I leaned against my kitchen stove talking with a friend, mindlessly staring at the cupboard across from me. Suddenly my eyes popped. “That pull on the bottom drawer next to the sink is crooked. I have lived here five years and I have never seen it until just this moment. I can’t believe I never noticed it before.”
In half a heartbeat I crossed to the drawer, pulled it out, and checked to see if one of the screws had fallen out. My house is old. My kitchen is old. My cupboards are old. And the drawer pulls are old. So a loose screw might have been the problem. Both screws were tight. “Now that I have spotted this glaring flaw, I’ll see it every time I come into the kitchen. Oh, woe is me.” I lifted my arm across my eyes in mock despair.
I like to think of myself as a person who notices things. Most things. Well, some things. Last week I climbed out of the driver’s seat of my van and noticed the door panel was hanging on solely by the screws in the door handle. The entire bottom was loose. The pocket where I keep maps, a rag, ropes, a packet of bungee cords, an umbrella, a corkscrew, gloves, a pair of water shoes, some wet wipes, two rocks, a window scraper and a bent screwdriver was hanging loose. There also was a scrap of paper, a note to myself torn from an envelope flap. It read: short on top, long on bottom back. It meant what screws went where, from a job at some long forgotten time. It meant the short screws went on top and the long screws went on the bottom back. Simple.
“Look at that. How long has this door panel been hanging open like this? My maps are poking out. I wonder what I’ve lost. I wonder when it jarred loose. I can’t believe I never spotted it.”
My friend, Steve, who was in the van with me opened his door and slid out. “Hmmm,” he said. “Have you noticed this side?”
I looked across the seats to the passenger door. It was also hanging on by the two screws holding the door handle onto the panel. “Oh,” I said. “How could this be? I’m in and out of my van every day. How could I be oblivious that the door panels are falling off?”
I do notice the big things, I do. Like just now, my house seemed awfully humid, rather like the tropics in high summer. I went straight to the laundry room where my dryer was running. Sure enough, the vent thingy, you know, that flexible white plastic stuff stretched over coiled wire that carries the lint out, had split open where it attached to the dryer. Lint was flying everywhere. The pile of lint behind the dryer looked like a soft gray nest, rather like a mouse nest. So I pulled the dryer away from the wall, dragged in my vacuum and cleaned. As long as I had the vacuum out I pulled the refrigerator away from the wall and cleaned the air intake and whatever that grid is which gets all icky.
Despite my need for order, annoying little things go wrong all the time. For example, my shop heater which hangs from the ceiling on long bolts has rattled all these five years. I had the installer in to look at it. He poked around and shrugged his shoulders. The irritating rattle gets louder the more it throws out heat. So Steve got the ladder from the cabin, climbed up and pulled the panel off the side to see if he could solve the problem. Interestingly, without the side panel, it didn’t rattle. Hallelujah! After five years, problem solved.
This afternoon Steve fixed the door panels. Tomorrow I’ll go to Charlie’s and get the dryer thing. I’ll buy a metal one this time. Oh, rats, cats and bats! My heater just kicked back on and the blasted rattle is back. It’s like a hitch in my get-along. I’ll have to live with it. And I’ll live with the crooked drawer pull and grin when I notice it. It’s not even a pebble in my shoe in the grand scheme of things.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)