Wednesday, June 6, 1979
We're building a house. We need a kitchen door. At a garage sale we find a lovely one with beveled glass. Clear fir, blessedly unvarnished. The wood glows with a rich patina of hand-rubbed oil, nicely aged.
The seller wants $50. In 1979, that's a lot of money for a garage sale door, even an antique such as this one. Possibly I could haggle - as I often do - but somehow dickering seems disrespectful for such a nice old door. Which is weird, but it's how I feel.
Driving away, I start berating myself. Why didn't I at least make an offer?
We've already spent our small savings throwing up the shell of the house. Now we're finishing it with salvage, recycled wood, and the occasional yard sale bargain. Fifty dollars seems like a fortune.
I tell my wife, "Whoever built that door had the good sense to choose just the right touch of elegance and restraint. The molding around the window - did you notice? It's beautifully crafted and yet it's simple. It respects the wood. It's exactly how I'd do it myself."
"So go back and buy it," she says.
"It'll be gone. People were all over those doors. Did you notice on one corner of the glass somebody put a little flower decal? It seems so right."
"So go back and see."
But I don't go back.
It haunts me. The one that got away. I hate it that I have to be so cheap.
Three days later, working into the evening, I install a sink for one of my favorite clients, a jolly man in East Palo Alto. It's a high-end Kohler sink for his shabby little kitchen. I ask if he's ready to upgrade the rest of the room. "One step at a time," he says. "Unfortunately, I have champagne taste on a beer budget."
So have I. With the $85 he just paid me in cash, I return to the bungalow where the door was for sale. It's 9 p.m. The guy answers my knock wearing pajamas. He looks annoyed. "Who are you? I was just going to bed."
"You had a door for sale last Saturday. With beveled glass. By any chance do you still have it?"
"I had some low offers, but I just couldn't sell something so nice to somebody who was trying to beat down the price. It just wouldn't be right."
Sometimes it's not only what you buy. It's how you buy it.
For 32 years that wonderful door has been my kitchen entry, a portal for 3 children and 6 dogs who have slammed and scratched and chewed. One dog in particular has chewed it to smithereens.
Raising a family can wear out a door. The flower decal is still there. So is the karma.
One day soon, I'll take that door off its hinges and rebuild the molding. I'll sand and restore the finish. I owe it that.