Friday, March 28, 2014

I'll Take Manhattan

My friends and I — we've cracked the code.
We count our dollars on the train to the party.
And everyone who knows us knows that we're fine with this,
We didn't come from money. - Lorde - "Royals" 2013

Hazel - single mother and actress, 1950
I was taught well by my mother. Hazel, who bought us up, me and Tim, all by herself in the days when there was no such concept of "single mother".

She instructed me on "the need for men". If ever she couldn't get the lid off a jar of honey, or my bicycle broke, whenever anything needed "fixing", she would sigh and say, "This is when you need a man".

I believed her. Until I grew up and had a man.

Was it me, or did I sense in the men I chose, something that would prove my mother wrong? For at least with the first significant men in my life, I chose men who couldn't fix anything if their lives depended on it. It was as if their inability to change a tyre or replace a spark plug somehow set them apart from the rank and file of Australian men.

I remember standing at the kitchen window, watching with horror and fascination as husband #1 attempted to build a chook house. From scratch. He approached the job in a linear manner, using what is now called in the IT industry, "Agile methodology". First he hammered into the sandy ground of the Yarra Valley, one long pole, which was meant to be  one of four  vertical support beams. Just the one.  That being done he went on to hammer in the planks that were to make up the front side. I think the roof came next. I couldn't watch.

Some years later I met Rachel. Rachel lived in a big rambling weatherboard house in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. The first time I visited Rachel some rocker-looking guy in a navy singlet was sanding the floors, part of his project of "renovating Rachel's house". I was impressed. Rachel introduced him as her new "boarder".

He was one of many that came into her life in the next decade. From boarder to renovator to lover, they all prided themselves in helping out "the little woman". Rachel had it down to an art. She would advertise for a boarder on the notice board of a well known book shop in the then trendy Melbourne suburb of Carlton. That way she would attract a man who read books. No bogans for Rachel. She'd pick the sexiest -looking "applicant", install him in the spare bedroom, and them bemoan the fact that the house was run down and how could she, a single mother with a full-time job, a low-paid social-worker, do anything about it?

I am not sure about the order in which the next events happened, but happen they did. The boarder would be elevated to lover and house remodeler. The best thing about it, Rachel confided in me, was that they would all be testosterone-driven to show how bad the last bloke had been, and how much better HE was in fixing her house. Things just kept getting better. She had the whole process worked out.  "Poor Rachel!" Peter the rocker said to me as he put the sander down to light a cigarette. "The last bloke here knew nothing about wood floors. I am replacing the lot with jarrah".

Several men in as many years later, Rachel had one of the best renovated homes in Brunswick. I was envious. But no way could I be like Rachel. For a start, I didn't pre-screen my men. Her "boarder" idea was a good one. She quickly got to know the men's habits, skills, taste in music, and their politics, before deciding their usefulness and abilities as lovers and renovators.

I found out later, and only ever had one lover who was good with his hands in both senses of the expression. I think it is because I grew up sans any sort of man, that I was conditioned early in life to fear anything breaking. TVs, cars, tables, phones. As soon as anything went even remotely on the blink I'd get neurotic and just want it replaced with something new. I am still like that today.

But now I live in an apartment in Manhattan. We have "maintenance men" on site, 18 hours a day. You just pick up the intercom and say, "This is Kate and my dishwasher is making a funny noise," and there they will be, at the apartment door, tools and replacement parts on hand.

I think that is why I stay here, in my apartment in New York. That and the fact that I don't need a car. I remember way back when, going into a panic if the fridge made a noise different from the one it made before, or if the engine of my car made a whining sound. Who could I turn to? The men didn't know. They didn't even notice such things.

I yearned for independence. For a life without scary breaking-down things.

When I am feeling particularly neurotic I wander around my apartment in Manhattan, where I live alone. Checking for things that might beak in the near future. No man around to be able to not fix things. That closet door today for example. It wasn't closing flush. I picked up the intercom. "This is Kate," I said. "I don't like the way the closet door in the hallway closes." Five minutes later there's José at my door. Not a problem. He had spare roller things to replace in the slider top thing. He'd do it right now, though it would be best to replace the hinges. That'd be $100 per door plus tip. Cheap at half the price.

Now, if I had been with one of the can't-fix-it men, it'd be a different story. It'd be, "There's nothing wrong with the door!" And I'd say, "But what if it gets worse?" And on and on and I'd dream of doors falling off onto the heads of little children, maybe maiming them for life, even killing them.

The lack of sleep. Having to talk to the man over breakfast, hiding my neurotic fears, and peeling the damp plastic wrap off the Melbourne Age that the paper boy had delivered to the front lawn.

Now it is all about reading the New York Times, online of course. Eating breakfast alone. Or even not eating breakfast. And having an army of men ready and willing to fix every little thing!

Ah, the freedom of it all.

Eat your heart out Rachel!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you've cracked the code, Kate.
Where do blokes who've never had a dad pick up the handyman skills they need to impress their sheilas or cope with everyday stuff. They pick up a book or now, scan the web. Fixin' stuff isn't rocket science.
Gotta put my fix in' where my mouth is.
Lazy buggers never learn, or consider it beneath their dig to give it a go, make a few mistakes, get laughed at once or twice before they learn. If some bugger made it, someone can fix it...usually. Unless of course it's from Ikea, then it does take an advanced degree in patience to put it together.

We start decorating the new condo next week and will be up to our armpits in boxes of our stuff.

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