… I’m not dead (yet). Just away visiting the island. Will be back with the usual insanity next week.
Take care, dears!
So my husband is a handy man. Which, as you may infer, comes in handy. It is good, in a way – he can replace flooring, dishwashers, garbage disposals; install washers and dryers, you name it. However, with all this home improvement comes a lot of Home Depot visiting. Now, I have nothing against Home Depot, per se. I just hate shopping in general. And the DIY experience is adventurous, to say the least.
It was a shock to me to find out, as I started my homeowner life with my husband in this fine country, that things here are a “standard” size. You have your standard doors, windows, sinks, cabinets, chunks of wood. You see, I come from a country where there is not one thing the same size/shape as another. This might be partly due to the fact that almost every single skilled worker, be it carpenter, electrician, plumber, etc., is either drunk (Tuesday through Sunday) or hung-over (Monday). So you, the helpless homeowner, give them money IN ADVANCE (for the materials. What, you thought they had their own?), and, say you needed four 2x4s to patch that armoire that’s been in your family for centuries. Well, when the contractor finally comes back 2 or 3 months later, you get three 1x3s and have by now forgotten what you wanted to do with the boards – plus that repurposed shower curtain is quite convenient.
Anyway, the good and practical US does have its standards, and that applies to home appliances/parts/most children and some pets. So it should be a piece of cake to just go to the hardware store and get a [insert appropriate size] vanity or window, correct? Wrong! Wronger than wrong! Wrongissimo!! Because YOUR PARTICULAR HOUSE, the one you naively bought a couple of years ago, and the one that appears (to the naked eye) as perfectly standard and ordinary, IS NOT. Why, you ask? Because the previous owner (may he die a slow death and then rot in Hell for Eternity, or at the very least catch the pox – or an equally disfiguring medieval disease such as leprosy – from an unsanitary street person in Hong Kong), had everything CUSTOM-BUILT. That, or just plain made holes and inserted pieces however he pleased with no regards to the laws of physics and mathematics. Take the following (recent) experience in my house:
OK, so previous owner who I hope is as we speak choking on his fried clam or current seasonal shellfish, perhaps you didn’t have ENOUGH WALL there to put a closet? Anyway, what’s done it’s done.
After all necessary research, and armed with a notebook of serial numbers and measurements, off we go to Home Depot, armed with practical equipment*. Now, for some reason, it is a law that Home Depot will never be anywhere near your house (*it is thus recommended that you bring with you a change of clothes, plenty of water and provisions, toiletries, and charged cell phones – also, if you live in the Northeast, blankets and firewood). This peculiarity could be because it occupies an entire city – so first thing one has to do is pay attention, once one gets there, to which door is the closest to where one parked one’s truck. There are several doors at these places, and they are all in different counties.
As we enter the store, we are immediately welcomed by Friendly Home Depot Employees standing by the door (two of them!).
See, each one of these stores has approximately 1.3 million employees. I am convinced it also has its own government, like your average small town. These employees are divided into two categories:
So we go over to the Doors section, while fending off Generalists offering help at every step. When we get there, we are greeted by… nobody. Well, there ARE all kinds of doors – front doors, patio doors, sliding doors, closet doors, screen doors, storm doors, trap doors, hidden doors – as you can probably not really see in this picture:
However, there is no Door Specialist here. This must be the only section of the entire Home Depot that is actually deserted. There is, though, a stand with a little sign that reads “Please push button and a customer service rep will be right with you”. We push it and, what do you know, a light goes on THE ACTUAL BUTTON. I wonder, at this point, if this is some sort of bat signal and find myself discreetly looking at the ceiling, trying to spot a hammer-shaped light (or a doorknob shaped light, in this case) – similar to the below, except with a more appropriate tool shape. Because unless the Door Specialist has a built-in chip that captures a signal from this light, or unless he/she/it IS ALREADY THERE, there is no way in hell that anyone else (besides the button-pushers) can see this little light.
Finally, we hear voices (not the ones in our heads, if you were wondering). Here comes The Door Person, along with a customer. Sigh. “Be right with you”, he (not entirely cheerfully) says. The customer, a young man (note: young for me is anyone 40 or younger) and a little kid, who looks like a mix between Alfalfa (Little Rascal) and Will Robinson (Lost in Space). The young customer proceeds to put in his order (after apparently having been taken on a tour of the entire store) on every possible variation of door you can think of. Perhaps he owns an apartment building, or a castle. It takes approximately 2 hours, during which my husband goes to the bathroom twice, I watch the little Alfalfa/Will kid daringly going through doors that are staged in frames and lead nowhere (and indulge in wondering if maybe one of those could potentially fall on him and kill him, or injure him fatally, but the adult with him is naturally oblivious); I peruse all the different doorknobs on display (not that we are buying any), etc. Finally, after what seems to be like our 5th day since we left home, the customer is done and says, a bit apologetically (to his credit) – He’s all yours!
Well, you’d think we are near completion of the expedition. Sadly, you would be wrong again. Door Person asks what we need, HMH proceeds to explain. Door Person gets out from somewhere inside the stand a book roughly the size of the Bible, if the Bible were printed twice and then bound together.
So, roughly a week after we left home, the non-standard one with the now half-open to the entire world to see pantry, we get back. I ask (as a last resource, though I know the answer) if husband can put old door back. Of course he can’t. Door is practically disintegrated, which is why we needed one in the first place. Next steps are not brought up or discussed, I wonder but am scared to ask. Four months later, I still have half the closet exposed to the elements and seeing eyes of all who go by. Considering that re-purposed shower curtain as we speak….
Disclaimer: I would like everyone to know that I am extremely grateful to the United States, my adoptive country, for giving me the opportunity to adequately provide for my children and to succeed professionally by pure hard work. This doesn’t mean I negate my home country, Dominican Republic. It only means that I appreciate having been accepted and having my work rewarded.
Having said that, Americans (in general, I’m sure YOU are not like that) tend to be a bit, how shall I put it, self-centered. Not individually (though there are some of those as there are everywhere), but collectively, as a nation. I have a suspicion that World Geography is either not taught, or is an elective (doomed to never be “elected” by any hot-blooded child, not that they’re to blame). Consequently, the average American young person (older people excluded here due to their having lived world wars and thus learned about other countries) KNOWS there are other countries besides the US; however, this average young person is not sure what the names of these countries are, or where they reside in the global planet scheme of things. It would seem to me that a world map, in many of these persons’ minds, looks like this:
Please note the vague gray areas which resemble countries, but one cannot ever be sure.
Now, a map of the United States, per these young people, might look like this:
I am sure it is not their fault, but the sum of many misguided hints. Please indulge me as I give you some examples:
1. The World Series – There is nothing worldly about the World Series, played in the US by US teams (and, if lucky, a Canadian team). Wait, I take that back, there IS a worldly thing – the players. There are numerous foreign-born pro-baseball players. In fact, one cannot throw a stick at any of these teams without hitting a Hispanic player, who will most likely be Dominican, and more often than not from San Pedro de Macoris (which happens to be my hometown but that’s not here nor there).
A few years ago, my office mates (a Chilean translator, and an American who had served in the Navy and lived in several countries during his service) and I had the idea to do a little survey. We would ask whoever came in our shared office the following question: “How many countries are there in North America?” Some of the answers:
“This is a trick question, right?”
“Ha! You thought I’d forget Canada – two”
“Everyone knows that – One, the United States.
NOT ONE PERSON KNEW. Of approximately 15 people surveyed in a global industry environment. It is sad, but I’d like to mention here that, contrary to popular belief, “America” is NOT a country, it is a WHOLE CONTINENT. The US is only one of the countries in America, and not the one with the most original name either. Actually, it is a very vague name, when one considers that the legal name of our neighbors to the South (hint: they are still part of North America) is Mexican United States (DBA Mexico). So technically, Mexico is also a United States of America, but let’s not dwell. So, people from Canada (gasp!), Brazil or Argentina, are in fact Americans. This brings me to the second example:
2. Other Countries – This is where our children get confused. Just the other day (as if the example above were not enough), I witnessed an exchange on a popular social network. The conversation goes so:
Now, SERIOUSLY?? Clueless Person?? So in these days when knowledge and information are at the tip of your fingers – literally (and believe you me, I use that word with caution), instead of GOOGLING “Budapest” you chose to broadcast to the entire population of the Earth (including baffled and offended Budapest denizens), plus the occasional alien monitoring social media from far out galaxies (for entertainment purposes), your absolute geographical ignorance??? It would have taken less than what it took to write that unhelpful comment. It is not like you had to go fetch a heavy encyclopedia tome, provided you do know where in the alphabet the word Budapest would be. Sigh.
Interactive blog activity: Do YOU know where Budapest is? Suggestions and ideas welcome. Please comment on this blog with your thoughts and I promise I’ll feature the best comment (and its author) in a future blog.
3. The media – OK. I hear your collective groan. Bear with me. Let me preface this section by saying that I am in no way making light of the terrible devastation of Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of our country. What I am going to refer to is the media behavior PRIOR to a storm, any storm, any day, any year.
So here goes what you would see/hear at these situations:
– Anchorperson 1: Let’s go to our weather expert, Justin Windfall, who is on location in South Miami, Florida, to get the latest on Tropical Storm Horace!
– Weather Person Justin Windfall: [prolonged pause, like Weather Person is actually in Greenland, instead of Florida (though come to think of it, Florida is not technically the US… but that’s another blog)]. Yes, Melanie, this is terrifying! I am here joined by Jesus Hernandez, long-time resident of Miami. We are here at the local Home Depot, where Jesus is buying some boards. Jesus, what are you doing to prepare for the storm?
– Jesus Hernandez: Well, like you said, I am buying some boards.
Now, I ask you – What did Jesus do with the boards he bought LAST YEAR, for last year’s hurricane? Did he chop them up for firewood? Do you need firewood in South Miami? Really.
So the screen gets back to the studio.
– Anchorperson 2: As folks prepare for the hurricane-force winds in the next few days, 2 Americans have been evacuated from Haiti by Coast Guard teams volunteering for this dangerous mission.
There is nothing wrong with this, of course. US citizens should be taken care of by the government wherever they are. However, this is being said as the storm is swallowing entire islands whole, while digesting the previous 97 islands she previously ate. But then again.
– Anchorperson 2: Let’s go to our correspondent Frank Winterberger, in South Dakota. He is there now with Ernie and Mildred Winthrop, who were just rescued from Haiti, where they were researching the history of Voodoo [shot of Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop, wearing Hawaiian shirts – though to my knowledge to this day never has Haiti been confused with Oahu]. “It was a harrowing experience!” – says Mildred. “We didn’t know if we could get out alive!” – says Ernie.
Meanwhile, the entire third of island that Haiti occupies in Santo Domingo is entirely wiped out, not that there was anything there to wipe out anyway. So the fact is Yes! We evacuated 2 Americans! And Crap! 20,000 Haitians died! It’s sort of ironic.
In any case, my point is (I have a point!!) that there are HORRIBLE things happening in other countries, caused by the same threat looming over the US, and there is a certain lack of awareness that there exist other countries, other peoples, and that they are WAY WORSE than Americans are. Do reflect.
“We’re not trying to hype it,” National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Kocin tells Bloomberg News. “What we’re seeing in some of our models is a storm at an intensity that we have not seen in this part of the country in the past century.”
Hmm. Time to stock up. This, I was surprised to see when I first moved from the Caribbean to the US, is done in an extremely logical and organized way here. Supplies look like this:
On the other hand (would be fair to say, in another world), my fellow islanders (more specifically, Dominicans) would gather essentials such as these:
Irresponsible, you say? Shaking your collective heads, New Englanders? I can explain.
In your average Caribbean island dwelling, the following supplies are ALWAYS available (not only for natural disasters, but as daily life staples):
– Water – There is not a faucet in the entire country one would trust to drink from. Thus, innumerable containers with water “for drinking and cooking” are handy in every room. As for water for cleaning, bathing, washing – well, that is where Ms. Sandy comes in handy: Every caldero and bucket is sitting outside catching rain water.
– Batteries, flashlights, gas lamps – Power outages are a fact of life. Not a day goes by that there isn’t one.
– Food – Non perishable items, such as the plantain tree in the backyard or the freely-roaming chickens are available year-round. Also, there is no money to buy what people don’t already have.
Radios are always around, not to listen to the National Weather Service or Emergency Management authorities (who, come to think of it, may have gathered the exact same supplies shown in Figure 2), but to listen to music or radio soap operas.
Hurricanes are thought of as excuses for being off work and school. The whole vecindario gets together (please refer to dominoes and cards) and alcohol replaces milk. As the storm brings tons of water and strong winds, people (having consumed by the 3rd hour approximately 7 bottles of rum) are grateful for a respite from the heat. A communal sancocho (thick Dominican soup) is underway. The comadres gossip, the compadres drink even more and gamble, and the occasional fight is stopped by the neighborhood abuela (who is usually a small old lady — don’t be fooled, everyone is scared to death of her, and with reason — who everyone calls “Mama” or just “La Doña”, and who achieves this by separating the fighting parties and smacking each one in the head).
Having grown up in this environment, I find it difficult to get alarmed when there is a hurricane alert. Why, I have survived approximately 37 major storms by now, with a lot less resources and inadequate emergency supplies (please refer again to Figure 2). My husband, on the other hand, looks at me with alarm and barely refrains from shaking me to drive some sort of reason into my carefree island head. Me? I say bring it on, Sandy. I’m ready.
I have to confess, I ADORE HGTV programs, home makeovers, organizing, real estate, buying/selling/staging. So I have taken to watch (God forgive me) HGTV. One of the programs I like to watch (please indulge me) is “Love it or List it”.
OK. Here’s where my true nature comes up. Please refer to my observations on this program, even if you (I’ll understand) don’t share or even care about them:
1. The designer who promises to remodel the house so that they don’t have to move annoys me. How, you ask? See list below:
She never closes her mouth. I happen to think that people who keep their mouth open are dumb, or at least live in outer space.
She has a horrid British accent. Is it real? Not sure. But not nice even if it is (please note that I have nothing whatsoever against British accents, or Britain in general. But this woman I truly dislike).
2. The homeowners who want to a) sell their house or b) have it remodeled so they can stay.
Usually, the man wants to stay (has no clue), and the woman wants to go to preferably another hemisphere.
They are, to be blunt, MORONS.
Never fails: Person remodeling the house ALWAYS finds some HORRID structural flaw, such as, the second floor just about to cave in. She informs homeowners that she’ll have to fix that, but they won’t get, say, a second bathroom as budgeted since she has to spend the money on (gasp!) SAFETY.
Homeowners, after hearing this, are PISSED at designer. YOU MEAN WE WON’T GET FINISHED BASEMENT? We gave you $10,000!!
At this point, I turn off TV. But I wonder. Please, people out there who know about these things… Is this staged? I want to regain faith on the human race… but have not a lot of hope.
I have a question for you talk-show fans out there: Is there, or has there ever been, any talk show host uglier than Conan O’Brien? And please let it be noted, I am including in this assessment the likes of Jay Leno, David Letterman, Oprah, Jerry Springer, and Huckabee. I am not, mind you, including Larry King, on account of his not being an actual human, but in fact a member of the heretofore thought to be extinct Pterodactyl family. This species, you may not know, has mutated to resemble the modern vulture, hence Larry King.
But I digress. Re: Mr. O’Brien – Surely you cannot say he’s pleasing to the eye. That is, unless you are Mrs. O’Brien (his mother, I mean). Now, before you Conan fans (which I’m sure are legion) start bombarding me with irate letters/e-mails/tweets/Facebook statuses/etc…. I am NOT saying that he has no talent. I personally cannot attest to his talent, but I’m confident he has some. What he is for sure not, is FUNNY. He is one of the UNfunniest persons ever to dwell into the show businesses. BUT, I am sure he has his talents, perhaps yodeling, cat grooming, or finger-painting.
I am going to prove to you beyond any doubt, that Mr. O’Brien is a cross between Ed Grimley (Martin Short’s cartoon character in The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley) and Pee Wee Herman. Pray refer to Figure 1:
Surely there have been accounts of people who deliberately try to look ugly (case in point, Billy Idol in his hey days of MTV videos, with his grotesque facial expressions. And if you do not know who Billy Idol is, please stop reading now, child). But this only works for people who are actually quite beautiful, in manner of Tom Brady or Brooke Shields (who are, in fact, the same person – sometimes with a long hair wig, others with fake makeup to look like facial hair – as evidenced by the following pictures).
I do realize this post has absolutely no point, except possibly to enrage Conanists. However, in these times of despair and ugliness, we sure could use less O’Brien and more Brady/Brooke.