won’t have sex if goes ahead?” giggled Tina.
“It’s that bad, eh?” I asked knowing the answer.
“It’s worse.” They said in unison.

“You see, “ said Monique-our fabulous French designer. “You see…you will put ze new wall here and the table it will go ici and on it you will put ze champagne so that you can be romantic at night.”
Rob just looked at me. I knew that he was ready to scream.
“OK, Monique. That sounds fantastique. We’ll be in touch.” I said showing her la porte.
“I can’t….” Rob started.
“I know, I know. We’ll fire her tomorrow.”
After Monique came Cowboy Nigel.
“Would you like to see some plans before you tell us you can do the work?” Rob asked.
“Don’t need no plans. Nigel been doing this shit for 30 years. Plans are for pussies, you get me. We’ll just move this wall here, put the table here, put up some cupboards here and move the fridge. Sis boom bah… designer kitchen!!
“How much do you think that will cost?” I asked.
“Hard to say, miss, hard to say. Can’t know until you start..old house like yours going to have surprises.”
“OK,” Rob sighed. “We’ll be in touch.”
After Nigel left, Rob sat down sadly.
“I’m 39 years old. I spend most of my day at a job dealing with assholes and sosnovitches. All I ask is to come home to a nice kitchen. I want enough prep space so that I can properly rub my meat and then I want a space designated for my meat to rest. And then I need somewhere to unpack my groceries and then I need a dishwasher that works for left handed people...”
I patted his shoulder. “If they can put a man on the moon, they can make you a kitchen.”
He looked up. “Maybe we should just move to...”
“Nuh Uh Uh. I’m not moving to Winnipeg. Not for anything, not even a big kitchen.”
“But we could have a kitchen the size of this entire main floor. I could bring home an entire pig and roast it in my restaurant-sized oven. I could smoke an entire brisket...a brisket Nat. We could eat it for weeks. And....” he paused for a minute. “I could learn how to bake. I could bake challah to go with the roast pig and we could eat it for Shabbat dinner....”
I have to admit that I did allow the thought to cross my mind, but once it had crossed, I dismissed it forever.
“Not happening.” I kissed his head and left for work. He sat at the two crates which served as our table with his head in his hands. Just as I closed the door, I heard him mutter,