The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Saturday, March 29, 1986

It's the simple jobs that kill you.  On a day when I already have two other jobs lined up, I agree to pick up a stove that a man named Jethro bought at a garage sale.  He doesn't have a truck.  He just wants me to bring the stove to his house.  Half hour, tops.

First I go to the Atherton home of Red, the psychiatrist, and arrive just as Red and his extremely pregnant wife are headed out the door to the hospital.  She has trouble stepping up to the minivan, so the two of us, Red and I, sort of hoist her into the car while Red makes silly jokes about maneuvering her gigantic belly through the doorway saying now it's almost as big as his butt.  Red can make jokes that most people couldn't get away with.  It's his goofy manner.  He suggests that she wear two seat belts.  Maybe three.  She says that the next time he has a sympathetic pregnancy, he should do it on the right part of his anatomy.  The jokes do the job.  She's laughing, clutching her belly, streaming tears.  Anyway, now I'm part of their birth story.

They hired me, they said, as part of their nesting.  They have a great house that looks like an old run-down English country estate with overgrown gardens, neglected outbuildings and a forgotten swimming pool.  I start hanging a light fixture, then have to leave because it's the appointed hour to fetch Jethro's stove.

The stove is in the Crescent Park area of Palo Alto.  It's bigger - and far heavier - than I expected, one of those models with a vent hood and eye-level microwave hanging over the cooktop, all combined into one unit.  I brought a dolly.  The seller helps me move it to my pickup truck, where we tilt it back into the bed.  It's so tall, it doesn't fit unless I leave the tailgate open.  No worries.  It's so massive, it's not like it's going to fall out or anything.

The seller then informs me that Jethro also purchased a dining table.  Would I mind if we tied it onto the lumber rack?  As a precaution - and I pride myself as a cautious guy - I lay towels over the bars of the rack, then tie the table top to the towels and rack, leaving the legs sticking straight up like a dead moose.

Driving up Channing Street through Palo Alto, as I accelerate with a green light I hear a CRASH.  Looking through the rear window, I see the stove lying in the middle of the intersection blocking all traffic.

My nerves are shot for the day.  Jethro just paid $400 for this stove with the microwave top, and I let it crash onto the street.  Fortunately the stove had been loaded on its back, and that's how it landed after sliding out: on its back.  Any scratches wouldn't show.  But is it damaged?  Are Tappan stoves - including microwave - designed to survive a 16 inch drop onto concrete?

A jogger, passing by, helps me load the stove into the truck bed.  This time, I secure it with bungee cords.

Jethro lives on San Mateo Drive in Menlo Park, deep Sunset Magazine territory.  I put the truck in reverse and start backing into the garage.  Jethro's wife yells - “NO!  STOP!” just in time.  I'd forgotten about the dead moose on top.  Whew.  Dodged a bullet.  Nerves no better for it.

In the kitchen Jethro asks me to remove the old stove.  It's gas.  I've pretty well established by now that I'm no moving man.  I am, however, a plumber.  I disconnect and plug the gas line which involves shutting off the gas main, then relighting the water heater pilot.

There is, indeed, a 220 volt outlet in the wall but it's a dryer outlet.  He needs a 50 amp breaker and heavier wires.  Fortunately for Jethro, I'm also an electrician.

Three hours later, I plug the Tappan into the wall.  It works!  Nothing broke!  Dodged the other bullet and never told Jethro what happened.  It's been a long and complicated delivery.

Now it's 6 p.m. and I haven't finished Red's job - and never mind the other job I'd scheduled.  Back at Red's genteel though shabby estate I finish installing the fixture and repair some outdoor lighting.  It's my last chance before they come home with the new baby.

Before leaving, I wash the dishes that were piled in the kitchen sink, sweep the front entry and shake out the doormat.  Maybe the bedrooms need tidying upstairs.  Nope, better not.  It would be intrusive to go up there.  When my first child was born, the neighbors cleaned our house and tied ribbons and welcome signs inside.  I've always wanted to pay that back.

It's dark outside.  The porch light makes a welcome glow.  Ivy climbs the front posts, dark leaves rustling in the warm wind.

My nerves have settled.  Each day I hope to leave the world a little better than I found it.  Today, I almost made it worse.  Meanwhile the planet by now should have one new member, welcomed with love by a man with a big butt.  A man who can laugh about it.

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