Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Chilly Reception


Noam has many times benefited from my household skills and handy work, which can be impressive to people who don't try to fix anything on their own - like Noam.

So when Laura and I visited him on the Cape in early June to help him open up his family's summer home for the season, the three of us were surprised by Noam's new-found problem-solving skills.

This is an excerpt from an essay (another work in progress) called "Cape Crusaders" -- 

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          ... Our plan was to put the items we had bought for Noam's summer home in place and then run down the path to check out the infamous pond that I had heard about since back when Noam and Carol were enjoying their very first grandchildren.  Noam wasn't due to show up for an hour or two.
            I opened the refrigerator to put away the food. It was warm.  I looked at the dial just inside the door - it was set to “D” – I figured that meant “Defrost” so I moved it to a number – I chose 3 to start, then 2, then 1.  Nothing happened.  Laura was on the deck admiring the view, the smells, the sounds of the Cape that were so dear to her.  As a child growing up in California, she made some of her happiest memories visiting her grandparents in Harwich every summer; she particularly loved rowing their small boat on the bay, where the river met the ocean. I was reluctant to pull her away, but at the moment practicality trumped sentimentality, so I called out to her.
        “I need help moving the fridge.  I want to see if it’s plugged in.”  Laura turned slowly from the deck railing, and her face had a soft look on it; like she had come home, but there was also a hint of sadness. I made a mental note to talk with her about it later. Back in the kitchen, we moved the brooms, folded grocery bags and other items from either side of the fridge and nudged it forward, rocking and pulling, careful not to hurt our backs or to send the batteries, paper towels and paper plates perched on top flying.  We pulled it out far enough to look behind and see that the plug, beneath a fuzzy layer of dust, was where it was supposed to be - in the socket.  So that wasn’t it.
       “I’d better call Noam. He may know where the fuse box is.  They probably flip it off in the summer,” I told Laura after scouring the house, inside and out, looking for it.  I take pride in my home repair skills, and often help Noam out with small things at his home.  Truth be told, the things I fix for him are often not broken in the first place.  Like the time his garage door was ‘broken’ and I figured out that the lock button was depressed on the mechanism near the inside door to his house.  I unlocked it, and it worked again, and now Noam likes to talk about the time I miraculously fixed his garage door, which he hadn't been able to open for weeks that winter.
            With Roxy at my heels, I crossed the small dining area, walked through the large sliding door to the side deck, and started down the wide wood stairway to my car to get my cell phone.  Someone was pulling up in a sand-colored sedan, and I figured it must be David Rowell, Noam's next door neighbor and handyman, who told me earlier that he might pop over.  I approached the car with my friendliest face, wiping at the sweat, and saw that it was Noam.  He was early. His hair was cut short in preparation for his three-day Scotland trip, and he was wearing large black sunglasses of the sort people wear after cataract surgery.  Although I had accompanied him to and from the hospital for his second surgery, I had never seen him wearing the plastic glasses.       
          I gave Noam a welcoming wave, and he got out of the car beaming at us, looking relaxed in his well-worn sandals, beige shorts, and a t-shirt, an outfit I imagine had become his regular Cape attire through almost forty years of summers, rather than the blue Oxford button-down shirts, jeans, and black sneakers he always wore at the office.  I felt fortunate to experience an intimate part of Noam’s life that I had previously witnessed only through stories and photos.
            “I’m glad you’re here,” I said, giving him a quick, firm hug.  “I was just coming out to get my cell phone to call you.” I really was happy to see him, but I have to admit that I was also disappointed at not being able to surprise him, and I was kicking myself for not running down to the pond when we first got there, because now it would have to wait.
             “And I was just wondering where my cell phone was so I could call and let you know I was here!” he said, looking pleased at this small, sweet coincidence which in my mind confirmed our growing bond.
            “I see you’ve brought the cat!  She looks hot, poor thing.”  He was referring to Roxy, who was panting in the heat. She had plenty to drink, but the air quality was poor and the temperature was nearing 95. Laura and I would have panted if we could.
          “So, Noam, I was going to ask you how to turn on the refrigerator.  It seems to be off,” I said before I could stop myself, wishing I had given him time to fully arrive before handing him a problem.
            “Oh, it’s off?” he asked.  “I thought David was going to turn everything on.  I hope it’s not broken.”  When faced with a mechanical or technical problem, Noam always assumes the worst.  Noam and Laura exchanged hugs and together we climbed the stairway to the roomy wrap-around deck, sliding open the heavy glass door to the main level of the cottage, walking in single file the few yards to the small kitchen area to figure out what was wrong with the refrigerator. 
            Noam made his Norman Thayer impersonation, squinting his eyes at the inside of the fridge, touching a dial inside the door.  “I saw that it was set on ‘D,’ I assume for defrost, so I moved it to number three,” I said, so that he would know I had been thinking this through.  “Laura and I pulled it out from the wall, and it is plugged in,” I added, trying to convey my thoroughness.  “We can go and get some ice and fill the small cooler,” I began, as Noam’s head disappeared farther inside the fridge, near the left hinge. 
            “What’s this On button?” he called out, pushing it, and causing the refrigerator to shake, hum and whirr in response.
            Noam’s head emerged and lifted in disbelief and joy as he turned to me and pumped his fist in the air like an Olympian who had just scored a perfect ten.  “I did something that you couldn’t do!  I fixed something you couldn’t fix!” Lewis Carroll might have said Noam was chortling in his joy.
            “What?! There was an On button?” I yelled?  “I would have found it!  I would have figured it out if I had another minute!  I would have looked there!  I was distracted by the defrost button!”  Now I was beginning to sound like a Dr. Seuss poem - Not fair – it was where?  I did not find the button there!
            He was gloating. “Are you going to write about how I showed you how to operate the refrigerator?  You’d better write about how I showed you for once how to do something technical,” he said.  I wanted to  stand there and pout, but I needed some air -- it was getting hotter in the kitchen than it was outside. 

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