Read The Suburban You Online

Authors: Mark Falanga

The Suburban You (3 page)

At Eton Paint, your task is to pick up the paint that your wife has selected for the ceiling. She gives you a Post-it note with the following information:

Eton Paint

HC 79

Greenbrier Beige

Kitchen & Bath


Across the note your wife has written “33.94,” which you assume is the price that Eton Paint has told her they will charge. You go to the Eton Paint store where you have purchased all of the paint that you buy for your home and all of the buildings that you own. The Eton Paint store that you go to is in Southington, the suburb to your immediate south; you must have purchased more than fifty gallons of paint there over the past year.

You show the note that your wife has written for you to the Eton paint expert behind the counter and he looks it over. He is OK until he gets to the word “satin.” He tells you that HC 79 is a Benjamin Moore paint and that Benjamin Moore satin is an oil-based paint, and unless you are painting an existing coat of oil paint it is the wrong paint. You need a pearl finish, he says, if you want latex paint. “Do you know if you need oil or latex?” he asks.

Because you painted the bathroom yourself the last time it was painted you know for a fact that it is latex. That time, the job took you forty-five minutes to complete, including the ten minutes it took you to find the paint roller, and cost you a total of $43.27. In your life, you have never painted or specified that anything requiring painting be painted in anything other than latex. You and he are puzzled, trying to figure out why your wife has written “satin” on the Post-it note. The other thing that puzzles you and him is the number 33.94. It does not have a dollar sign in front of it, but you and he assume it to be the price of a gallon of paint. However, he does not have any paint in his entire inventory that matches that price. He tells you that your wife must have made a mistake when she wrote that down. You doubt that—not your wife, the list-maker.

At that point, you ask him if you can use the store's phone, because you left your cell phone in the car. You call your wife to try to bring clarity to this issue and you let the phone ring at least twenty times. You have call-waiting and caller ID on your home phone and an answering machine that kicks in after four rings. What is going on, you conclude, is that your wife has prioritized whomever she is talking with over you. She knows that you are at Eton Paint picking up the paint, but she will not answer your call. You know that the caller ID says “Eton Paint” when you call, and you know that she has looked at the caller ID while on the phone, like she does each and every time you see her talking on the phone with someone when another call comes in. You also know that each of the twenty times or so that you let the phone ring the phone on her end makes an annoying clicking sound, designed to remind her that someone, in this case her husband, is trying to reach her from Eton Paint.

You expect a call back to the store, so you tell the paint expert, with confidence, that you are sure your wife will call back. You wait, but she does not. You call again five minutes later and the same thing happens: again, you let the phone ring at least twenty times, but the call that your wife is on, you guess, is too important to interrupt for you.

The paint expert looks at you for direction as to what to do. You make the decision to move ahead. The paint that you are purchasing is $36.95, yet your wife has “33.94” written on the paper. You convince the paint expert to sell the paint to you for the price that your wife wrote down.

You arrive home with the bags of groceries and you put everything away, trying to pitch in and help as much as possible while your wife is ill. You put the can of paint on the kitchen counter and twenty minutes later Eton Paint calls, a call that your wife answers immediately after looking at the caller ID, which reads “Eton Paint.” While asking you why Eton Paint is calling, but before you respond, she answers the phone after two rings and says, “My husband was just there. He has the paint and it is here.” She hangs up and she is upset. She cannot believe how badly you screwed up. “Where did you go to pick up the paint?” she asks. You tell her that you went to Eton Paint, the one that you always go to, in Southington. “I ordered the paint at the Eton Paint in
, not Southington,” she tells you, a store that you did not know even exists.

“The Northington store custom-mixed the paint that you were supposed to pick up,” she tells you. “Now we will have to pay $34 for paint that we don't need.” She cannot fathom having to pay $34 for an extra gallon of paint on this ceiling paint job, which has already cost $1,105 and will likely cost more than $1,600 when it is done.

You think that you could probably talk the Northington Eton Paint store out of having to pay the $34, and if you can't you understand that that $34 represents about 2 percent of the money that you have so far invested in this project and, by the time the project is done, will represent little more than 1 percent. The worst-case scenario is that you have an extra $34 gallon of paint in the house, even if it is a custom color. You have absorbed larger-scale losses than this, that you know for a fact.

You call the Northington Eton Paint guy back and tell him that you went to the Southington store by mistake because you did not know there was a store in Northington. He tells you that there is no problem. “Don't worry about it,” he says. “Happens all the time.”

For some reason that you do not wish to explore, your wife is still upset with you, like you went out and intentionally bought her the incorrect paint at the wrong store and inconsiderately ignored her wishes, just to mess with her. Your wife then looks at the paint that you brought home and it says “Pearl Finish.” You explain to her what the Eton Paint expert told you, that satin is oil-based and that it is incompatible with the preexisting latex that is on the ceiling now. You sound authoritative. She is not convinced by your explanation, and now she is upset that you have the right color but a finish that is pearl instead of satin.

She is mad at you again, and this time she is really mad. She is upset because the painter is coming in just seventeen hours, and that she will not have the correct materials for him to work with. Horror stories of buying an extra gallon of paint resurface in your wife's mind.

You call over to the Eton Paint Northington store to tell him about the paint that you were given by the expert in the Southington store. He describes to you that there is an antimold formula in the paint that you should have, but it is not in the pearl-finish paint that you have in your possession. You ask if you can switch out the pearl paint you have for the satin gallon that he mixed. He says, “Yes, no problem.” You drive over to the store and get the perfect paint, the paint that should restore your wife's happiness.

With the paint issue resolved, your wife is now ready to move on to the next thing that is upsetting her, the Post Grape-Nuts that you brought home, which are not the Kellogg's Crunchy Nuggets that she specified. You hope that your wife feels better really soon.

Pay Your Bills

Now you decide to paint the exterior of your house and you go out and get a few quotes to make sure you are getting the best possible price available. You find two painters through a free weekly city newspaper in which you believe you will find the names of painters who have not done much work in the suburbs and who have not yet figured out what most of the painters who paint houses in your suburbs have figured out: that they can add a massive upcharge for doing work for people who have the capacity to pay for it.

To confirm your theory about this, you get quotes from two suburban painters whom you find in the phone book. Their quotes are three and five times the quotes of the highest city painter, and five and seven times the lowest city painter.

You hire the city guy with the lowest quote, because you think that painting is painting and that you can get your house painted seven times over for the amount of money that the most expensive suburban painter wants to paint it once.

The painter shows up Monday with his crew and he begins to paint your house.

On Saturday, as he is finishing his work, you are talking with him about the job he has done. You compliment him. He has done a fine job and you are feeling smart for hiring him. As you are talking with him, he slips in a story that is unrelated to anything that you have ever talked about with him. He tells you that he was painting a house, located at 6830 West Center Street, in the city, and that he did not get paid for the job. After the job was completed, he called, stopped by a few times, and even wrote a letter to the homeowner to get his final payment. It never came.

One Tuesday, after a month of this, the painter goes to a place called “the Pool,” in the city, where temporary laborers stand early in the morning to be hired by the day by contractors and others looking for temporary help. It is an informal labor pool and it works for everyone.

Your painter rounds up three of the strongest-looking guys standing there and gives them each a crisp $100 bill. He tells them that he has a rush garage-demolition project and that by 4
. the freshly painted two-car frame garage located behind 6830 West Center Street must be leveled to the ground. “Just throw all the debris in the backyard,” the painter directs, “and you can have anything that was left inside.” These are his parting comments to the three strong men that he hired.

That Saturday, before your painter has completed the paint job on your house, you cut him his final payment and then some.

Get New Towels for Your House

You are a guy who likes a quick shower. Like eating, showering is something that, for you, is a task to be completed as quickly as possible. It is not a recreational activity to be enjoyed. To you, the process of showering takes time away from doing the things that you enjoy doing, like hanging out with your family and looking at buildings to buy.

You want to take your shower, get out of the shower, dry off, shave, put on some deodorant, get dressed, and go. You are in control of this process and you have it down to five minutes—that is, until your wife buys new towels for the master bathroom.

Your favorite towels are the ones that you “inadvertently” brought home from the gym on a few occasions. They are small, they are plain white, and they dry you faster and better than anything else that you would call a towel in your home.

Finding these small, plain white towels that you like so much is oftentimes a struggle, as your wife does not like the way they look. To her, they look like what they are—gym towels. They do not fit in with your master-bath décor, she would say. “Out of sight, out of mind” is her philosophy when it comes to the towels that you like because they dry you so well. Her solution to what she perceives as your towel problem is to go out and buy new towels, ones that will, as she sees it, be visually compatible with the aesthetic theme of the master bathroom, whatever that is.

In the nineteen years that you have known your wife, she has had this knack for buying new towels that do not dry you. It is not as though she buys new towels frequently, but every time she does she buys ones that fail to dry. When she buys the towels, she does not think to inquire as to how the towels will dry you, nor does she look to see what material the towels are made of. Rather, her focus is purely on the visual attributes of the towels. “Will the herringbone pattern of the towel complement the texture and color of the new epoxy tile grout?” you imagine her to be asking herself as she is deciding between one nondrying towel pattern and another. You hope these new towels are not the spark of inspiration that will lead her to make a $1,600-plus bathroom-ceiling color change in

One morning after your shower, you notice the new towels, the ones with the herringbone pattern. You reach for one unexcitedly, because you have been the victim of your wife's new towels before. You slide the towel over your body and you are still damp, no matter how much you rub either side of the towel over yourself.

You open up the sink-base cabinet to find your gym towels, the ones that you know will dry you, but they have been moved to a location that you know you will never guess. You have no option other than to do your best with the new towel.

After spending twice as long to dry off as you usually do, you complete your shave and rely on your suit pants and starched white shirt to complete the drying process. You try to brush off the new towel fuzz that has affixed itself to your face, but it does not want to let go. You will work on that on the train ride in.

The next morning, you take your shower downstairs because your shower has just been regrouted and is drying. You know that the basement bathroom towels dry you reliably, and for this the hassle of walking downstairs to take a shower is worthwhile. You take your shower and reach for a towel, only to realize it is a towel that you have never seen before. Your wife, in addition to upgrading the upstairs towels, has changed the basement towels as well.

Tomorrow you look forward to taking your shower at the gym.

Have Your Relatives Visit

Your parents are in their mid-seventies and they live in a suburb of San Francisco. They moved there from a suburb of New York. They are retired and have a pretty good life. Your father, a retired Wall Street banker, has had some minor complications with his health, like a stroke, five-way bypass surgery, getting hit by a car and breaking his leg, and a few other things that you are unable to remember. He has pulled through all of this miraculously well and, besides getting a little confused every once in a while, he is pretty much like he was. Your mother is a saint in dealing with your father's ailments. She has flow, and you believe that it is from her that you have acquired your flow and your ability to laugh at everyday things.

Your parents enjoy visiting you and your family, and are excited to see your new eighty-three-year-old suburban home for the first time, now that the kids' bathroom ceiling is the right color and the herringbone-patterned master-bath towels match the $705 epoxy grout. They even come in the winter, which surprises you because they have quickly gotten acclimated to that California weather, where they define anything below fifty degrees as cold. Like many Californians, they enjoy talking about the weather to you in the winter, when they know that it is five degrees below zero where you live and seventy degrees where they live. They are in a competition that you will lose every time.

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