It was like of those games of stichomythic conversations/questions:
Do you have a staple gun big enough for deadboard?
What do you need the deadboard for?
Doesn’t deadboard block out sound?
What sound do you need to block out?
So I ended up telling the head honcho on the Home Depot floor about my neighbor’s anger management problem and the fact that the garage door opener is three decibels too loud for him.
All the time I’m telling him the story, Mr. Calvin (acc. to his name tag) is shaking his head and assembling a repertoire of disapproving looks.
I’m prattling on now about my plans to cut the deadboard to manageable squares so that I can single-handedly staple it in place, when he gives me the once-over and shakes his head pessimistically. You can’t do it, he says, in broad patois.
This is a first for me.
People react the other way when I tell them my home improvement projects. When I told Manny Maintenance Man that I planned to paint the whole apartment by myself, he kind of fell a little bit in love with me. When I told Naim, the other maintenance man that I was going to cut a hole in the wall to make a sort of hatch between living room and kitchen, he looked at me like I was mad, but also a genius. When Alvarez, i.e. he who recycles the recycling, saw me at the dumpster hauling a six-ft long cylinder of what used to be wall-to-wall, he unwittingly let me know that my fame had spread far and wide--I didn’t believe it, he told me, but you are very strong.
So Mr. Calvin at the Home Depot, he really shouldn’t have been shaking his head in disapproval. Or telling me that I couldn’t do it. Let your neighbor live with it, he told me. I’ve changed the garage opener twice this year--so it was briefly tempting to do just that, but there was still the little matter of it being three decibels above the noise code--and I wasn’t feeling passionate enough about my choice of garage door opener to go to jail for my principles.
The minute he heard about the law being breached, Mr. Calvin asks me for my address and home phone number--and I give it to him. Then this Jamaican grandfather of three shows up at my place after work with a friend who‘s even more ancient. They measure the garage, let li’l A work out the sum to how many sheets of insulate we’ll need, drive us to another Home Depot, and tie 12 sheets of 16 by 4 of insulate to the top of an ancient Toyota, drive us back home, and install it. The even-more-ancient friend turns out to be worth his weight in gold because he’s tall enough to drill things into the ceiling without needing a step ladder. And actually, worth his weight in platinum--he cleaned the backseat of the ancient Toyota before we got in--‘cos ai kyan no let de chiles sit in yo rubbish, mon.
About 12 hours earlier, when it had begun to dawn on me that Mr. Calvin’s disapproval was for my neighbor rather than me and that he was on the point of offering his help, I tried to broach the subject of payment. As diplomatically as possible. He wouldn’t hear of it. So at the end of the evening’s labor, I broached the subject of payment again. A lot less diplomatically. He still wouldn’t hear of it. Then i invited him and his friend to dinner--which had turned out to be especially simple: salad, Kaiser rolls, and stew. And they stayed, approved, cleaned their plates. Talked some Cricket, about my twenty thousand house plants, how to make rotis. You sleep peacefully now, one of them says; the other smiles encouragingly.
They’ll be back tomorrow to finish up. At that point I will have to let capitalism crash the pleasant cycle of kindness by somehow imposing a payment. But for now, i’m just this little immigrant that two grandfatherly immigrants have decided to rally round.
It feels awful fine.