Monday, June 9, 2008

Childish Things: Pt. 1

Putting away childish things … it looks so elegant when you see the words written on the page. But it was so hard to do. And, like a lot of guys, I had plenty of childish things to get rid of before the baby came. So, yeah, we’re taking a ride in the Wayback Machine, to an era before Stella was born. We’re going back to a time known by primitive man as March, 2008, BBBB—Before Brooklyn Baby Baby.

By March 2008 we still had to do a lot of work to get our apartment ready for the life to come. We’d given up on finding a new place that was affordable, safe and had laundry, after months of looking. So we decided to make our present place as happy and baby-friendly as we could. To start this we had to reorganize the entire apartment to make more room. And I began that process by busting complete and total ass to put in place the six long shelves that line the walls of our living room right now, so that our floors would be clear and easier to navigate. It was both a debacle, and an amazing, positive experience.

The debacle part was that I was just learning how to use a power drill. The first time I turned it on and felt all that energy sing through my clenched fist, I suddenly understood why Man Uses Tools. It wasn’t so we could gain a comparative advantage over our primitive brethren. It was because it was a righteous blast to raise the thigh bone of some sad, deceased wildebeest and blast someone over the head with it. That feeling lives on, I’ve discovered, except now with electricity!

Sadly this feeling of power was quickly short-circuited by an even stronger feeling of incompetence. Randi could only sit by, frustrated, as I gradually began to master The Drill. Very gradually, I should add.

“GodDAMMIT!” I shouted, as yet another hole came in sideways, as sheetrock dust flew everywhere, sweat coursed off my arms, and I teetered on the edge of a folding chair. This was probably not the safest way to put up shelves, by the way.

“What the HELL am I doing wrong this time?” One thing about power drills—you feel okay cussing up a storm as you use them. In fact, I think it’s required in the instruction manual, written in multiple languages.

Randi looked at me with envy. She’d been a theater and French double major in college (Centre College, in Kentucky, to be exact) and as such had spent entire semesters using power tools, to build sets. The use and mastery of heavy equipment made her feel strong and accomplished. She took pride in it, and it pained her to see me ineptly punch holes in our walls.

“You’re probably not holding the drill totally straight,” she said, dejectedly. She’d wanted to do as much of the drilling as possible, which I completely denied. My sad efforts only encouraged her feelings, however.

“You do it like this,” she said, miming with the drill, making sure I saw that her forearm and upper arm made a perfect ninety degree angle. “You sure you don’t want me to do it?” she asked, again. “I can do it, you know. It’s fine. I’m good at it.”

“No, no!” I said. “There is NO way my pregnant wife is going to handle power tools while I’m around.”

“I’m sure it would be safe,” she said. “I’m good at it.”


Let’s put this in perspective. The BBM was the most overly-cautious pregnant woman I’d ever met, or even heard of. You ever see that movie Children of Men, about the last pregnant woman on earth, and all these people literally kill themselves to keep her safe? Well, our lives were kind of like that, only less carefree.

For example, about six months into the pregnancy Randi threw caution to the winds and asked me to pour her half a glass of wine. She then took two modest sips and pushed the glass back at me like it was arsenic.

“That’s enough,” she said. “I can’t do it. I just can’t.”

She later pulled me aside.

“You don’t think I hurt the baby, right? I mean it was only a little bit of wine!”

“No, I think in France you’d be considered kind of a tee-totaler.”

“Yeah, but that’s France, that’s different,” she said. “I couldn’t bear to think that I hurt the Little One in any way.” She rubbed her belly protectively. I pitied the fool who’d step to this lioness.

“I am sure you didn’t,” I said. “Somehow I doubt our kid is going to grow up an alcoholic, despite your two sips of wine.”


“Yeah, that is good.”

That was just the start. Randi desperately craved sushi, but of course pregnant women are told not to have it, because of the mercury in the fish. This, naturally, only made her want it more.

“Maybe I can have the California Roll,” she said, proud to have found a solution, after months of longing. Soon, though, she talked herself out of even this simple treat. “But no! They cut it on the same board as the fish. What if they don’t wash their knives, or the board? What then?”

Needless to say, no sushi was consumed during the pregnancy. And that was just the start: cured meats, soft cheeses, and things that looked like either of those things, various spices, you name it, we steered clear of them. But power tools? Bring ‘em on, apparently.

Still, I stuck to my guns, banning her, and she gradually, if reluctantly, gave up. Now it was all up to me, which leads to the amazing part.

Over the course of a couple of days I got the hang of it. After screwing up several times, I eventually found myself putting in straight, strong shelves. Sure, it was a total bitch, and took about twice as long as I thought it might. Sure, our walls look scarred and horrible now—thank god no one can see through our books. Sure, I probably breathed in about six ounces of pure, aerosolized house paint. But I did it, and they actually hold up books!

I even learned, after considerable trial and error, how to put in wall anchors, to increase the amount of weight the shelves can support by a factor of ten. More importantly, I learned how to remove wall anchors. (Here’s how: gradually drill larger and larger holes until the anchor can be pushed in without too much resistance. Then gently tap it in with a hammer. Want to remove it? Put a screw half-way in, and pull it out with vise-grip pliers. It’s like extracting a tooth.)

To measure the balance I put a glass of water right in the middle of a completed shelf, as we lacked a leveler. It balanced. That was when I finally allowed myself to feel pride. All of this was work, but it worked.

The feeling of accomplishment, of sheer manliness, that came with building these shelves was astounding. For starters I got to walk around, rubbing my nicely sore arm, as I looked at my empty shelves and say: “Yeah, I built that.” Then I got to tell my friends about it. I invited people over just so they could marvel at my shelves. That I built. No one took me up on the offer, but I didn’t care.

At work, when people would ask me what I was up to last weekend, I would answer: “Oh, not much. Just built some shelves.”

Their jaws would drop. In a room of financial journalists this is about as bad-assed as saying I won The Ultimate Fighting Championship, or that they based Grand Theft Auto on my actual life.

In fact, I’m still proud of them. They’re the only things I think I’ve ever built out of wood that I actually wanted to keep. I mean, I made a Popsicle stick fort in summer camp in 1982, and a leaky birdhouse once that no birds ever lived in. But these shelves, I made them. And I made them because I was taking care of my family. I felt good about it. No, wait, I felt better than good. I felt useful, which is a rare and wonderful feeling.

So that was the shelves.

Now we just had to get rid of a lot of old junk, piled in odd, eccentric lumps, and boxes everywhere. The place still looked like a disaster, and we had to get it ready real soon.

“What’s in these boxes,” Randi asked, pointing to two heavy cardboard squares by our couch. They were always in our way, and something had to be done about them. We had a baby coming, we can’t just have crap on the floors all the time. Not anymore.

“Oh, just my comic books,” I said. “But don’t worry, I’m selling them.” The words came out easily, but inside my heart sagged. I was manly enough to put up some shelves, was I manly enough to sell off my comic books? I would find out.

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