Sunday, July 22, 2012

Waiting for Stephanie

The subject of anyone's sleeping arrangements is a delicate one, but we couldn't help but wonder about Felix's. He and his family--wife and their healthy three-year-old girl and nine-month-old boy--live in a one-room house with no indoor bathroom facilities.

Moreover, the entire family slept on one double-size bed. Never mind how can anyone sleep in such tight quarters, but how does a 20-something couple, you know, play Parcheesi, sip tea and do other things healthy young married couples are wont to do?

It's not as if they can tell the kids to watch TV for an hour or two in the family room or get some fresh air in the veranda.

I didn't explicitly bring up such matters or any other indiscretions but instead offered to help Félix build a separate bed for Alondrita, his increasingly independent-minded daughter. We agreed on a daybed that could double as a place to sit during the day, since they don't have any sofas or armchairs either.


To sweeten the deal I said we'd buy the mattress if he would pay for the lumber. Deal closed, though we ended up paying about seventy of the one-hundred dollars the project ultimately cost. 

I pulled up a dozen designs from the internet, which we kept winnowing down on the grounds that I didn't know much about carpentry and Félix knew even less.

The more complicated and ambitious the piece became, I explained, the more inept and ridiculous it was bound to look.

Think of that junior high shop class, the one in which you got a "D" because you could string three two-by-fours together. That's what I feared.

So we trimmed and trimmed the rough blueprint, erasing features such as armrests and anything with curves on it. After grinding down at least one pencil's eraser, we finally came up with what I thought was a simple yet elegant design, a late masterpiece of minimalist furniture ideally suited to our comparably minimal carpentry skills.

It was then that Félix brought up the matter of Stephanie, his sister-in-law.

The piece had to be substantial enough, he warned ominously, to support Stephanie should she come to visit and plop herself on the daybed for a nap or a long session of gossiping.

Félix's wife Isela is a slip of a woman, shorter than him, probably about five-foot-three, and quite thin.

I mentioned that Mexicans are rather short--chaparritos--and Isela couldn't weigh more than a hundred pounds. How big could Stephanie be?

"Big," Félix said worriedly, putting one hand about a foot over his head and then both hands about a foot on each side of his waist.

"Hmm, that's pretty big," I said.

Some of the woodworking plans I downloaded warned that the most common mistake of amateur carpenters is to overbuild everything and waste lumber in the process.

That's pretty much what happened. Between our limited carpentry skills--and the specter of the day bed collapsing under the heft of his sister-in-law--I estimate we put in about twice as much lumber as needed.

The final product was a small jungle consisting of six four-by-four-inch uprights as legs and to hold the back section; meters and meters of two-by-three's; and an even larger collection of one-by-three's to hold up the critical section under the mattress.

To that we added pounds of screws going in every direction and most of a container of wood glue. One old horse somewhere must have given his life to make all the glue that went into this project.

The daybed turned out to be rather graceful, considering our skill level and the fact it weighs nearly as much as an upright piano. Félix sanded the hell out of every piece of wood, in the process creating a sawdust blizzard in the garage, applied a redwood stain and then two coats of polyurethane.

Stew then gave Félix two pillows with covers that we didn't use, and a set of sheets that are queen-size, but what the hell. Not bad at all.

Up to the last minute, though, Félix kept fretting about whether we should add angle brackets or triangular wood reinforcements in all the critical corners, or perhaps another round of nails and two-and-a-half-inch screws, just for good measure.

We finally agreed on a contingency plan. If Stephanie visits, he'd have her sit on the daybed but keep eyes and ears open for any signs or sounds of wood in distress. At the sound of any ominous creaks, he would offer to show her the flowers outside--while someone goes to get a sturdy chair for when she returns.

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5 comments:

  1. Once again, sir, a well-written tale. You made my afternoon.

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  2. Touching and well-written. It is amazing sometimes how much change in lives something so simple can be. Kudos at all levels.

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  3. Overbuilding is not a sin. I built a deck in 2001 that code said I could span with one 2"x12"x16', a pillar on each corner. I added two pillars in between just because it was mine and I could. Well the outside pillar rotted off in 5 years, not what its specs said it would do but it did. Instead of the whole corner going south, I found the problem while touching up the deck stain. The new corner pillar was a simple repair instead of a wrecked deck. I overbuild everything.

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  4. Excellent piece, I enjoyed reading it. Now I would like to find out if Stephanie came over and sat on it and what happened.

    Leo

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  5. Leo: I just heard yesterday that Stephanie did show up, liked the day bed, sat on it--and everything was fine!

    al

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