Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
This week: a meeting that should have been an email that should have been an ascertainment.
My mother tells this story about my father’s father (Adelita’s husband, for those of you who read that post, #185). Before my parents were married, my mother would go over to my grandparents’ house to hang out. She said they were so full of energy, zipping and zopping about, that she’d leave exhausted. Knowing my own parents and knowing the way I zip and zop even on Zoom hangouts, this all checks out. I come from a long line of nervous energy and these dishes aren’t going to wash themselves. One afternoon, she was sitting on the staircase with my grandfather and he pointed out the wallpaper that was peeling beside them. He started complaining about it, telling her how you just couldn’t find good work anymore and how he’d hired a young brother to do it and he couldn’t believe that the man had let him down. My mother, in the telling, looks up at the paper and notices that it’s started to yellow and, as my grandfather continues to complain about poor craftsmanship, she starts to wonder. “Pop,” she said when he paused for a moment, “how long ago did you put this paper up?” He replied, “25 years ago” and then continue to harangue the work of this “young brother” who was probably in his late-40s by that point. My mother always says that when he told her how long the wallpaper had been up she just got right up and walked out of the house, leaving him sitting on the steps complaining.
I love that story so much. It’s one of the only stories I have about my grandfather, who died before I was born. And when I hired a young brother to put up wallpaper in our house and found myself underwhelmed by the work he did at the edges, I felt myself stepping into a long family legacy. I don’t know that I ever imagined myself as someone who’d be in a position to have opinions about the work done on my house or as someone who’d then have unrealistic expectations about said work, but I guess lineage is stronger than vision. And there’s something comforting about knowing that I’m aging into the kind of old Black man who has that weird jocular/antagonistic relationship with repair people, opening the door for an appointment and bellowing “Didn’t I tell you not to come around here no more? Every time you show up it costs me a couple hundred dollars!” as I usher them in and show them the problem area.
I’m not there yet, partially because it’s hard to modulate an amicable tone in a mask and also because whenever we have to have repairs done to the house I prefer to hover, ghostlike, in the far reaches of the house like the first Mrs. DeWinter. David has the jocular relationship with repair people who, I’m sure, leave our property thinking “that pastor was very nice but do you think he’s aware that his house is being haunted by a Black guy in a Chris Evans sweater?”
Part of this is self-preservation. You never know who’s going to show up to your house or what they’re going to think of your “lifestyle.” When our bathroom light broke, the home warranty company assigned us a repairman whose public Facebook page was littered with deranged QAnon memes and racist posts about the Obamas and Black Lives Matter. I only discovered this because his voicemail was full so I had to google him to find a different way of contacting him. Honey, it was like something out of a horror movie! I jumped back from the computer like Joaquin Phoenix in Signs. This racist man was about to be all up in our homosexual, interracial wires, having opinions about our wallpaper with the raggedy edges. I was in danger. We canceled the service request. I’d rather be lights out than Get Out.
That’s, for now, an acceptable inconvenience. We don’t bring in a repair person unless absolutely necessary so as to minimize their risk and our own. But, when our washing machine started smoking during the spin cycle, we decided that we didn’t have much of a choice. We called it in to the home warranty company and they sent out someone who, mercifully, did not appear to be in the Klan. He took a look and said “Yeah, don’t use that” and then bounced. He let the home warranty company know we needed a new washer and that was that. I still don’t know why it was smoking. Maybe stress.
Then we waited. For seven weeks. We wore through literally all of our clothes, summer and winter, as the paperwork wound its way through all the proper channels. I’m glad we didn’t have to go anywhere because we were a sight. Although, now that I think about it, when it got to the end all we had left were tuxes, suits, and random costumes that our packers labelled “Mardi Gras clothes” so perhaps it would have been better if we lived in a world where social outings were still a thing.
Finally, the new washer arrived and I did 14 loads of laundry myself in 36 hours. The next morning, however, David informed me that we were out of water. We have well water which, unfortunately, is not a real thing. I do not believe, spiritually or intellectually, in well water. Who am I, Strega Nona, making this soup out of water that came from a rock? Unacceptable. It’s not even romantic, like a storybook well. It’s a pipe in the dirt. There’s not ever a cute bucket. You’re telling me Jesus met the Samaritan Woman at a PVC pipe sticking up in someone’s backyard? I just don’t see it. I do have to say, I understand the Baby Jessica thing so much more now. When it happened I was a kid and I remember being like “It’s a well; it’s made of stones and has a little roof and is guarded by a witch. Why don’t they just jump down and get her?” I called into Larry King to share my thoughts but I did not make it on to the broadcast.
David told me he’d primed the pump a couple of times but to no avail. I nodded like I knew what that meant and said “Okay, Ronald Reagan. I guess we have to call the well witches or whoever.”
The well witches, it turns out, were two tall white guys in their early 20s who talk very loudly. They shouted at David that the pump was broken. “Someone murdered your well. Have you perhaps been using your laundry machine to manage housekeeping on a cruise ship? It needs to be replaced.” Watching from behind a gauzy curtain in the attic, I felt the old Black man response rising up. “This well witch about to cost me a thousand dollars.”
Honey, I wish it cost me a thousand dollars. After they replaced the pump, they found that our water tank was rusted through so the next day they replaced that. Then when they tested the water, they found that our de-acidifier and our water softener weren’t working, nor was our sediment filter. We were up in this house for months straight guzzling mud. “We need to replace it all,” they said. Floating down a hallway behind a locked door I muttered, “Seem like, all this work it takes, Nature wants to keep the water to itself.”
Can I tell you how much this whole process of wrestling the Earth for a few drops of liquid to put in our Soda Stream cost? NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS. When I heard that figure I appeared in a mirror and burst through the frame. “You well witches better get off my property! If I am thirsty, I will just walk outside and throw my head back like Jennifer Love Hewitt in I Know What You Did Last Summer and drink the rain like the good Lord intended!”
$9,000 American! Do we have that money? No! I’m going to have to write another book. Scratch that, I’m going to have to write a whole encyclopedia! Y’all are going to get Here for It 2: Still Haven’t Left and H3r3 for It: Aquatic Boogaloo and Here 4 It: We’re Putting This Money in an Offshore Account and finally, Here for It 5: Welp. When I told my family about it over the Zoom Thanksgiving call this week I mixed the numbers up and told them it was $12,000. It might as well have been. Those are all ridiculous numbers. All of them are were homeowners before me and so they just nodded like “Yup, sometimes it be that way.” Sometimes it be what way?! Not in my house! We bought this house so that we would never have to pay another cent toward it. Isn’t that how it works? This wallpaper is going to last until I retire and the water is going to magically flow through the pipes like the good Lord and the County of Baltimore intended! And if I have to come out of my ghost chamber and haggle with a witch myself, well that’s just what I’m going to do.
The American people expressed their will that Joe Biden become the next president but unfortunately someone you've never heard of replied "No ❤️." So... I guess, no president? Unclear. The haziness is really what's making this situation dangerous. It's like in An Affair to Remember when Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant expressed their desires to get out of their toxic relationships and unite at the top of the Empire State Building but then they didn't because Deborah's character got hit by a kerr and she refused to send word to Cary Grant about why. But here the American people are Deborah Kerr and Joe Biden is Cary Grant and the Empire State Building is the White House and the GSA is the car and I'm Rita Wilson in Sleepless in Seattle sobbing while I take too long to explain the plot of An Affair to Remember and how it relates to the subject at hand. And that's civics!
Let’s Hang Out!
I’m hosting a 20-minute Holiday Movie Trivia as part of Penguin Random House’s Holiday House event this week!
Random Thing on the Internet
Bookshop.org, which support independent booksellers, is offering free shipping through Monday on everything, including Here for It Part 1 and Reclaiming Her Time, both of which make great holiday gifts!
I guess we have to call the well witches or whoever,