April 27, 2020

It was worse than it looks

It arrived in the middle of southern California’s first heat wave of the season. The directions to assemble read like an IKEA divorce decree. Ever the optimist, even Carol was doubtful. “I don’t think we can do this,” she said, as she surveyed the posts, arches, cross structures, staves, supports and enough hardware to start our own Ace is the place.

The driving force to undertake the project

For reasons I’ll never grasp, I told Carol we should give it a shot. “We’ll go as far as we can, and then farm out the rest.” Where this can do spirit and work ethic came from remains a mystery. Why Carol bought into that can do spirit and work ethic in spite of two years of direct experience to the contrary is a question for the ages.

It is called a pergola, but it just as accurately could have been called the Acropolis for all the construction and ingenuity (all Carol’s) it was going to take to get this quarantine project fully operational. Acquiring it was prompted by a neighbor’s encroachment right up to the boundary of our private patio space with a flower garden that threatened to need watering and weeding smack in the middle of happy hour. The pergola was Carol’s aesthetically polite solution to her otherwise cynical judgment of the plantings and cardboard as something out of the Langmore estate in Ozark.

The youtube video on the pergola’s assembly recommended from 20 to 50 Macedonian slaves be employed. As we watched, I felt Carol’s increasingly wary gaze heavy upon me. By the end of the video, I believe she was convinced getting coronavirus would be a blessing in disguise, compared to this undertaking.

The directions to assemble read like an IKEA divorce decree.

Few would have thought…

The biggest problems were with the lengths and heights called for in assembly that were frankly beyond the capabilities of two people with a combined age of 140. Items had to be laid on their sides, balanced on tables and propped at angles that would have had Euclid scratching his head. The video suggested 90 minutes to complete. We started at 9:30 a.m. and knocked off at 6:30 p.m., with only the basic outer frame assembled. There was still enough work to do to fill another day, and as we observed, would need to be completed at heights that exceeded the limits of our kitchen step stools. But we were in too deep to back off now, and having come very close to somehow hopelessly entangling one of those step stools irretrievably into the pergola’s framework, we concluded the worst mistakes were behind us.

….Yet Carol persevered

It was as I prepared for bed that night that I became convinced the pergola’s orientation was off by 90 degrees, and that the screen would cover our view of the chimenea and leave the Ozark botanical exhibit fully in view. I was also convinced there wasn’t enough space to rotate the structure into its proper alignment with the Clampett’s victory garden. I lay awake fearing partial or complete disassembly and starting over from scratch. The other mistake I made was not sharing my fears with Carol, who’d known all along the structure was oriented correctly. She slept peacefully and I fitfully as a result.

I did see her complexion pale when I recounted my night sweats to her, but then Carol realized who she was talking to, and knew there was no way I could be right – my struggles with spatial orientation being well established.

We needed a step ladder to complete the job the following morning, with me being tempted just once to chug bleach. There were several chokepoints along the way, but each time Carol’s Yonkers Ingenuity noodled it out and the problem was solved. God only knows what my proposed “solutions” would have produced. Something out of a Three Stooges episode, no doubt.

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