Saturday, October 11, 2008

Coming to Terms with Practicality

I have had a rough relationship with practicality from the start; I have by now come to some kind of terms with the basic necessities of life, but I continue to struggle. I am the type of person who thinks I have done well if I have managed to take my car in for an oil change before six month have passed, let alone three. I am the type of person who owns countless assorted skirts; embroidered, tailored, trimmed and flounced, and two pairs of jeans.

Today, I prepared for work as usual, slipping into my battered work shoes and swinging my purse onto my shoulder. I made sure the door was firmly locked behind me and went on, dreamily, to inspect the roses; the petals are falling all over the sidewalk.

I began to get a strange, sinking feeling my stomach. I had left the house too quickly; something was wrong.

"Dear God, Dear God, no!" I prayed fervently, groping around in my purse with my right hand. But to no avail. My keys were missing. I knew exactly where they were too, they were on the sideboard, next to where my purse had been sitting.

My first thought was, "This is it. This is when I cannot possibly turn to Keith, I am on my own." The second was, "This is not so bad, the neighbor has a key."

Off I trotted, across to the neighbors. Hopeful, I knocked; hopeful because through the open windows I could hear the sounds of a TV. However, no one came. I knocked and knocked some more. No response. My heart began to sink, surely someone was home? Three of their four vehicles were in the driveway and the wife, (Mrs. Larry, I will call her, for practical purposes) is disabled and rarely leaves the house. I went and looked longingly over their gate; perhaps I could climb over it and knock on the back door? This seemed just somehow too criminal to actually carry out.

Here is where the consequences of my free floating mind started to come into play, as my choices began to narrow. I did not have the good neighbor Larry's phone number in my phone. I had instead, a vivid memory of Keith asking me if I wanted it and my shrugging it off, not being practical, but overly endowed with contrariness, and I didn't want to have to ask for help.

So, I did not have his number and right about then, as I was standing, looking at the back yard, I realized that I didn't know his last name. He was simply Larry, had always been simply Larry, Larry of the loud, Italian wife, Larry of the slightly balding head. I contemplated opening their mail box to obtain Larry's last name, but this also seemed just too criminal.

Thwarted by a curious combination of inner and outer circumstances, I retreated to my own front lawn. I sat on the front steps and regrouped. Now, earlier that morning, Keith had called me. We had talked at length about, as it happened, mostly practical things. The evidence was still in my cell phone, under received calls. For once, his number had appeared almost normal. It was there, it was a number, could I call him?? I had nothing to lose, I tried it.

After a few rings, a brisk young man answered, sounding vaguely irritated. I inquired after my husband and there came a small pause. "Wrong number," he said abruptly. Taken aback, I quickly hung up and then wondered. Keith was sometimes borrowing someone's phone to call me, was that someone a young, anxious recruit who was so nervous about his classified mission that he couldn't even acknowledge the presence of his Staff Sergeant? Or was it impossible to call back on that number, and instead, it called to the same number, but different phone in America? I don't know, I'm not practical. I prefer to live in the mystery, as my father would say. That way life is always so delightfully surprising.

I decided that the time had come for what must always happen in emergencies; I must call Dad. He suggested calling 411, not for Larry's number, as that would be impossible things being as they were, but for a locksmith. This was a marvelous idea, and in short order I was carrying through with it.

And so I found myself on my front steps on a lovely, September afternoon with nothing whatsoever to do but wait upon a locksmith. I decided to count my blessings; it was, after all, warm and dry with a nice breeze. I had a little journal in my purse and a pen with which to write. I had my cell phone with which to call work and explain. What more could I want?

Eventually, a battered SUV came along and a tall, bald man got out. He was large and ominious looking. He came loping up the walkway and declared, in a heavy German accent, "I am ve locksmith." Yikes. I gave way to the locksmith and hoped that he would not, after getting into the house, then murder me and bury me in the backyard. It seemed likely, but there was nothing to do but wait.

It became clear that under his stoic German exterior he was actually a shy man with nice, European manners; he consulted me in his heavy voice when necessary and offered me a new door knob with both hands, as though it were something precious. He had had to completely destroy the old one in order to get it open.

Stepping into my house again was a fascinating experience. It was the same as coming home after a long, long walk; everything familiar had a brand new appearance. I drifted inside and the locksmith followed, then bent studiously to his task of changing the door knob.

Standing on the rug, I looked around me with new eyes. It was so quiet I could hear the ticking of the clock over the mantle. All the wood had a deep gleam to it, a gleam I myself produced each Tuesday morning with lemon scented oil. There were leather couches and oriental rugs, silver picture frames and an Ivy plant, books arranged along shelves and magazines glimpsed through the class of the coffee table. There was the security of an alarm system installed on the wall, there was a battered pair of combat boots lined up neatly below it.

In that moment, I realized what I was; I was a cloistered woman. I was kept in a lovely, clean and quiet house, for which I paid nothing. I had only its upkeep and if I needed something for its upkeep, I had a whole book of checks that I could use for that purpose, forging Keith's signature and letting him know the amount and what for.

The locksmith cost me a little over two hundred dollars, so I have a feeling I will be using one of the aforementioned checks shortly. I thought of calling my husband to let him know of my recent adventure; the man who knows intimately the engineering of all his vehicles and manages all his accounts with decisiveness and attention to detail, who knows the location of every single one of his many and countless tools, and looked at me in sheer horror when I attempted to explain to him my recent mishap with this state over the state of my license plate registration (who knew driving for four years with another state's license plate was illegal? Not me, obviously.)

I am going to hide the second key somewhere outside the house and I am going to get Larry's number and add it to my phone. (Just as I was paying the locksmith, the neighbors pulled up, Larry, Mrs. Larry and Larrietta, the daughter. I tried to ignore the irony of this; it is, perhaps, unfortunate that although I am deficient in the functional aspects of life, I am endowed with more than my share of perception. Irony rarely escapes my notice, so that I am not spared even one iota of my inevitable consequences.)

I will do all these things, but I can't help but think that this is just the beginning; the beginning of a long, long year of managing things normally outside my attention, let alone expertise. Already, Keith has asked me to call and negotiate a percentage rate on his credit card. Negotiate? How can he not know me like this? I am edging up to that request slowly, as though it might attack me if I move too quickly. Eventually, I will make my move, but I must take my time. One practical request at a time and let's hope I don't run out of checks.

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