The spring wind started up in Manhattan last week and died down when the moon filled out and took up position between Mars and Venus. That, I understand, is something that rarely happens. That unusual planetary configuration, combined with the fullness of the moon, made us all nervous and a little crazy. A pipe burst in the wall between the two bathrooms in my mother’s flat on Monday morning. We had no idea. The hissing in the wall sounded exactly like the neighbor taking a shower, though it seemed to me to be a very long one. At least, I thought to myself, she’s not on her treadmill, running as she does every morning.
The front door was open, as it usually it on sunny mornings to let in more light and air. All at once four large men burst through it. The dogs screeched in alarm. My mother, roused from her morning paper, clung to the kitchen door. When startled, she can neither see nor hear. In her mind, these four men were Gestapo from sixty years ago, blown in by a universal ill wind.
Over the ruckus I made out, ” Leak … water… downstairs…”
Scott, the Colorado Virginian, was in the lead. Since he took over as the general manager, he has turned the two buildings into Alcatraz with his relentless micromanaging and micro-bullying of staff and residents. Signs banning various types of behaviors are constantly going up. Lucy, the housekeeper from Dominica, goes about her Sisyphean mopping intent on the number of months, weeks, days and hours left before her retirement. Jose submits to quarterly surgery just to get away from Scott.
The General Manager has a pale, large face pocked with scars. He rolls up his shirt sleeves to show off huge, knotty biceps scrawled with tattoos. His voice and bearing are a relic from the Army. Once every two weeks or so, after a feeding, he displays his six-foot python in the lobby to intimidate the parents of small children. Quirino, the second in command, is a rotund, bald Italian from Campana, a forty-year veteran with the buildings. He can fix anything, except Scott’s temper. The other two fellows were outside contractors: Absolute Plumbing and something starting with an “m”.
Before I could pull on my pants, they were already taking down the shower curtain, emptying the vanity, unscrewing the medicine cabinet, the dogs biting at their heels, my mother telling Scott that he is the most unpleasant man she has ever had to deal with.
Everything about the morning was wrong, especially the fact that my mother had left the door open and the dogs free to wander in the hall — this after she had just received a warning from Scott and from the Housing Office. The extreme emotion of the moment relaxed the dogs’ bowels. Instead of depositing their poop on the piddle pads, they left it right in the path of the workers, and peed in the hall. I rushed around mopping and whisking away the “Tootsie rolls” before Scott might slip on them and tighten the screws on my mom . As it is, she lost a whole week’s sleep after getting the official warnings.
My sabbatical is turning out to be the year of bathroom remodeling. First was Neahkahnie. Then — San Gimignano. Next – Portland, followed by Cabo San Lucas, and then – NYC. What else?
I thought that as long as they were tearing a hole into the bathroom wall, we might as well try replacing the old fixtures, the tile, the vanity, the medicine cabinet, the paint job. Mirabile dictu — this is exactly what they did, which is why I delayed my departure by a week.
All this time, a steady west wind was blowing across the mid-Atlantic states, carrying the first wave of pollen that lodged in the tiny receptors of my nasal cells and told my sinuses to produce massive amounts of histamines.
By Friday , everything except the medicine cabinets and the grip bars was in place, at least in NYC. In Portland, the icon painter is still applying white paint to the risers, the five thousand six hundred and thirty-two feet of trim (including the baseboards and half rounds), thirty-two walls, and ten ceilings (depending on how you count them). The window in the Neahkahnie bathroom still needs to be replaced.
The prevailing winds spend us across the Atlantic and released us roughly into the landing field in Munich. They fought us the whole way across the Alps and battered and pummeled the plane as we descended into the narrow airport of Florence. The wind at San Gimignano pruned branches from the pines, firs, cypresses, olives and plums, sang through the trees, banged the shutters, and tore through my jet-lagged sleep before scattering the morning clouds and dispersing the veil of smoke from the fire in which the brothers Pollini burned the cuttings from their vernaccia vines.
It’s night again. The wind is still for now.