Today being one of my first days off from school (the semester actually ends on Friday with my last final, but it begins to feel like vacation already), I had a mental list of nagging things to attend to. How happy I would be to put mental check marks next to each item on my mental check list!
Here were four tasks I set for myself today: replacing the lining in my winter coat, buying a new hair-catching drain thingy for our upstairs sink, reupholstering a disreputable living room chair, and getting rid of a large pipe in our backyard.
First, I took my big black wool coat to a shop that advertises alterations, because its shredded lining drove me crazy all winter. The nice lady at the counter took one look and said in a vaguely East-European accent, “At least $150. Better just buy new coat.” The cost seemed high, way higher than I expected to pay for lining. So I stopped by a dry cleaner where a young Asian woman told me the same amount. At home later on, I received a return call from another shop where a possibly Russian woman told me labor would be $100; fabric would be additional. “Probably about one hundred fifty,” she said, if I understood her correctly. I returned the coat to the closet.
Then I visited my local hardware store to buy a little cup for the drain in our upstairs sink. The drain was replaced the other day by our new handyman, who told me, “The little catcher you have is a little too big. You need one size smaller.”
The guy at the hardware store looked at me as though I was speaking gibberish, or Martian. Which always happens to me in hardware stores. “Your new drain should have come with something like this,” he said. “It doesn’t have something like this?” I explained that our handyperson had instructed me to come to the hardware store to get a new thingy. But it turns out no one makes a smaller size. The one-inch size we had was the smallest size available on earth. Our new handyman apparently installed some weirdly non-standard drain which will no doubt clog again because no hair-catcher fits it.
Undaunted, determined to cross at least one item off my list, I entered the upholstery shop on the same strip as the hardware store. I had come prepared with a photo of our chair, highlighting its shredded arm. I waited while the proprietor helped another client. At last he turned to me and gazed at my photo. “Ah, another wing chair!” he said in a vaguely East European accent. “Look at the books I have!” He gestured to the shelves of upholstery sample books he had all around the room. Hundreds of them.
“Uh,” I said, intimidated by the number of books and pages. “I want a similar fabric. Can you help me find something?” He looked at my picture again, skeptically.
“You want novelty?” he said. I told him I didn’t think of the old-fashioned book-themed print as “novelty” exactly.
“Look on computer,” he said. “Find what you want. Then bring back to me.”
“I was actually hoping for some idea of cost? An estimate?” I asked.
He raised both arms in the air and shouted, “Everyone asks this! How can I say with no fabric? Say $5000! How is that?”
I smiled sheepishly and skulked out of the shop, realizing only gradually that he didn’t actually mean $5000. Still, I have no idea how much reupholstering the chair would cost.
One item remained on my list. For years (years), we’ve had a long metal pipe lying tucked up against our backyard fence. I have no idea how it got there. One time, we left it out for the garbage men, but they didn’t take it. Too long, too heavy, too big. So today, after procrastinating for years, I called the city and asked to arrange for a pickup. I will get this one thing done today, I thought to myself.
“How long is it?” the guy on the phone asked, in regular Ohio English. I had thought of this! I had measured it before I called! About 20 feet, I told him.
He conferred with his boss for a minute.
“You’ll have to cut it up,” he said. “Four-foot lengths, or they won’t pick it up.”
“Cut it?” I asked. “With what? How would you cut it?”
“A pipe cutter,” he said, which made sense. “You don’t have a pipe cutter?”
No, I said. I don’t have a pipe cutter. Neither in the sense of a tool, or in the sense of a person who cuts pipes. My husband doesn’t cut pipes. Neither do I. No pipe cutter.
Two footnotes I would like to add. The foreign accents I mentioned, mostly East European, have no relevance to the story. No xenophobia here. Except for the upholstery guy, who was a little volatile, they were perfectly polite. The accent is just a realistic detail.
And, yes, these are First-World problems, and I have nothing significant to complain about.
I realize that.