Friday, May 1, 2009

My Experiences As a Designer #1

Ash and Rain

Looking back, I sure do wish that I'd taken the time to keep better records of how many houses I’ve been invited into over the years working as a designer. I wish I’d kept notes about my experiences and the various characters I ran into along the way. Of course, there were many that I will never forget. Like the German college professors, a couple residing in a rambling ranch located in Alta Dena, near the border of Pasadena. The woman, (she was a mathematician), kept two African Grays in the kitchen. The huge birds had done their best to eat the cabinet doors and countertop edges. Her beloved pets had trashed the entire kitchen and dinette area. Shredded wallpaper littered the floors. Husband and Wife were forced to move the coffee maker into the family room, and were no longer able to prepare meals. Those creatures literally ruled the roost. The kitchen had become one giant birdcage with huge glass windows providing a magnificent view of the San Gabriel Mountains as backdrop. My job was to design and build a room addition to house the birds, as well as bring the kitchen back to its former glory so it could fit in with the rest of the well-kept-mid-century-magazine-worthy dwelling.

The Wife introduced me to Ash and Rain. I had never been in such close proximity to such birds of high intelligence and impressive stature. They climbed all over my client, exclaiming their love in ardent fashion. “Oh, Dear,” the birds crooned, “give us a kiss. Give us a kiss Dear!” And it amused me to no end how they spoke with a heavy German accent, just like their owner.

The room had to be built before we could turn our attention to the kitchen. A week into the project The Wife left to attend a symposium in Europe. The Husband instantly changed from a debonair, self-assured brainiac, into an insecure bundle of nerves. The birds, it seemed, had no use for the poor guy. The birds, in fact, loathed him. “Don’t be a baby, Darling.” The Wife told her husband in front of me. “Be strong. They react to weakness.”

“Be strong,” he grumbled. “They like to bite my face. And it’s two against one.” He decided to plead with his stubborn wife, almost whispering, “Can’t you hire someone to look after them? You know they hate me!”

“I cannot trust a stranger with my babies,” she scolded. “You’ll be fine.”

The Husband entered the kitchen to feed the birds following The Wife’s departure, and one of them did attack him. He had three bite marks, one on his ear and two on his arm, which he displayed when I arrived that morning to check in on my crew. “The bastards can starve from here on in!” He cried. “They called me every name in the book, just like my wife likes to do when she’s mad. They berated me, and then the big one came after me.”

What could I do? I nodded in sympathy.

Most of the workmen got a kick out of the African Gray drama. But one guy, he shook his head and said to me, in obvious disgust; “I’d roast those two like I do a turkey. I tell you, that would be the day when I’d let two flea-bitten birds get away with murder under my roof,” he said. “To hell with that.”

I shushed him. “Keep your opinions to yourself,” I warned. “This isn’t your house.”

The Husband wouldn't even go into the kitchen at all the next day. “Goddamn it,” he said. “I’ll show them.”

I’m afraid of birds, really afraid. Thank you Alfred Hitchcock. But I made a vow to myself that if The Husband didn’t feed them soon I would have to give it a try.

The following morning Ash and Rain called through the shut door. “Darling, oh Darling! A little orange juice! Did you read The Times? Oh, Darling. Dear…come on…you know I didn’t mean it. I get angry. Please! Darling!”

The Husband sat on a bench just outside the door with a frown on his face. He cried, “You goddamned birds. Goddamn you.”

Their voices sounded exactly like The Wife. I’m not kidding. If I hadn’t known better I would have sworn that she had returned and was calling out from that defiled kitchen. “Are you going to feed them?” I asked. “Because if you aren’t, I’ll do it. I can’t bear to see them go hungry.”

We slid the door open and ventured in together. They were sitting atop the avocado green side-by-side refrigerator. “Hello Darling,” the big one said. “You wonderful man,” the little one said. I watched The Husband prepare and set out their food and water, and they behaved themselves.

The room addition turned out great. Ash and Rain had their very own 15 by 30 foot room outfitted with plenty of safe, inedible perches and poles to walk and hang from. The windows faced the garden.

The room turned out lovely. Even though the kitchen wasn't finished, The Husband was able to roast a chicken and present it to The Wife for dinner on the night of her return. She insisted I stay on to have a glass of wine, and we walked out to admire the bird’s room. After two weeks of eating out of The Husband’s hands and treating him wonderfully, Ash and Rain reverted back to their old ways and began to scorn him as soon as The Wife arrived. “I will get even,” The Husband said, turning to face The Wife, “Didn’t you say you’re going to Hawaii in September?”

"Oh Darling," she responded. "Don't be that way."

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The New Uncle (short fiction)

My name’s Kim Jenkins and I have no brother or sister or father. My mother Jill had me when she was only sixteen, and I’m sixteen now, so duh, that makes her thirty-two. When Jill shows up at my school, (way younger than the other mothers—for that matter she’s younger than most of the teachers too), it’s no big surprise when everyone stares. People always stare at Jill, not just because she’s pretty, but because she lets it all hang out. You know the type? Hot? I do wish she wouldn’t show up at my school so often, but she insists. Her mother, (the grandmother I’ve never met who lives clear across the country in Coco Beach Florida), never paid much attention to Jill, so my mother's convinced she better pay attention to me. Since she didn’t do very well in school and dropped out so early she’s super proud because I’m a good student and on the chess team. 

We live in a two-bedroom stucco house near a noisy freeway that only has one tiny bathroom. My mother’s a bathroom hog. Every morning I have to pee so bad I end up sitting on the toilet next to her while she messes around with various electric devices she uses to make her hair and face as perfect as can be. I’d list her collection here, (which she keeps hanging from hooks above the toilet), but that would be boring.

Jill works for the L.A. police department. I guess it’s fitting, how obsessed she is with murder and mayhem. When she isn’t at work listening to 911 calls, or busy dating one of my many uncles, she’s watching reality crime shows. Serial dramas just aren’t real enough for her taste. The uncles are boyfriends. When I was little I went along with her and called the boyfriends Uncle So-And-So because I knew it made her happy. Now I roll my eyes when she introduces each new boyfriend to me. I’m intentionally rude and snooty. These guys come and they go so why should I get attached? Her latest boyfriend’s kind of different though. She usually dates cops and guys she meets in bars, but this new guy’s a teacher at my school. They met when she was wandering around trying to find Mrs. Rollins classroom. Mrs. Rollins is my advanced math teacher, and she’s also the cheerleading coach, and Jill volunteered to help her with some stupid fund drive. I always call Jill’s new boyfriend Mr. Morales. No matter how many times he asks me to call him Ramon, I refuse.

Tonight they went to some lame poetry reading. Mr. Morales is older than Jill. He’s forty-something. And bald. He’s her first bald boyfriend. And he’s sort of out of shape. And he’s into books and art and fine wine. Jill never showed any interest in books, or art, and her favorite drink is rum and Coke. I figure maybe she’s tired of dating cops with ex-wives from nasty divorces, cops that seem to always cheat on her. That’s the conclusion I’ve jumped to anyway. Mr. Morales is a widow with two kids. I met his sons last weekend. And now the oldest one, Victor, well he's been e-mailing me U-Tube links and texting me about this and that. Victor’s awfully cute; he has these impossibly long dark eyelashes. But how freaky would it be to be the girlfriend of one of my mother’s boyfriends? I don’t think it’s a very good idea. But, come on, Victor hasn’t even said anything to give me the idea that he would want to be my boyfriend, so why am I even going there?

I told Victor that I located my grandmother’s phone number on the Internet and that I was thinking about calling her behind my mother’s back. And he said that I should do it. He’s close to his grandmother and he said it would be nice if I had one to spoil me. But I haven’t dialed the number as of yet. I’m scared. If my grandmother did such a bad job raising my mother why do I want to contact her? It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s because I don’t have anybody accept my mother, and sometimes I feel that she's kind of lost. I wish I had a family. I stare at the phone number all the time. I look at maps of Florida and go to where dorky music plays and a virtual bamboo picture frame shows a picture of a beach with a discarded I Dream of Jeannie genie bottle lying open on the sand. I check out the weather stats and read about the nearby Kennedy Space Center. I wonder why our beaches in Southern California, (Jill’s a big beach nut so I’ve been to most in the area), don’t have sea grass growing up through the sand the way they do on the east coast. I imagine how happy my grandmother might be to hear my voice. But I have never worked up the courage to call. I would call tonight but I decide to wash my hair and go to bed instead. When I'm falling asleep I'm thinking that maybe the new uncle will turn out to be a good guy. Maybe he'll marry Jill. Maybe Victor and his little brother will be my brothers someday. Maybe we’ll all move into a big house where there will be enough bathrooms for everyone.

All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.