I did not set out to alienate my neighbor today. It just worked out that way. And, really, I swear, it was NOT my fault.
It all began innocently enough. I woke to a gorgeous Spring day! I had been awaiting just this type of day for weeks. I had big plans for it! BIG!
I have been longing to attempt a chalk painting project on my Grandmother’s old tables since I “liberated” them from my sister’s basement back when there was still snow on the ground. I just needed some cooperative weather! Today was (finally!) the day.
This morning I dragged them out of the house and onto the driveway (my “workshop”), gathered my supplies, and set to work cleaning the tables. I was really looking forward to what I anticipated would be a peaceful, mind-clearing experience. I had a snap in my step and a song in my heart.
The minute I set to work on my project “Old Joe” came out of his apartment. I should mention that I have lived here for almost four years and have set eyes on “Old Joe” only a handful of times. In fact, I’m not even certain that his name is “Joe”. I’d have to check with Fang, my far more friendly husband, to confirm this. But, I won’t. Because Fang has told me the guy’s name close to one hundred times and ALWAYS admonishes me for being unable to remember it. Who needs that? I’ve already had my “Annoying Encounter of the Day”!
“Old Joe” and Fang have had any number of conversations over the years. Probably involving sports or recycling. Who can pay attention? I, however, have never had more than thirty seconds of dialogue with “Old Joe”. We have a “Hi! How’s it going? Some weather we’re having, huh?” kind of relationship. He seems a bit of a curmudgeon and I’m slightly cranky, so this relationship suits us.
Perhaps owing to the aforementioned fine weather we are FINALLY enjoying here in New Jersey, “Old Joe” decided to venture into the great outdoors today. And, really, who am I to say that he shouldn’t have come outside to partake in the lovely, balmy, cloudless day we are AT LONG LAST presented with? Saying such a thing would be a decidedly unneighborly act. And while I may be crabby, I am not unneighborly. What would have been nice, though, is if “Old Joe” had respected the virtual fence that I have always erected between us. “Old Joe”, though, had other ideas.
I had never suspected that “Old Joe” was a Chatty Cathy. Never. Nor, would I have taken him for an expert on, well, anything. Frankly, he’s always struck me as a bit of a hot mess.
The first thing “Old Joe” did, upon exiting his abode, was inspect the tables I was cleaning. He commented on how beautiful they were. I countered with, “Yes. At one time I’m sure they were quite lovely. Not in my lifetime, though. The leather tops are cracked, the veneer is peeling off. They’re kind of a disaster.”
He began to “take liberties” with the tables — turning them over, stroking the wood, examining their form. The appraisal of my furnishings, coupled with what I considered “inappropriate” noises — there was some lip-smacking and entirely too much groaning for my taste — was beginning to make me slightly uncomfortable.
When he had finished fondling and drooling over MY tables, he asked me what I was planning on doing with them. His powers of observation, which only minutes ago were employed to declare the tables “beautiful”, apparently did not extend to the painting supplies that were resting mere inches from the objects of his desire.
Rather than giving him the first answer that sprang to mind (“Antiques, much like the elderly, enjoy catching a few rays on the driveway!”), I decided to be nice and answer his direct question with an equally direct answer. I told him that I was going to paint them.
“PAINT THEM?!?!”, he exclaimed. “Yes”, I said, “I’m going to paint them.” “With what?”, he inquired shrilly. “Well, initially I thought infant blood and a natural sea sponge, but the former is a little tricky to obtain.”, I replied. I had sensed, correctly it would seem, that he was going to be unhappy with the news that I was planning on painting MY OWN tables.
He made no immediate response. I had a feeling that he was trying to gauge what type of person I was. I’m sure he was trying to process how a nice, mild-mannered man like Fang could possibly be married to the clearly deranged and snarky woman that he was now encountering on the driveway.
“Old Joe”, concluding that I was not nearly as affable as my husband, decided to change his tone. He spent some time trying to convince me that they might just “be worth something”. “You never know”, he said. “Have you ever seen that ‘Antiques Roadshow’ program? Those people find out all the time that the things they thought were junk are actually worth a pretty penny.”
I admitted that I had, indeed, seen “that ‘Antiques Roadshow’ program”. I then went on to tell him that the tables had been my Grandmother’s, that they had been languishing in my sister’s basement for many years, and that my sister had had them appraised not long ago. She had been thinking about having the damaged tops replaced. She was advised by the appraiser that they would only be worth about $100 if they were in PERFECT condition, which, even “Old Joe” had to agree, they were not. The appraiser also explained to my sister that once the original leather was removed — there was no way to restore it — their value would decrease to nothing.
What i did not reveal, but certainly felt, was that while they might just be “junk” on the antiques market, they would never be just junk to me. These tables were, in fact, quite valuable to me. They were the tables where I rested my grilled cheese sandwich and my chocolate milk on that one night a year we were allowed to eat in the living room — the Sunday night that they showed “The Wizard of Oz” on television. These were the tables where sat my unopened Christmas presents — anxiously awaiting for when it would be my turn to rip off the pretty paper and see what Santa had brought to Grandma’s house especially for me! These were the tables that held the ever-present candy dish filled with amber plastic-wrapped butterscotches that were my Grandmother’s favorite. (To this day I cannot smell a butterscotch candy and NOT think of my Grandmother.)
What I did tell him, which was more than he deserved, was that I would like to think that my Grandmother would be in favor of the tables seeing the light of day, of being enjoyed by someone in the family, of being treasured by me. She wouldn’t care if I painted them. She wasn’t that nostalgic a woman when she was alive. I don’t imagine that death had changed that. Though I like to think she’s got an endless supply of butterscotch candy up there.
If I had engaged a virtual stranger in the same conversation AND that virtual stranger had responded, as I had, by wasting time and energy explaining things that were none of my business to begin with, I would have just shrugged my shoulders and moved my judgmental ass along. Instead, “Old Joe” pulled up a chair. And not just any chair — an old lawn chair that looked like it could make an appearance on “that ‘Antiques Roadshow’ program” — all frayed, discolored webbing and rusting aluminum — a lawn chair that I couldn’t help but notice would, itself, be improved by a coat of paint or four.
He set himself and his “circa 1972” lawn chair as close to my “workshop” as he could get. Did he sit there quietly while enjoying the vision of loveliness that I, dressed in my finest ripped sweatpants, torn t-shirt, and old flip-flops, clearly was? No. No, he did not. He stared. And worse, he “tsk’d” with every paint-filled swipe the paintbrush took. TSK’D!
Perhaps he thought he was going to “shame” me into stopping? That thinking proved short-lived. About ten minutes into the “tsking”, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “You know, something? They say this chalk paint adheres to anything. Especially antiques. I’d say that you and your lawn chair fall into that category. I’m really enjoying painting with it. If I were you, I’d look out. I don’t know if I’d trust me if I were you. Nope. I wouldn’t trust me at all!”
Before I could re-dip my brush, “Old Joe” disappeared. I guess he wasn’t taking any chances with the nice man’s crazy wife.