Staking a claim in Downtown

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September 24, 2002 // UPDATED 1:31 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Julie Landsman
Julie Landsman

The new residents have arrived, with the familiar headaches of new property owners and a few location-specific joys

At any moment, the man from Warner Stellian could call. After a week in our condo, he will tell me if we will have a functioning stovetop.

We have learned more about microwaves than we ever wanted to know; along with what to do to prevent rain from becoming a river on your new wooden floor because the "sweeps" were never put on the bottom of the doors out to the deck. We have learned who to call when water runs down the side of your fireplace because plastic covering over the chimney blew off in a storm. We have learned about struts and brackets, and about how to live without a phone for a week until Maury practically held the man from Qwest hostage while he connected our line.

Contrary to our desire to put off until forever what we should be fixing today, we have learned where the best hardware store is and where to find brackets in Home Depot. We have visited Scherer Brothers lumberyard three times to figure out the wood we will need for the shelves we thought would be waiting for us when we arrived.

This is not exactly what we had planned as we head into our 60th year. I am someone who would rather be curled up with a good book, or baking bread, than assembling a bath rack from Target. I would rather think about words than gardens. And yet, here I am puzzling how to get the lumber up to our unit when it is delivered.

I do love space and light and that is here in abundance. I love new people and laughter; at the first party for those of us who have occupied a condo (seven out of 60), I laughed harder than I have in months. We told tales of eerie nights being the only ones on our whole floor, the way our dogs barked when the air conditioning kicked in, how the doors designed to hide the laundry also made it impossible to open the dryer.

We talked about spending time with the workmen: the man in the red-white-and-blue hard hat who tries to find our screens, the carpenters who attach the doors we need. All day we step over their electric cords, move around their ladders. We corral them into coming in and looking at our problem area above the sink, or near the fireplace. Some are from farms and miss the land. Some are from Mexico, their speech melodic, their English containing new accents and stresses that enliven everyday words. I have gained new respect for these men, and few women, who are here every day at 6:30 a.m. to plane and saw and hoist and weld.

My father was a home craftsman. His workshop smelled of sawdust and oil. I like that this place calls back the part of him that worked with his hands. He might have complained though, about the abandonment of work at noon, the stillness as everyone takes time to schmooze. He would have been unhappy when our building becomes quiet again at 3, the workday over. For years I was in a teacher's union, fighting for more than 20 minutes for lunch, or for the flexibility to leave school for a dentist appointment once in awhile at the end of the day. So lunch hours and exit times seem sane to me: a way to ensure painters, sanders, plumbers or electricians a decent time to eat or a chance to be with their kids after school. Here is where my Dad and I would have argued. Our old disagreements about unions and wages and work and competition would have come to a blaze again between us.

But for now, I see my Dad bent over a sawhorse re-measuring paneling before he cut it for my bedroom when I was a teenager; catch a surprise memory in the smile of the electrician or the quiet assurance of the carpenter measuring oak out at Scherer Brothers.

Yet being first is not easy: the noise outside where bulldozers and cranes assemble decks; the dust in my screenless windows; the lack of mail on Saturdays; the treacherous path to the elevator to take our dog Louis for a walk. I yearn for the time I can light the gas flame and get that book out, or start work on the novel I have in rough draft. One of the workmen said to me yesterday, "Don't worry. By Christmas it will be all cozy in here and you won't even remember these days without the stove."

I know he is right. And I know I will miss him, and the men on their lunch break and, too, the smile like my father's that an older man with a checklist gives me each morning as he walks by, coffee in hand.