Are You Ready to Shower ?

I’ve been rather busy lately doing some home improvements. Home improvements, in this economy? Well, that’s what credit cards are for! So what if I pay them off at the rate of ten dollars a month for the rest of my life? I’m through worrying.

Our contractor friend, who was responsible for the beautiful tiled floors here at Chez Lucca, recently finished putting in a tiled shower in the master bath– and just in time, too. The original deadskin beige ┬átiles had been mounted directly onto drywall; the shower floor, when poured, had not been poured onto a steel mesh, and so it eventually began sinking. As a result, it cracked, and water got underneath the tiles and flowed toward the drywall, which wicked it slowly UP until the shower walls began to buckle. I’d attempted, in my amateur way, repairs over the years, using different sized and colored tiles, but eventually it all advanced into the realm known as Call the Menfolk. (Lennar Homes built this house in 1979, by the way. How come my mother’s bathroom tiles in Brooklyn have survived intact since 1912? Lennar ought to be horsewhipped.)

In three days, we got a new shower. It was originally going to be completely a sort of off-white, with a lighter whitish floor, but a stroll down the tile aisle at Loew’s ended up in the purchase of some green tiles which we “diamonded” into the white walls. Now it all looks very YMCA circa 1935, which is nice in a retro sort of way. You never know– Charles Atlas may appear one morning swathed in terrycloth.

The nice thing about a white bathroom is that you can see when it needs cleaning, which is great when you are me and God forbid a guest needs to use a master bathroom that isn’t like a showroom. The unsettling thing about all this white tile is that I’ll notice every sort of speck, some of which even move. I don’t know how those creatures get in there from the great outdoors, but I’ve seen bugs in that bathroom which I had never seen before; all that white tends to highlight them, and I find myself staring at oddly-segmented worms that crawl slowly up the walls, or beetle-like critters that aren’t quite roaches, but aren’t quite beetles either. Sometimes a spider gets in there, and I’ll see him skittering along just at the point when I am unable to get up and do something about him; or else I’m showering, one hand holding a bottle of shampoo, the other grasping a scrub brush, both my feet concentrating on not slipping and causing the braining of the owner of all those limbs. Before the┬áremodel we had something called drain flies, which thrive in environments that are always damp. For months I wondered where these damn things were coming from, and then one day I saw one disappear down the drain.

Still, the pluses outweigh the minuses, and it’s nice to spend time in a bathroom that doesn’t look like the facilities in an abandoned factory. Assuming I’m not terrorized and carried off by some six-legged thing with viscous, rotating tentacles, I can see myself spending more time in there than I probably need.

Dad: A Closet Case of Cool

Dad in 1949 – Age 18

If I had been older, smarter, and more enlightened, the obvious signs might have tipped me off right away. As it was, many years had to pass before it dawned on me.

Dad was a closet beatnik.

Probably the bongos should have tipped me off but, like I said, I was young. Displayed prominently in the living room of our basement apartment in Brooklyn, they presented not always mute testimony of my father’s musical aptitude– an ability which would no doubt have been nurtured in the dark, smoky depths of some unlicensed club in 1950s Greenwich Village. Once in a while he’d set them on his lap and whack out some rhythm, or whatever it is you do with bongos. They came in a pair, linked by a little wooden bridge, and one was slightly larger than the other so that two tones would be produced when he banged on them. I’d like to report that his heated rhythms enticed my mother into hedonistic, sweaty dancing, requiring her to throw her arms about in abandon, sweat flying from the tresses of her raven locks as she lurched through our tiny, four room apartment (with the bathroom out in the hall), but Mom had short hair like Audrey Hepburn and Tuscan women don’t fling themselves about for anything, or anybody.

And the bongos were only one of the signs. Looking back at pictures of us in Maine in July, 1960, Dad is dressed in white clam diggers, a blue-and-white striped French sailor’s tee shirt, and a week’s growth of beard. Barefoot, he poses casually at the lake, by the side of the cabin, or in a chair, his legs draped over the arms as if he doesn’t have a care in the world (besides Mom, my sister Lois, and me).

The most visible, lasting sign (who knows where the bongos are, or the clothes?) were the paintings. Didn’t all beatniks descend upon the Village after the War so that they could paint? And didn’t they all live in attics and cellars, starving for their art? Dad didn’t exactly starve, and we lived in Brooklyn, and he was in Korea, not Belgium, but he did paint. His work hung on the walls of our apartment for years, and went upstairs with us when we moved up a flight, and then new paintings were added over the years. He loved painting with putty knives and large brushes, giving him, I think, the sense that he was commanding the white space of the canvas. His landscapes and seascapes are textured and seem to jump out at you, making you feel as if you can walk into his forests and swim in his oceans. Even today I have hanging above my bed a landscape composed of nothing but churches in different styles and colors. As many times as I’ve looked at it, I don’t think I’ll ever know it completely.

He taught me to paint, though I was always too exacting, unable to sweep my brush across the blank fields: what if I made a mess? I made myself stay in the lines and bit my lips and squinted so that my trees and houses and flowers were rendered precisely. Dad painted sweeping visions of earth and sky, while I created perfect houses with curtains and chimneys and fences. Once in a while we’d go to the art fairs that would be staged all over Greenwich Village, when artists displayed their work on chain link fences, propped up against fire hydrants, or leaning against benches in tiny parks. I could feel him becoming inspired, and he would tell me how free and loose their techniques were.

I don’t remember if Dad spoke hep; his language abilities were limited to Brooklynese and occasional exasperated outbursts of Neapolitan, and the occasional mangling of somebody’s name. He never said too much, or too little, and most of what he said to me involved encouragement and compliments– and that’s cool.

Poems for the Unemployed


On An Interview

So, like, you worked there for HOW long?

Seventeen years.

Omigod! Didn’t you get, like, bored?

No. And I was at my next job for almost four years, and I was at my last job for almost nine years.

No way! I’ve had like a thousand jobs and I’m only twenty three.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve had a thousand jobs.

What? Really?

Figuratively.

Oh, okay, like you’re just kidding? I was like omigod this applicant’s had like a thousand jobs!

And so I quietly ease myself out her office door.

Answering Questions

I had to take a test at a place I applied to.

Standing at the counter, with my back to the store, I answer almost

two hundred questions about what I would do in certain

situations regarding customer service crises, inventory shrinkage

(we used to call it stealing) and personnel drama.

Maybe I answer everything too severely, or maybe not severely enough.

It’s hard to answer questions when you can’t see the eyes or the mouth

of the person who made up the questions.

And so I think I might be making up the answers.

A Thank You Note

“Dear Sir or Madame or Ms.,

“I am applying to the posted job regarding the office management position in need of filling at Humongo, Inc., a corporation which makes, through the wonders of chemistry and engineering, products ranging from hand grenades to diapers to teddy bears to pancake syrup to billy clubs.

“There was no mention of salary, and– as might be expected– this is probably an integral part of every job seeker’s goals. That’s me– a job seeker.

“I require a living wage– something that will cover all my expenses, with some left aside to put into a savings account. A savings account! Quaint, right?

“If the wage you offer is not a living wage, please say so. Eight dollars per hour is not a living wage. Neither is nine. In fact, neither is ten.

“Thank you.”

Living Death

The career counselor tells me:

DON’T put down on your resume the year you graduated college… or high school… or else they’ll KNOW. They can figure it OUT!

DON’T put all your jobs going back into the past… they can add up the years, and then they’ll KNOW.

They’ll know what?

That I’m practically dead?

Lying On Applications

When they ask on applications “what languages can you speak fluently?” does that mean

that they are asking FLUENTLY fluently, or just get-around-okay fluently ?

If I said that I can speak Estonian, Hungarian, and Moldovan, will they check? REALLY check?

It might look good on a resume but it could get me into trouble

when someone at my new job is bleeding to death

and everyone hollers “can anyone here speak Estonian?”

and then they all look at me.