We're redoing our hardwood floors.
The living room and dining room floors can use refreshing (we haven't done anything to them in the thirty plus years since we moved into the house), and I've been threatening forever to refinish the floor in the hall leading from the dining room and kitchen to the family room and staircase, a heavily trafficked area covered by carpeting that regains its dinginess and track marks within weeks of being shampooed.
"Why not recarpet?" my husband says. "Probaby less expensive."
"Not by much. And in a year or less, we'll have the same problem," I tell him.
I obtain bids. One is from an Israeli recommended by several people. He comes to appraise the job. I point out a problem, a segment of the hall that lists like the Titanic, thanks to the contractor who built our second story addition 28 years ago. Eddie (let's call him that; it's his name) apparently didn't believe in (a)using a level or (b) following blueprints. He placed a concrete footer under the middle stretch of the floor, creating a camel's hump, instead of where it was needed: under the supporting wall.
The Israeli frowns. "We'll have to raise the floor."
"What about the molding that turns the corner and goes into the family room?" I ask.
He glares at me. "You're worried about the molding or your floor?"
"I'm just wondering."
"You know what? I don't need this job. I'm tired of doing residential. I'm too old."
Maybe you are, I think.
I hire Otto, a sweet, gentle man who did beautiful work on the house next door. He promises to do his best to level the hump and the dip.
And I hire Martine, who also worked next door, to retile the floor of the bathroom off the hall. It's covered in the same carpet as the hall and is slightly less dingy, but bears evidence of visits from grandchildren. Underneath the carpet is the original tile--not offensive, but it clashes with the wall tiles, which are beautiful--aqua, with a horizontal border of shaded yellow roses and moss green leaves. (The roses are presently peach. I painted them with peach nail polish over ten years ago to coordinate with the wallpaper I liked.)
"Why do we have to retile the floor?" asks my husband.
"It's going to look dumb having a carpeted bathroom opening onto a hall with a beautiful hardwood floor. And the carpet is nasty."
"How much will it cost?"
"Depends. If there are cracks under the exisiting tiles, Martine will have to do a new sub floor."
(One of the other men I'd asked for a bid had advised me to lay linoleum. "It's a huge job, what you're talking about," he warned. "The house is old, the tile is old. Definitely cracks in the concrete."
I told him I wasn't keen on linoleum. "How much would it cost? If you had to redo the sub floor?"
"How much? A lot. Too much can go wrong. I don't want to do it."
I didn't relay this conversation to my husband. Why worry the man?)
My son helps move everything from the closets off the hall to our guest room (my husband was out of town, lucky man) : Tens of tablecloths, many of which I'd forgotten existed; coats, jackets, parkas; a tool chest; serving pieces; multiple boxes of Legos (oen for toddlers, others for older kids); two sets of Trouble; Lincoln Logs; Tinker Toys. Are you saddened, as I am, that Tinker Toys are now made of plastic, not wood?
The closet under the staircase has the most "stuff": two folding chairs; the vacuum cleaner; the carpet sweeper; three table leaves; half a dozen rolls of leftover upholstery fabric; my "step aerobics" step; various pieces of luggage, including my roll-aboard; canvas totes from mystery conventions; an ironing board; boxes of tissues; rolls of Brawny paper towels and Cottonelle bath tissue.
At the back of the closet, which slopes downward because it's under the stairs, is a wide but very shallow recess--more like a crawl space, really. Here we store boxes with papers we rarely need to access. You have to stoop to get into this part of the closet, and you invariably forget to keep your head down as you move backwards and out. So you bump your head. At least, I do. Almost always.
Martine removes the old tile, which is wedged in firmly, resisting its fate. At first he's hopeful, but then he tells me the bad news: The concrete is, in fact, cracked. Badly. He's sorry. So am I. Martine begins to demolish the concrete. Otto works on the hall floor, removing a large section in the problem area. I shut my office door, but can hear the clanging and the hammering. Dust swoops into the room.
That evening I rifle through one of the ten boxes my son dragged out from the closet recess. 1972. Folders with credit card receipts, tax papers, bank statements, medical statements, phone bills. I go through every piece of paper and form three piles: TO KEEP; TO TRASH; TO SHRED.
I do the same with the contents of the other boxes. The IRS rules say you have to keep documents and receipts from the last seven years, but I keep ten. It doesn't hurt to be careful. It takes me days to go through every piece of paper. The work is tedious, but I'm determined not to return anything to the recess of the closet unless we absolutely have to keep it. (Ironically, that weekend my husband shows me a Newsweek article about "Information mania." I smile.) The TO KEEP pile is small - receipts and cancelled checks for house-related expenses; check registers. And earning stubs, to prove to the government when the time comes that we're entitled to our Social Security pension.
The TO TRASH pile forms an impressive mountain. I add to it, ripping papers with abandon, then transfer the mountain into several large bags that I dump in the outside bin. The TO SHRED pile is equally impressive. Bank statements, anything with our personal information, social security number, credit card numbers.
I go through hundred and hundreds of checks from the thirty-five years of our marriage.
There are checks for markets that no longer exist; for Nosh 'N Rye, a kosher fast-food restaurant that made terrific hamburgers and the best pareve (non-dairy) milkshakes before it closed its doors. Much of our money, I see as I fan the checks, went to groceries. Quite a lot -- too much -- went to auto repairs.
I find a check made out to the jeweler who sold my husband the setting for my engagement ring . Rent checks for our first apartment--cute, small, but without air-conditioning. When I was eight months pregnant, I slept on the bedroom floor on several unbearable hot nights to catch a breeze from the door to the balcony. In that same apartment, my husband, studying for his math qualifying exams, woke me up when he sat up in the middle of the night, said, "The vector! The vector!" and fell back asleep.
There are checks to my obstetrician, who was disconcertingly gorgeous, and to our Lamaze teacher. There are rent checks for our second, two-bedroom apartment with the most awful teal shag carpet that looked even worse after the arrival of our custom-made chenille sofa--a horrible, horrible orange-red-gold fabric. (The swatch looked so nice. ) The building manager, M, once answered his door wearing only boxers. His mother babysat for our son so that I could attend Kol Nidre services on Yom Kippur Eve.
I come across payments to Betty Wolfe, who lived up the block and ran a day care center. My oldest daughter was happy. When I placed her sister with Betty three years later, she didn't stop crying, so my father-in-law, of blessed memory, became her nanny.
Among the mounds of paper I find two savings bonds, one for each of my two older daughters.
"You're rich!" I jokingly tell them.
With the deafening droning of the sanding machine on the other side of my office door, I feed my sturdy little shredder. Several checks at a time, a handful of receipts. The shredder keeps churning. Periodicaly I touch the top of the machine to make sure it's not overheating. I let it rest. I empty the shredder into oversized plastic Bed Bath & Beyond bags. Five bags, six bags, seven, eight. The carpet is strewn with shreds of paper.
With bits of thirty-five years of history.
It's a good thing, I tell myself. We didn't need any of it.