In my room, I have a small oak writing desk. It sits along a short stretch of wall directly across from my side of the bed. I call it the ‘oaken table’. It’s initial purpose, when we moved into the Disposable Shack in 2004, was to hold my alarm clock, which is a pretty important job, due to the unusually strong attachment I have to my alarm clock. And the little table seemed to be up to it. Since then,
You want to hear the alarm clock story?
How did you even know to ask about that?
No, it wasn’t in my ‘About me’ section. There’s practically nothing in that section.
Fine. A little creepy, but fine. But then we are going right back to my table story. This hijacking of my trains of thought has got to stop.
In 1988, my nearly perfect husband and I bought a condominium in Nashua, New Hampshire. We were so excited. It was about 900 square feet of two-bedroomed, 1980s bliss. We had our own wall-to-wall carpet, and ivory-laminated-oak-trimmed cabinets (in every room that had a cabinet. I’m not kidding. This builder must have gotten a great deal on ivory-laminated-oak-trimmed cabinets). And we shared a wall with a person we never met, but who had a love of Led Zeppelin that would not be tamed. He was especially fond of certain songs. I’m pretty sure he thought our pounding on the walls was just part of the bass line on Whole Lotta Love.
We had light blue carpet in all the main areas and dusty-rose in our bedroom (a.k.a., puce – which, as I have mentioned in past posts, is a word I really like to say. But ‘dusty-rose’ was the color of the times, and I was trying to be period authentic.) Anyway, we spent every last dime of our money for our down payment and bank closing costs, and yes, I mean it. I was fortunate that my dear friend, Lisa Lariviere, was a hairdresser because I could not afford the cost of a haircut that coming week and she cut my hair for free.
We had two pieces of furniture when we moved in – a very cheap particleboard framed water bed, and a “modern” wall unit that we bought on credit as part of an interest free deal from a local, discount furniture store (note: it was the last thing we ever bought that way. I blame John’s parents for never uttering the words, “If it’s too good to be true…”).
Into that wall unit went the television set that John’s parents bought for us as a housewarming present and John’s college stereo system that was supposed to look like it was a group of more expensive components stacked on top of each other, but really it was all one plastic unit with notches molded into the plastic to look that way. It was also very small, further blowing the ruse. Most people didn’t have a souped-up 1980s component system consisting of a cassette player, record player, receiver and tuner that took up less than one square foot of space. It didn’t matter, the eighties were all about image, and we were livin’ large.
We bought some dishes from Lechmere, and I remember thinking I was all so European because they were all glass – glass plates, glass bowls, glass coffee cups. We could afford a set of 8 because they were all on clearance. We would set them carefully on the blanket spread below the ‘chandelier’ in the dining area (and used as our dining room table) when we had our friends come over for one of the inexpensive, four or five pasta dishes that we ate, non-stop, until we got our first pay raises.
A special night was cheap sparkling wine and pizza (to this day, pizza and champagne is one of my favorite meals) and watching TV by ourselves or with friends. Coffee, which we discovered in the condo (having never drunk it before that point) was made in a little French press and poured into travel cups for the ride into work – me in my royal blue Pontiac Fiero, and John in his mini-cooper-sized Pontiac La Mans. And because we had never had coffee before and no one ever taught us how to drink it, we were over-caffeinated, irritable zombies for, like, eight weeks until we learned the concept of moderation.
We painted the walls ourselves, tiled with the help of some very patient friends, and that condo was a home to me, John, and a hodgepodge parade of homeless cats that must have numbered in the twenties. What? I was Kitty Angels first volunteer. It was a no-kill shelter. No, I didn’t have twenty cats all at once in my condo. That would be wHierd and cat-lady like. I was not nearly old enough to be a cat lady back then.
I only kept ten.
Toby, Dumino (was Domino, became Dumino for reasons readily apparent to all), Jesse, Tazzy, Ethan, Brittany, Lloyd, Stubby (a tailless Manx mix), and George and Gracie. It wasn’t that crazy. And our friends always marveled that the place didn’t stink to high heaven (I think the only thing I have ever been completely anally retentive about were those cat litter boxes in the condo). Plus, George and Gracie didn’t even stay the whole time. They were purebred Persians who didn’t mix well with our local, peasant population. So they went to live with a colleague of mine who was moonlighting – ya moonlighting – as a bassoonist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra at the time. George and Gracie lived with him in his Boston penthouse, the roof deck of which he had specially safety outfitted so that they could all sit outside and take in the view, ate gourmet food created especially for them and were fussed over and loved by this man for the rest of their lives. Nope. Not kidding. So, see, my cat period wasn’t all that bizarre or overdone.
Okay, maybe a little overdone.
Anyway, John and I were on cloud nine. We had our first place together. We were totally grown-ups.
We moved into the condo in October, 1988 (I believe we signed the mortgage papers about 9 minutes before the housing industry bubble burst). Our plan was to be in the condo for three years and then sell it for a bit of a profit that we would then roll over into a house. We owned that dang thing for closer to ten years, and were reluctant landlords for five of them (oh, our poor, wonderful, and forced-to-be-fairly-independent-because-we-couldn’t-even-identify-a-water-heater-let-alone-fix-one tenants). And when we finally sold the condo, we did make a profit. Well, not technically a profit, but it was more than we owed on the loan (equity be damned!). We got a check that covered a dinner for four with our best friends, and we were psyched. Mostly not to be landlords any more. But also, it was a good meal and we could even afford wine with dinner. The kind not from a box and with a cork.
So, the alarm clock.
Shortly after moving into the condo, it was my birthday. John had actually gotten a raise about a month after we moved in, so even though we were still on the high-carb-and-caffeine-pasta-and-coffee diet, we could now afford the occasional haircut and deodorant stick. So my birthday rolls around and John is panicking because he doesn’t know what to get me. So I say that he doesn’t need to buy me anything and when he rolls his eyes I say he can make me a card and we can maybe get Chinese food because that would be awesome. So I don’t think about it any more and, wait.
Side note: I am the worst person on the planet when it comes to dates. I don’t mean ‘go out with someone’ dates, I mean calendar dates. I am pretty sure that when God was in the lab (hopefully wearing gloves and safety gear) splicing all my bits together, and he got to the point where he decided I would be a ‘female’, that he carefully used his pointy tweezers to pull two little ‘X’s out of the little glass container, and he dropped one. Which I’m totally cool with because how can you blame the guy. Those needlenose tweezer thingies that you have to use in science labs are wicked twitchy. No matter how careful you are, you can drop stuff. Especially when you are wearing gloves. Which I’m sure God was because I hear he is meticulous with things. So I think he dropped one of my ‘X’s, and you know the itty bitty part that is responsible for women being the one in the relationship who can remember dates like birthdays and anniversaries? I didn’t get that. I’m not mad or anything. God has a big job. And it’s not like I’m missing something wicked important. Like the ability to floss, which, like, a hundred percent of dentists think is important and which I know – due to my genetics – I should do exactly one hour before I have a dentist appointment (and at least one more time if I have eaten Oreos that day).
By the way, did you notice that I just solved the whole debate of creationism vs. hard science in one paragraph? I did. God created us all in his giant lab. It’s such a nice compromise.
Kumbaya people. Come together.
So I really did forget about my birthday after John asked me what I wanted and then, sure enough, it showed up out of nowhere and John had a present all wrapped and ready for me. And I swear to God that he was more nervous about that present than he was on the day he proposed (which he wouldn’t do for about a year. Yes, we were living in all sorts of sin). But anyway, he handed me this first birthday present in our new home and it was about five inches deep, by seven inches long by about four inches high. I took it and shook it and he said the obligatory, “It’s nothing big” which – because I am a girl (XX remember?) – I immediately took to mean that this was a wrapped present in disguise, and was really one of those box-within-a-box type situations and there was probably some great present in a teeny tiny box inside of three or four boxes and this was very exciting so I opened my present (I’m not shy about opening presents, so I basically ripped the wrapping clear off in one ninja-type de-wrapping maneuver).
And the first box was a box for a digital alarm clock. One of those old fashioned, electric ones with big red glowing numbers covered in a sticker that is supposed to look like wood, but is not fooling anyone. This was the pinnacle of good design before Apple showed up on the scene and proved to the world that fake wood sticker stuff over plastic could be replaced just by white plastic and a bit of chrome.
Oh, and an iPod.
Come to think of it, it was probably the iPod the world was excited about, and not the elimination of fake wood stuck on plastic.
So I look at the box and I’m all excited because this is a cool way to hide my real present. And I open the box and there’s brown paper in it – totally to take up space before I get to the next box and I remove the brown paper.
And see the alarm clock.
So I take it out and there is styrofoam on each side of the alarm clock and the clock itself is in a clear plastic bag so I take it out of the bag and I look at John.
And he is looking at me with this really unsure look. And we both start conversing in this weird (wHierd) sing song voice that starts about one octave higher than our regular voices, but with each sentence, gets another octave higher so that by the end we are pretty much sounding like the mice from Disney’s Cinderella.
Me: “It’s an alarm clock!”
John: “No. It’s a clock radio. We don’t have one!”
John: “It’s a good one. It’s a GE. I checked!”
Me: “Oh that’s good. Yes. That’s good!”
John’s expression and voice go back to normal. But he is sheepishly smiling.
John: “So, um, do you think that an alarm clock counts as an appliance?
John: “And appliances or pots and pans aren’t very romantic, right?”
John: “I am so sorry.”
And we both started laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe and, because we were both sitting on the water bed when this all happened, we were being bumped and rolled all over the place which made it even funnier. And somewhere in there he said he had called his sister and she said that an alarm clock would be a very practical gift and then, if it was even possible, we laughed even harder.
It wasn’t the gift itself. Any gift is a wonderful gesture. This gift turned into one of his all-time best. He had stressed so much over making it perfect that he forgot who I was. This is a man who has written pages long love notes, and poems. He knows all my favorite songs and purposely plays the ones he says remind him of me. He is mooshy and emotional and lays it all on the line when it comes to love. And when his own personal chips were down, and he wanted to give me the perfect gift to commemorate my first birthday in our first home, he freaked out. Most guys, in that position, would have gone for the traditional flowers or jewelry – nothing expensive but both a safe bet.
Not my man.
He opted for a General Electric clock radio complete with satanic-red glowing digits and fake wood stuck-on paneling. All function, no form. All practical, no romance. It was totally not him and totally not me.
He blew it in absolutely spectacular style, mainly because he so totally didn’t want to blow it in absolutely spectacular style.
That General Electric clock radio is one of my favorite gifts of all time.
And it sits today on my little oak table, with a nice layer of dust, telling me what time it is with it’s demonic red numbers, and waking me up with staticky sports talk radio each and every morning.
Once and a while, John asks me if it’s time for a new alarm clock, or if maybe we could just use our iPods, and I say no way. It is a testament to his love, as well as his greatest gift flame out.
So once again, you’ve hijacked my original story intent and I’m going to leave it here for now. I don’t know how you keep doing this. Seriously. It’s like I’m sitting with you, at your house, and we’re having this wHierd ongoing conversation that we pick up every couple of days.
Only I never get to eat the snacks because I’m talking too much.
Thanks for readin’.