“YOU ARE MAKING me extremely tense,” Tony said, kneading his right eye as if he were trying to rub out a particularly annoying stain.
“All I’m asking is for you to go into the bedroom and check on their progress,” I protested. “Why wait until it’s too late to say anything?”
“Why me?” asked Tony.
“Because you’re the one who speaks Spanish.”
Tony looked at me with those burning eyes that I had come to recognize all too well over our past 16 years together. “You’re a raving lunatic, you know that?” He put on his headphones, laid his head on the sofa cushion, and closed his eyes for a nap.
It was day two of the new floor installation, and Tony and I were holed up in the corner of the living room of our one-bedroom Greenwich Village apartment, buried under our bed frame, mattress, box spring, end tables stacked atop dressers, desk, chairs, lamps, files, books and various boxes. We were using the L-shaped sofa as our base of operations during the construction — office, bed, dining area — while the piercing sounds of an electric saw and various bangings and clangings, rattled the apartment and our heads. Our dog, Chankla, lay curled up on the couch, covered in a layer of sawdust.
Three years earlier, a flood in our living room forced us to rip out the warped parquet tiles that had been there since the building went up in 1963. That’s when we opted for a more contemporary look, with 4-inch planks of natural kempas a beautiful hard wood from Indonesia. The insurance company only paid enough for us to do the area affected by the flood, which was basically everything except the bedroom. We figured we’d get to it someday when we had the money.
When John the floor guy was finished and about to leave with check in hand, I noticed something odd about the saddles that led into the bathroom and kitchen. “Why are these a completely different color and grain?” I asked.
“They don’t make the saddles in kempas, so I used oak,” he said.
“Really? How can that be?”
Tony, who had been standing by my side, looked away. He hates when I get all “intense” and “confrontational,” which I don’t see as either intense or confrontational.
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Tony said.
But it wasn’t. For the next week I couldn’t pass those giant glowing saddles without getting a tic in my eye. It was like a black-light Elvis painting on a wall of Monet haystacks.
“What the hell are you doing now?” Tony asked when he caught me standing astride one of the offensive saddles and staring at it with catatonic focus.
“Tony, this looks like crap. How can you just accept that? And it is not what we paid for.”
“We’ll get used to it. There’s nothing we can do about it anyway.”
Since I don’t possess Tony’s laissez-faire attitude, I called the wood distributing company. Don’t tell me that saddles don’t come in kempas.
In fact, they do.
I got John to come back. He ripped up the oak and put down the kempas saddles. And yes, Tony agreed that it looked a lot better.
All was right in our world.
Until six months later when the planks in the hallway began to loosen and creak.
“Listen to this,” I said, walking back and forth and pointing out every creak and squeak. “It’s getting worse. It’s spreading, like Ebola. We’ll have to contact John again and have him come back and fix it.”
“Okay,” Tony agreed. “But let’s just wait until after the summer.”
That was three years ago. I held out as long as I could, and now it was time to fix the creaking and finally replace the remaining parquet tiles that were still in the bedroom.
Actually, I began lobbying for it back in 2010. “Did you call John about fixing the floor?” I began asking Tony. John, who was from Peru, preferred to speak with Tony because his English was iffy.
“Why don’t you do it?” Tony responded. He hated being the conduit in these sorts of household things.
“My only other language is Italian,” I reminded him, but that might have been a mistake, since Tony has always been upset that I never learned to speak Spanish, and therefore don’t love him sufficiently. For years, he’s been attempting to guilt trip me with his Latino-ness, even though his entire Puerto Rican family speaks English.
“Did you call John?” I asked again. We were approaching 2012.
“You’d better do it soon, because. I don’t think he’ll agree to redo the hall planks for free forever.”
“I’ll do it, I’ll do it.”
The seasons passed.
Finally I just dialed John myself and left a message for him to call Tony on his cell phone. I have no idea why I didn’t think of that earlier.
John said the whole thing — the hall fix and the bedroom — would only take a couple of days. He and his two-man crew arrived on a Tuesday. The insurance certificate he had filed with our building was expiring on Wednesday.
“Did you get the new insurance certificate to them?” I asked John. “Otherwise the building won’t let you in.”
“Yes, yes, I did it this morning,” he said, while looking down at the floor.
“Tony, I don’t think he got the insurance certificate,” I whispered to Tony in the living room. “You need to talk to him.”
Later that afternoon, I could hear them picking up the pace, hurrying to get it done before the day, and their insurance, expired. “They’d better not be rushing to finish at the expense of quality,” I said.
Tony was doing his best to ignore the banging, the buzzing, the twitching in his eye, and me.
Like a jack-in-the-box I kept popping up, craning my neck, trying to ascertain how it was coming along in the bedroom. I’d walk casually to the bathroom so I could take a peek without them thinking I was spying.
Tony was plugged in and listening to Maroon 5. He unplugged for a moment. “What are you doing?” he asked. “Stop pretending to go to the bathroom. Stop hovering. Leave them alone. You’re getting in their way and you’re making this process longer.”
“It’s our home and I have the right to look after our interest and check on their work,” I said.
“I just want this to be over,” Tony said in a strained whisper. “I’m tired and my head is splitting.”
Another loud bang came from the bedroom. Tony winced. He put his earbuds back in and increased the volume.
When I popped up again for the I-don’t-know-how-manyeth time, Tony glared at me.
“Hear me out,” I said. “Does this plank seem a little warped to you?”
“Just sit down and let them finish. You need to relax.”
A few minutes later I got up to feel it again. “No, really, it feels a little off.”
At the end of day two, John came out of the bedroom looking uneasy. “We didn’t finish. I’ll bring a new insurance certificate with me tomorrow morning and then we’ll finish it up.”
“So you lied to me when you said you already did it?” I said.
“I thought it would only take two days.”
“So you lied.”
Tony took a Xanax and stayed out of it.
They showed up late the next day, but they had the certificate. Tony and I celebrated the final day of construction with a cappuccino.
A couple of hours later I heard the sound of wood cracking. Then there was silence and hushed murmurs.
“Tony, you’ve got to check on them,” I said.
“Didn’t I tell you to learn Spanish?” he said.
“Fine, I’ll do it myself.”
I walked into the bedroom. “How’s it going?” I said to blank stares. I looked around, and like a horror film I zoomed in on something hideous and grotesque. “This piece is split,” I pointed out.
“This one, over here. It’s cracked.”
“No, es bonita,” John said. “It’s from the nail.”
“It’s a 2-inch split in the wood and it’s only going to get worse. Come on, you know you have to replace it.”
Tony came over wearily to inspect. At my prodding, he told them in Spanish to replace the wood.
“Did you see, there are some pretty big gaps in the planks over by the closet?” I said to Tony as we walked back to our cave on the couch. To which I received no response.
Then he said, “I love you.” Which sounded more like he was just reminding himself.
Toward the end of day three, John informed us that they were 12 pieces short. He proposed using remnants, inferior shards of wood with marks and cracks, to fill in. “You can move some furniture over it and no one will see.”
Tony just wanted them gone at this point and was on the verge of agreeing.
“That might work if we were never going to sell this place, but when we do, I seriously doubt the new owners will appreciate these ugly cracked planks in their bedroom.”
“Huh, I didn’t think of that,” Tony said. He told John to get the new wood.
Who’s the lunatic now?
John’s office manager spent the morning calling suppliers in the tri-state area and was finally able to locate a single box of planks somewhere in New Jersey.
“It looks a little lighter,” I said when they unpacked it.
Tony turned to me with a cold stare.
“Okay. It’s fine,” I said. I got the message.
“It’s time now to stop,” Tony added as an addendum. “It’s okay if the floors aren’t perfect.”
I nodded. Because not only do you have to know when to stand up for yourself and speak out, you have to know when it’s time to let go, accept and defer to your partner.
Except that when I performed my final inspection, I noticed a few pieces raised higher than the ones next to them.
“It’s because the floors aren’t level,” John said, defending his work.
“But no floors are completely even. There must be a way to level it out.”
“The floors aren’t level,” Tony echoed.
Grudgingly, I accepted defeat. Even though I know I was right. I guess, floors, like life, cannot always be perfect.
I let Tony win that round, but I spent the next few days walking back and forth over these “ledges,” as I like to call them.
Tony looked up from the couch. “You’re going to do this for the rest of our lives, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Now, about those loose bathroom tiles.”