I’ve always meant to get acquainted with the inner workings of our house. Being the biggest investment I’ll ever make, I thought I would find the time to learn what the hell all those pipes and wires are all about.
My intentions were pure.
But our first house was a fifty-year old split level, and the mechanical room was located in what can only be described as a decrepit dungeon. The furnace and some other contraptions were perched on a mass of exposed rock. Many a creature made their homes amongst the dirt floor and granite, cobwebs made up the vast selection of art in the corners.
My enthusiasm for the details waned.
When I turned up the thermostat, the furnace kicked in. The water flowed plentifully from the taps. The mice staked their territory, and upstairs, I staked mine. All was good, and perhaps ignorance was bliss.
Then we decided to build a house, and I assumed this would be my chance. The mystery of what pipe held what would naturally unveil itself to me as I laboured alongside the many trades that came and went. But the only thing that unveiled itself to me was my impatience with the project, and how interminably slow it was. The plumbers and electricians came and went with their leather holsters and tape measures, and honestly, I was just happy to see the back side of them leaving.
In my haste to have it finished, I missed it being built.
So in the following years, when things occasionally went wrong, and I needed to direct a handyman/plumber/man with toolbox to the mechanical room, I would wave them in the general vicinity, because truth be told I couldn’t tell our air exchanger from our wifi portal. A couple of the wisecrackers, who understood my vagueness for ignorance, commented, didn’t you build this house? And I did what I always do when caught out; I pretended not to hear.
So when our hot water started disappearing three days ago, I willfully ignored it. But freezing cold showers can only be ignored for so long.
A nice boy from the local heating and plumbing shop (is it just me or do they seem younger and younger?) donned his booties and asked me to show him the water heater.
I froze. I should really have located the water heater before he came. Then I babbled about how we had just moved in, all the while moving towards the mechanical room where, surely, the water heater must be. Or was that the central vacuum?
As soon as I switched on the light he confidently strode towards a box in the corner, and I exhaled. There is nothing I loathe more than feeling like the dumb housewife that I am. I seized on this opportunity for learning; no tradesman gets to quietly go about his work undeterred in my house at $100 an hour.
So, how does this thing work, anyway, I asked.
To his credit, he actually tried to tell me. But as soon as he started talking, my mind left the mechanical room and entered the arena of what I should make for dinner. I instantly regretted my feeble attempt towards self-fulfillment. He rambled on and on. I stared past his full head of hair (not one of which was grey) at the maze of pipes, but then noticed he was quizzically looking past me. He stepped around me and flicked a switch that was beside my shoulder. A piece of masking tape above it read boiler.
There you go, problem solved. On his way out the door, I launched into my (now familiar) spiel, about how silly I am, I can’t believe I didn’t check that switch. Not that I knew that switch was there, mind you.
No problem, happens all the time, he lied. All this to say that ignorance, while blissful, can also be expensive.
With disdain, I noticed the bowl of red, foil-wrapped hearts at the grocery store check-out. My craving for chocolate was quickly suffused by my distaste for the upcoming excuse of a holiday. The one that involves copious amounts of red and cupid. I can’t say ‘Valentine’s Day’ without using the sneering tone that Seinfeld reserved for greeting his unwelcome acquaintance, Newman: Hello, Valentine’s Day.
It’s not that I’m anti-romance. My inherent condescension is because Valentine’s Day is the least romantic day of the year, and so it’s with a curled lip and a prolonged eye-roll I greet the buckets of red roses adorning storefronts – at a mere double the normal cost. As you know from my rant from last year, I have very little time for anyone who succumbs to this artificial excuse to buy a box of heart-shaped candy – unless it’s for your kid. Ah, there’s the rub. I just had a light bulb moment. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
With such unabridged and full-throttled cynicism, you might think I am either a jilted lover, or single. Or suffered a debilitating embarrassment one February 14th. Which I’m not, and haven’t, respectively, unless I’ve put such an incident in the back recesses of my mind, never to be thought of again, which is entirely possible.
Reflecting on Valentine’s past, I have some surprisingly beautiful (can I say heart-warming?) memories. In elementary school, which really was its heyday, since it involved chocolate with absolutely no guilt, my brown paper bag overflowed with heart-shaped Mickey and Holly Hobby valentines (and this at a time when giving each kid in the class a valentine wasn’t mandatory, merely encouraged). I would return from school to find a valentine, personally penned by my dad, and attached to an extra-large KitKat bar – only he knew the way to my heart was a mixture of handwritten adjectives and chocolate. In high school I received enough candy grams delivered to my classrooms to signal I was firmly in the middle of the popularity pack: not quite head table material, but permitted to enter the cafeteria, at least. In university, there was always a boyfriend to take me out to dinner, and not all of them were convicts. Losers notwithstanding, my dance card was full, and when you’re twenty this is important.
The evidence speaks for itself: at one time in my life, I had a childlike anticipation for Valentine’s Day that has been replaced with scorn. What’s happened in the interim, besides twenty years of marriage? Note I didn’t say wedded bliss, because those two words should simply never appear side by side.
Any parent knows an upcoming event – fabricated by Hallmark or otherwise – means one thing: a longer list of errands. To the groceries and laundry and cooking add a box of valentines for each child, chocolates to go with them (parents new to kindergarten, take note, we don’t only give cards these days), and then either 24 cupcakes or a fruit platter, depending on the teacher. The sight of that longer than normal list makes me cranky, but what makes me insanely mad is returning with my hard-purchased boxes of valentines only to learn that Spiderman cards won’t cut it for any of my girls, neither will Dora the Explorer, Barbie, or horses.
So when my youngest child insisted on making her cards this year, and this sentiment was readily and strangely agreed upon by her sisters, who rarely agree on anything, I could only do one thing. Hightail it to the local craft store.
Lo and behold, I’m back to the rub. It is my kids who have restored my faith in Valentine’s Day. As I toiled over our dinner (salmon, undercooked) and dessert (chocolate cake, which refused to leave its cozy pan so it was more like chocolate clump), my kids whistled away, cutting and pasting pink and red doilies. Besides the “stop copying me!” complaints, it was like a Norman Rockwell painting unfolding before my eyes.
Of course there’s a price to pay for being a regular Martha Stewart, to the tune of one thousand percent more than I would have spent on a box of SpongeBob valentines. But the value of not having to return the errant box of valentines to the store? Priceless.
Family harmony goes a long way. Building on the enthusiasm of my kids, I’m not hating Valentine’s Day this year; but I’m still opposed to the proliferation of florist rape and anything red velvet.
Not for me! I said of the e-reader revolution that was rolling through towns and cities, polarizing readers and providing a hot topic for book clubs. No way, no how, a digital tablet will never replace my relationship with the pure-driven paper variety that I caress each night by the light of my bedside table. As Amazon is my witness.
I love books. I love their weight perched against my bent legs and love their smell, whether hot-off -the-press fresh or mouldy with age. I love the act of turning a page and the feeling of accomplishment it provides (I aim low). I love gazing at my book shelf, where I group my favorites together, and how the briefest glimpse of certain titles can make me feel happy. Books have a visceral impact on me; when the going gets tough, I head to the library or nearest book store.
What I don’t like about books is moving them. I discovered this the year we changed addresses three times. This set me off on a tumultuous relationship with my local library – it’s all friendly and lovey dovey when my books are returned on time, not so much when a hardcover goes missing.
After one such recent episode, I turned my house upside down looking for my latest library book, and then headed to the Emergency Room of our hospital, where I’d last seen my copy, and turned that upside down. Twice. As luck would have it, my book was entitled When God Was a Rabbit, so the nurses in their scrubs looked at me quizzically when I described what I was looking for, wondering if I was a quack or simply a Buddhist.
At some point during this drama, I started to consider the purchase of an e-reader. Then the world began to conspire: I read an article trumpeting how easy the e-ink is on your eyes (way better than the iPad, btw), and on the same day, my friend visiting from Atlanta whipped out her e-reader before I could even pour her glass of wine. She sang its praises, saying it was the best thing since, well, books.
After five minutes of extensive research, I ordered a Kindle. At best, I was mildly curious. At worst, it would gather dust alongside the ab-cruncher I thought I couldn’t live without.
The slim box was delivered a few days later. It was as streamlined as any Apple product I have had the pleasure of opening – no confusing manual to master and no assembly required. I plugged it in and an hour later was off to the virtual Kindle store. I was digging it so far.
I quickly realized there were a couple of clever advantages my gadget had that my native books lacked: an online dictionary, the ability to highlight passages, and of course the ability to have any book I would ever want delivered to my device in about one minute. Inexplicably, I never turned my mind to that last little detail, which is enormously impressive but also potentially as dangerous as crack cocaine to my bank account. Hopefully I can read responsibly.
Here is a familiar scene: I fall into my bed, lights turned low, excited to escape into a fictional world, and I quickly come across a word that I don’t know, and can only guess at its meaning from the context. Or worse, it’s a word that I’m familiar with but unsure of its essence. I would like to know what it means, and suspect if I was the owner of a British accent I would indeed know what it means. But my dictionary resides a couple of staircases below where I am lying, as is my computer, and I am too lazy and forgetful to do anything about it. Two things you can never find in my house are matching socks and working pens, so writing the word down for future reference is also a challenge. Ergo the word remains masked in uncertainty.
E-reader to my rescue: I simply move a cursor anywhere on my page, and the dictionary meaning is automatically displayed in the bottom. The clouds just parted and the sun is shining a light on my swelling vocabulary.
When a passage or a line particularly catches my fancy, I like to make note of it. However, I have an odd phobia about writing in my books – I can’t bring myself to do it, I feel like I’m defacing property. Instead, I write the passage down in a journal, which can take a long time, assuming of course I find a working pen. And if the author happens to be David Mitchell, this can bring on writer’s cramp. With my new gadget, I can easily highlight passages with a press of a button and it will be saved under my notes for that book. Narly stuff.
I find it as easy to hold as a book, and in fact easier than some weighty hardcovers, and I can’t remember the last time I charged it – the battery kicks my laptop’s butt. To be clear, it’s no tablet, but that’s okay with me, since I don’t want to be tempted by the internet during my sacred reading time.
Still, there are drawbacks: puddles and baths pose problems. So many books at my fingertips might be hard on my wallet. The gadget itself isn’t as attractive as the beautiful kaleidoscope of spines on my bookshelf. And what could be more alluring than scouring second-hand book stores for gems? I don’t expect my e-reader to replace physical books altogether, but it only took five minutes to decide it is a brilliant addition to my library.
- Howard Jacobson: We’ll miss the sensuous pleasure of a real book (independent.co.uk)
- Kindle DX (emediatips.wordpress.com)