Monday, March 07, 2005

The Great Divide

If you heard Consort and me talking, you might think we both spoke English.
Information is conveyed with much nodding on both sides. Clearly, we’re getting something across. This is an illusion we achieve by reading body language and pointing to objects. In fact, we both speak some variation of English that is nearly intelligible to the other person -- it’s as if someone from the time of Chaucer was forced to order a Toffee Nut Frappucino. This leads to all sorts of misunderstandings that could be solved easily if only a simultaneous translator would offer their services. Please take note of the following situations-

Me: Are you ready to go?
Consort: Just about.

I hear: I am tying my shoes.
Consort means: I am seriously contemplating getting up.

Me: Will you be home for dinner?
Consort: I don’t see why not.

I hear: Set the table for three.
Consort means: At the peak of traffic, I will make a 25-mile trip to see someone I haven’t seen since college, when he donated a kidney to me. I will be there through Summer Solstice.

Consort is watching a 24-hour news channel, and sees something.

Consort: What the…what is wrong with this country? What is wrong with this country?

I hear: Due to questionable intelligence, America has now invaded New Zealand. Hoard supplies.
He means: There is videotape of a housecat in Virginia who can make pancakes.

One of our most profound language chasms comes in the area of Home Improvement. Since Consort is a perfectionist and I am indifferent, and we don’t speak the same language, what might have become a simple misunderstanding in any other household becomes a siege in ours. For anyone who has ever romanticized owning an older house, I want you to meditate on two words:

Standard. Size.

Our house was created by people, not machines. People who could put their passion and individual stamp on the house. People who also could have chosen to, say, drink moonshine before they come to work. When I first got the house, the drawers in the kitchen had some aggressively ugly handles. They had kind of a “HEY! You seen me? You find me unattractive? Well, ha ha ha, because there are seventeen more of me on this wall alone” thing going on. Of course, I took them off, only to find out that the handles must have been designed for this house alone, because they resembled no other handle in any known marketplace on earth (I actually think the designer of these handles was doing unspeakable things to women and children in his basement, and this was his cry to be discovered).

When we tried to put new handles in, by drilling new holes, we discovered the front of the cabinets was made of some kind of paper product that exploded upon contact with a drill. Since I had thrown away all but one of the old handles, we couldn’t go back. And there we were with more drawers than a morgue, and not a single handle. After three weeks of opening the cutlery drawer with a butter knife, Consort exploded:

Consort: That’s it! We have got to take care of this!

Quinn: Yeah.

Consort: We should just take off the facing and replace it. Do the retiling on the counter, while we’re at it.

Quinn: We should.

He hears: We are both in agreement, and will start collecting historically appropriate catalogues.

I mean: Living with a kitchen renovation will age me decades in weeks. The butter knife works just fine.

Six months pass. The weather changes and all of the drawers start sticking. The butter knife breaks off in the plastic-bag and aluminum-foil drawer. Consort stomps around a bit.

Consort: This is ridiculous! Let’s find a contractor. We’ll peel off all of the bad 1950’s renovations, finally finish the floor. We could even discover why if we try to put a bulb in the pantry light fixture, it makes that sizzling sound.

Quinn: We should do that. Soon.

Consort hears: Now, the work begins.

I mean: My small and nimble fingers no longer need the butter knife. As long as no one touches the pantry light fixture, we can go another year, easy.

Six years have passed in this house. He has stopped mentioning the drawers; I think he pretends we don’t have drawers in the kitchen. He simply keeps a supply of cutlery in the drying rack next to the sink. Rather than fight the drawers, which have grown surly and arrogant without handles, I just keep using the same three plastic storage bags over and over. I chalk it up to environmentalism. Apathy, once again, has battled passion and won.

The bad news is this work will never be done. The good news? When we retire to Florida, we will be able to include thirty years of Bungalow Renovation magazine in the price of the house.


Blogger Lisa said...

i just saw a little film strip style program on you as an 11 year old on turner classic movies and goggled and here i am. an incredibly intelligent and sparkling child turns out to be an incredibly intelligent and sparkling adult. how *does* one accomplish that these days? the entry about the cupcakes for the birthday party made me laugh.

4:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you very much. Entertaining myself and others is the whole point to this.
That, and world domination.
(Spooky laugh)

6:08 PM  

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