Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Renovating the Winter's Hut

Of God and Plumbing

It’s 10:00 on Monday morning. I am hungover after playing a drinking game with Rob during Mad Men that involves taking a swig of vodka every time someone lights a cigarette.

The banging downstairs hasn’t stopped in over two hours. Normally, the carpenter will saw some plywood and then hammer it in somewhere and take a break. But not this morning. This morning, there are two carpenters and they are going at it double time. At our status meeting last Thursday, Le Bruce mentioned that they were going to build us new stairs.
“What’s wrong with the old ones?” I asked.
Rob shows me the plans for the umpteenth time. “We are going to put a sink where the old stairs are. They are taking those stairs out and putting new stairs over here. He points to where the fridge used to be.
“Wow,” I said, clearly impressed. “You can remove stairs and build new ones? How do you do that? Do you get in a big huge truck and use dynamite and one of those string things with the heavy ball?” I was getting excited.
“Actually, two carpenters can do the trick. They simply saw the stairs out and then build new ones?”
“What do you build stairs from?”
Le Bruce and Rob were so happy that I was taking an interest in this project that they both answered at once:
“No fucking way?” I said. “You mean, under all that paint or carpet or..what’s that word that always sounds vaguely pornographic...linoleum... there is just, wood?”
“Yup,” said Le Bruce. “Just wood. Just some dead trees.”
“That is very cool.”
LeBruce and Rob looked at each other. They were clearly pleased with my reactions.
“That is very very cool.” I said again.
And, you know, it was cool. When I was sober. But now that I had a raging headache, it was far less so.
I called Rob.
“Can I stop the renovation?”
Rob took me off speaker phone.
“No, Natalie. You can’t stop a renovation.”
“But I have a hangover. My head hurts. I’m tired. I need quiet and chamomile tea.”
“Then go to the coffee shop on the corner. You can hang out with all the other hungover college kids and talk about social networking.”
“I don’t want to go to the coffee shop. I need to work you know. Someone has to pay for all of this.”
My salary is about 1/10 of Rob’s. Sometimes he reminds me of this fact and sometimes he doesn’t. Today, he declined comment.
“OK. What do you want to do? Do you want to come down to my office and work?”
The idea of showering, dressing for Bay St., getting on the subway and taking the elevator to Rob’s office on the 4000th floor of a skyscraper is beyond me.
“Nah. I’ll stay here and suffer.”
“Well, don’t martyr yourself. You can come here if you need to.”
I feel like martyr though and wonder what sort of music a martyr would listen to. Clearly, the soundtrack from Yentl.
The soothing voice of Barbra Streisand eases the pounding downstairs and I go back to work reading about economic relations in 500 CE Rome.
Papa, Can you hear me? Someone is singing in the bathroom. Then I hear drilling.
Papa, Can you see me? More singing. Then drilling.
Papa, Can you feel me? The drilling drowns him out.
I go into the bathroom where a young child with a Montreal Canadian hat is taking apart my sink.
“Excuse me. What are you doing? Shouldn’t you be at school?”
The child with the Montreal Canadians hat does not look at me. He looks slightly to my right.
“I’m sorry, Ma’am. I am the plumber. I need to take out the sink. You have a leak that is dripping onto the drywall downstairs.”
Two weeks ago, I would have had to ask what drywall is, but since there is quite a bit of it in my former dining room, I feel I know enough.
“How do you know there is a leak in the sink. I don’t see water anywhere.” I surveyed the bathroom floor.
“Well, it’s leaking into the wall. If we were to open up the wall, you would see a lot of dampness.”
“You can’t open up a wall. It’s a wall. If you open it up, the house will fall in.”
The child looks at me. Actually, he looks around me. I move into his line of sight and he shifts his gaze left.
“I’m sorry Miss. But you have a leak in your sink and I need to patch it before it drips into the new walls that are being built downstairs. That is what is being built down there, you know. New walls.
I choose to ignore him.
“Where is your father? Is it “Take Your Son to Work Day?”
“He’s at home with my wife and twins. Why?”
I pause for a rare moment of stunned silence.
The child removes his hat and wipes his forehead.
With the cascading down of his brown forelocks and revelation of a small kippah, the morning’s mystery is solved.
“Shalom.” I say politiely holding out my hand.
“Shalom.” He replied, just as politely, but his right hand remains at his side.
“Oh. You are that kind of Jew.”
“Yes. Yes. I am that kind of Jew.”
I sit down on the bathtub step.
“And you are a plumber?”
“I am a plumber’s apprentice to be precise.”
“How does your father feel about that?”
“Well, at first he wanted me to be a rabbi. And then, he wanted me to be a lawyer. And then, he wanted me to go to Eretz Yisroel and get into the tech industry.”
“But you wanted to fix toilets?”
“I wanted a job. I wanted to marry Aliza. I wanted a family, and I wanted a house and I didn’t feel like spending years going to school and working at a big place and having to wear one of those smart phones and having to check it during Shabbas.”
“Do you like it though? Is it fun?”
“Work is not fun. Work is work. Reading is fun. Studying is fun. Playing catch with my 6 year old is fun. Work is about making money to have fun. But yes, I like this job. I have to solve problems. I make people happy. I go home at 5:00 and don’t think about it until the next day. What’s there not to like?”
I think about Rob who comes home and doesn’t get a half an hour’s peace from his BlackBerry.
“And I’ll always be employed, you know. Always. As long as people have to pish, I’ll have a job.”
“How old are you anyway?”
“You are 24 and you are married with 2 kids?”
“No, I am 24 and I have 4 kids. A 6 year old, a 5 year old, and a set of girl twin two year olds.”
“Oh my God. You are so young. I am 16 years older than you and I have a 6 year old and a 2 year old.
“I wanted to see my grandchildren and hopefully my great grandchildren. Who has time to waste? As I said, I wanted to marry Aliza and I wanted children and I wanted a house. So, I became a plumber and now I have everything I want. Why did you wait so long?”
I thought for a minute.
“I didn’t know what I wanted. I thought I wanted to be a professor, then I wanted to be a lawyer, then I wanted to be a rabbi…”
“You can’t be a rabbi.”
“I realized that when I told the director of admissions at Hebrew Union College Rabbinical School that I was an atheist.”
“It wouldn’t matter if you are an atheist or not. You are a woman and you can’t be a rabbi. And if this Hebrew Union whatever whatever even considered that you could be a rabbi, then it is not a House of HaShem.”
“Your sort of Jew isn’t very tolerant is it?”
“It’s not my sort of Jew. It is Jew.”
“How can you say that with such conviction.”
“Because I have conviction. Because I believe in something. You don’t believe so you twist a bit in the wind. You are not grounded. The Torah said Marry a Woman, I married a woman. The Torah said Multiply. I multiply. The Torah said don’t work on the Sabbath. I don’t work on the Sabbath. My life is simple but I’m happy. My uncle Moshe was like you as a kid. Restless. Wandering. He went to Woodstock and got high and the Lord came into his life and grounded him. Now, he is married with kids and has a big business in New York. HaShem works in strange ways, does he not?”
“I once saw God when I was playing hockey. It was midnight and we played in a snowstorm. Some little 25 year old gay guy tripped me and I fell on the ice. I looked up at the snowing sky and the stars and saw God.
“ You don’t know your place.” He sighed.
I went back to my office and digested the plumber’s words, but before I could get very far, Le Bruce called me downstairs.
“You look a little miffed.” Said Le Bruce. “What’s going on. Did someone unfriend you on Facebook?”
“I just got a lecture from the plumber. Apparently, I don’t know my place.”
“Well, I could have told you that, Princess Pee Pee.” Bruce thought.
“You can say what you think. It’s just us here.” I said.
Le Bruce looked a little sheepish. “Oh. Sorry. What about not knowing your place?”
“He thinks I should become religious and respectful.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
“I don’t know. Some days it seems easier.”
“An unexamined life is always an easier life.” Le Bruce said philosophically.
“That’s what I thought. But there are moments when I think the plumber is right.”
“Do you want to spend your days with your hands in someone else’s shitter?”
“Well, when you put it that way.”
“Take a load off, Natalie. Go get yourself a Pork soup. And before you go, use the can, we are turning the plumbing off again.”
I went upstairs and removed my Urinelle from its hiding spot between the maxi pads, realized I was broke, took 5 bucks from Raffi’s piggy bank and went to find lunch.