There are two men in my kitchen running a machine. I don’t know what kind of machine it is but it’s loud and likely a saw. They’re cutting a hole for the new sink into the new kitchen countertop.
Let me tell you about my kitchen: when we moved here in 2008, this house had been a rental for at least 25 years. It has the soul of a rental and I have the soul of a renter, so it has worked out fine for us. When I walked into this house for the first time, I looked around and thought, “meh….” Which is how I knew we were a match. The kitchen was particularly unappealing, which I liked.
You know what I mean: I didn’t like it but I was used to it, which sometimes feels like the same thing. You know this because you have likely dated someone for whom this is true. Neither of my parents ever owned a house while I was growing up, so I was acclimated to holes in the sheetrock, depressing linoleum, washer/dryer combos in the kitchen, dry-rotted window frames, lots of plywood where some other material would have been the superior choice. In all my 42 years, I have never lived a house with a dishwasher or one of those kitchen sink spray nozzles that was functional. Point being, sometimes it’s hard to know whether you’re chasing the ethos or if the ethos ran you down a long time ago.
Anyway, I have an 11-year-old daughter who has recently started asking questions — specifically, why do we live like this? She has friends with microwaves and more than one and a half square feet of counter space in their kitchens. They have toilets that flush with a proper flusher lever rather than a bottle opener shaped like a bicycle attached to a rope that disappears into the hole in the front of the toilet tank. (The other end of the rope is weighted with a ceramic mug that says “Seay’s Plumbing”)
Why does any of us live the way we do? I grew up in a series of houses that had only one thing in common: their flaws were none of my business. And now I live in the same kind of house. I told my daughter this the other day when she asked why we have a large, hazardous metal floor register in the middle of our hallway, patched with a piece of roofing tin.
“This is how our people live,” I said.
She just looked me for a long time with the incredulity of one who has been given too much encouragement about the likelihood that she will one day become President.
So I’ve been asking myself, why DO we live like this? Why does any of us continue living in the way our parents taught us, even if it’s not roundly regarded as the best —or even an adequate — way to be?
Maybe one reason is that it’s comfy, even if it’s not comfortable. Of course I love going to friends’ houses where there is more than one kitchen drawer; I secretly say to myself, would you look at that! But I also think it’s a little ostentatious.
Second thought: I’m not sure I CAN be better, have better, do better. The jankiness of the sheetrock tape in my living room is embedded in my self concept. Would I miss it if it were gone? Probably not. Do I appreciate it being here? Not especially. But do I believe in my heart that another, smoother sheetrock job would make me feel happier? Here is where I go quiet and my gaze wanders up to the righthand corner of the room for a longer time than is comfortable. I really don’t know.
So, this month I decided to do an experiment: I had these guys Mario and Omar come into the kitchen today and install a brand new countertop. There will also be a new sink that doesn’t leak into the cabinetry and a faucet controlled by knobs instead of a metal drinking straw. Next I will purchase a new stove that doesn’t sometimes mysteriously convert into an arc welder while I’m making eggs.
And then I will wait to see if my quality of life improves. I will keep you posted.