For this author, creative endeavors have been sorely tested by motherhood. But also transformed, and in ways she wouldn’t have imagined – couldn’t have, without her life “rewritten” as it has been, by her children. So linger here, to read all things weaverly, writerly and motherly.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

The Confessional

“What is it us guys gotta do, to do right by you women?”


We were standing at the edge of my driveway, next to where this guy, himself, had sawed up and hauled away a tree felled by hurricane Irene.


This town man had returned now, my husband having written a letter to “the town,” asking that our town taxes should not only cover the removal of the bush destroyed, (as he’d understood, by the town’s cutting down and dropping the tree on to it) but should cover its replacement as well.


I wished then that I’d put on a sweater. I’d thought I’d only be out there for a minute, when I’d seen the town truck pull up.


That is, until I saw that it was the same town man who’d done us the favor of removing the fallen tree in the first place.





And he didn’t hesitate to remind me that it had been just that, a favor: “Remember? I told you. This was a private tree. It’s only trees in the road we’re supposed to get rid of. It wasn’t in the road. It fell on private property.”


I nodded submissively, as I had when he’d taken pity and done the “favor.” Which he now reminded me had taken some time, as it had been a big trunk (even though it turned out to have been entirely hollow, paper cups squirreled away inside).


I had known that my husband was writing that letter, and I should have paid more attention, except I had been distracted by the fact that our bathroom floor was about to collapse. Enter the construction man, to replace the rotted plywood and rip up the old tiles.


This town man seemed hurt and offended. I’d betrayed him, and found myself apologizing for what exactly, I’m not sure. 


He went on, ranting that this was our local power company’s “mess,” the ones who actually cut down the tree,  since it had been hanging on the electrical wires.


“They were the ones who let it drop here,” he said, nudging the pathetic bush, its branches flattened and brittle as some washed up beach jetsam.


I needed to calm him down. I was reminded of my eight year old who can rage over losing at a game of chess. No big deal, not to worry.


The town man just shook his head. He was a big husky guy, but his mustache and lip were quivering – he seemed about to cry.


To my dismay, he launched into how he was really just upset over the “big fight” he had with his girlfriend that past Saturday night. He’d been calling her every night and leaving messages, about how much he loved her and wanted to work it out. She hadn’t returned his phone calls.


He leaned against his truck as he launched into his story. About his taking her out for a nice dinner (“the best fried calamari on Long Island”), then her needing his advice on a new refrigerator, so they went to PC Richards. Then when they got back to his place, she said wanted to go home and spend time with her kids.


“They’re 15 and 17 for Christ’s sake. I wasn’t asking her to stay the night, just to hang out for a bit. A couple of hours of TV, you know?”


My toes were getting cold. I was in my house slippers. Fuzzy purple things that were beginning to embarrass me.


He gently kicked at my dying bush, as you might nudge an annoying dog out of your way. “Look, I’m a passionate Italian, she’s a passionate Puerto Rican, I don’t mean to stereotype here or nothin’ but that’s the truth, we’re both passionate. So when she goes off at the mouth, angry and all, and slams doors and hangs up on me, and then doesn’t return my calls, that’s what I remind myself, that we’re just really passionate.”


I wished then that I’d made up some excuse to go inside, like my having something on the stove. But such an excuse now would seem not only lame, but cruel, in the face of this crumbling man.


So I listened, or half listened, as I can do when people I hardly know, like our electrician or plumber, lapse into the confessional. From our electrician, I learned about his frustration with his assistant who couldn’t give a “damn” about a “fucking great” sunset when they’re driving home at dusk after work.


For six weeks, our electrician practically lived with us; by day, he ripped out aluminum wires to snake down new copper ones from our attic. By night, he was an amateur painter who appreciated the value of a perfect crimson setting sun. “Why can’t he see that?” He had said, waving around an outlet he’d just ripped out of the wall. Ryan, aged five then, had stood at attention with a roll of wires over his shoulder. He was far more interested in being his assistant than the actual assistant, who was out having a cigarette.


I also knew that our electrician had had two hernias, size of “golf balls,” and that complications from the surgeries left him having to pee every half hour. I knew that his son had abducted their granddaughter from his ex-daughter-in-law, in a family-arranged car heist, when she came to pick the child up from a visit. “That poor kid lived on potato chips.”


When our house was finally newly copper-wired, our electrician had trouble saying goodbye – he left a gleeful Ryan with all the old metal outlets, and me, one of his paintings, a static oil rendering of stiff beach grass. He hung it himself on the most prominent, unfortunately vacant, dining room wall. (I remembered to re-hang it before he returned this fall to install florescent lights in our newly renovated basement playroom.)


As for my plumber, he is an avid reader of historical biographies; when he came to replace the sink drain, he had an awful skin rash that he confided had spread to his “privates,” from a nasty virus he’d caught from mouse droppings after removing old pipes in a church basement; he adopted all four of his sister-in-law’s children after she died of a drug overdose – all with different fathers who congregate at their house one Sunday monthly, for pasta and meatballs. His own father and he have never gotten along, but now that he’s in his nineties, my plumber has made peace, weekly stopping by to trim his toenails, as he no longer can bend down after a botched hip replacement.


And now inside, while I’m talking outside with the town man, the construction man still lingers; having finally finished the downstairs bathroom renovation, he is replacing the upstairs shower and corking the tiles around the tub. Between coffee breaks that is, when he comes downstairs to pour himself a fresh one, and for some “C and C” (Coffee and Conversation, he said, something from match.com where he met his last wife). His drop cloths have been around the house for so long, the old crib one (from when his grandchild used to spend the night) patterned with sheep feels like a new rug.


In these past weeks when he has taken up residence, leaving coffee cups here and there, I have learned that he’s got three sons, three grandsons, been married twice, divorced once, second wife a “kidney doctor,” having died of ovarian cancer. Before she died, they used to take walks around Ronkonkoma Lake on summer evenings, and he would carry an old pole from his truck for protection, which she said made him look “like a fag.” He never had to fend off anyone more nasty than a tiny dog like “Dorothy’s in that OZ movie” (his favorite as a kid) that tried to nip her ankles, but she never complained about the pole again. She died peacefully, doped up on morphine and muttering about how his face was as round as the man in the moon’s.


Now he lives with someone who keeps eight cats downstairs, each with its own litter box. (I couldn’t help wondering how any human being, besides a zoo keeper, could stand to clean out eight different litter boxes a day.) He has two German Shepherds that go to bed with him upstairs, until his girlfriend comes to bed and shoos them away (they met when she hired him to renovate her own bathroom, and he never left).


“I put up with eight cats,” he said, going to reheat his morning coffee in my microwave. “What do I have? Two dogs. ”


I’d suggested, to even the score, he should let all eight cats come to bed as well. Can’t remember his response.


I was frigid. Even in my fuzzy slippers. The town man must have noticed: “Hope you don’t mind, didn’t mean to vent but… “ and that’s when he asked me the big question: how should a guy do right by us women.


At first I thought it was hypothetical question. A vent. But he looked at me, stone silent. He was asking me what he should do.


I was better at giving advice I realized, when it wasn’t called for. When frankly, people really don’t want it, as when I suggest to my husband that he cut down on his five daily cups of coffee, to put on a sweater rather than spike the thermostat, or to invest in facial moisturizers as men’s skin is as prone to aging as women’s.


My mind went blank.


Then I thought of my eight year old who has a crush on this girl at school. There was a period when every day after school he would call Angela and leave a message. She never called him back, which made him want to call and leave more messages, asking for a “play date.”


I told the town man that the ball was in his girlfriend’s court. To not call her again.


He looked as crest fallen as my little boy when I suggested he too not call anymore.


I told him that maybe she needs to worry a little. That she’s actually lost him once and for all. Where did this advice really come from, some women’s magazine, Glamour?


He looked thoughtfully down at his boots. Forlornly, really.


I suggested he at least give her the rest of the week to call back.


He nodded. Then he kicked the bush again. “Look, I can’t today, have to do some paving down the street, but I’ll come back and take it out. The town just won’t replace it.”


I was grateful to get back to the topic at hand. I was especially grateful as he climbed back into his truck to leave.


Last week, the town man came back as promised, to rip out the bush. I made a point of keeping my distance, watching from the porch.


Still, as he was climbing back in his truck to leave, I had to ask: How did it work out with his girlfriend?


Turns out she did finally return his messages, called that following Saturday.


“So you didn’t call her again?”


He shook his head. “Nope.”


I was surprised at how pleased I was by my own advice. “That’s great!”


He seemed embarrassed then, by my own enthusiasm. “Well, have a great day.” He climbed back into his truck.


But then he called out, “Why you women so tough to figure out, anyway?”


I called back, “You men aren’t much easier!”


Epilogue: The construction man is finally gone, too. He shook my hand, told me not to use the shower until the folllowing night, so that the base would set in the cement.


Though he did say he’d be back one more time to clean up and, this time, for some “C and K.”


He laughed. Uproariously, thank goodness.

8 comments:

Raige Creations said...

How funny! you so have a way with telling stories.
We just had a plumber come out and I swear he was the chattiest thing. I heard all about their labradoodle and 2 kids, aged 3 and 5, and all their frolicking. I heard how it was "No Shave November" for prostate cancer (never heard of it) and that's the only time he grows a beard, that's why he had one now, as if apologizing for it, heard about the 1 inch main coming into the house...oh wait this was plumbing talk! "How many bathrooms are in this house, you got a huge main coming in here!" and then how to change the washer in the sink faucets if they should start dripping. More plumbing talk, that is okay, but no I would not be doing that, maybe hubby would but as we are renting and aren't supposed to do ANYTHING without permission, we probably wouldn't.

And don't get me started with the Handyman who was charged with replacing the upstairs shower...he was here for more than 2 months working on a job that should have taken one week. He calls every now and then, to "just see how we are doing" as we have talked so much over the course of all the odd jobs and that shower that now we are considered 'friends'.

I wondered if no one else listened to people like this, but now I am starting to think they do this with all their clients. Or is it just the two of us? :)

Finding Charm said...

That's hilarious. I thought I was the only confessional magnet. I hear all the sad sob stories myself.

Sandra's Fiberworks said...

Ok, so it's not just me.:))

Grumpy Grateful Mom said...

I don't think I'm a confessional magnet at all. I think everyone's scared off by my kids. But I loved your story!!! And I do like to give advice--wanted or unwanted. I would have told him to stop calling too. :)

And I agree with Raige--you have a wonderful way of telling stories.

Karen said...

Love your blog! It seems the only workers who engage me in conversation are the ones who charge by the hour... I try to schedule people to work on the house when I know I will be away and my husband home... he is not very chatty at all :). Take care! Best, Karen

jane p said...

Sandra, your blog is so different. It's great. I wanted to read the post on Japanese braiding as I have the same interest but somehow couldn't read it. And why isn't your email linked to your blogger profile?

jane p said...

There is a email notification for follow-up comments but you need to check it. I usually leave it unchecked. So sometimes I don't know if I get a reply. One reason why I ask you to link your email to your blogger profile is you can just reply/publish thru' your mail. That way, the commenter will receive your reply. For your case, I get a no-reply comment@blogger meaning no email is attached. I followed u thru' fb.

amazey said...

I like that I am not the only people tell their life story too. But it does make our lives a bit more interesting! I tell my stories to other people too so I it is just a big circle of story-telling.

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