Home Alone with the CO Man — a tale of urban courage

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on January 8, 2012 0 Comments

As Diane leaves to pick up her grandsons, she calls upstairs where I am engaged in a daily ritual —staring at a blank page.

“Remember, the carbon monoxide detector guy is coming.

I lean over the upstairs railing. “But all I have to do is let him in. Right?”

“Right.” The door clicks shut and I am home alone. I am in charge and when the carbon monoxide detector guy gets here, I know there will be more to do than just let him in. There always is.

But I don’t care. I get off on risk. I look for situations that get my heart pumping and my adrenalin rushing. I am a danger junkie. Every man who lives with a woman is.

There are everyday occurrences that are fraught with peril. A good example is picking up the grocery list on my way to the gym. You’re thinking what’s dangerous about that? What’s dangerous is that we are a two-market household. I buy at Mollie Stone’s because it’s on my way to the gym. She buys at Safeway because it’s on the way to her daughter’s house.

A two-market household means that when I go to Mollie’s, I hold in my hand a lit fuse, an unpinned grenade, a ticking time bomb. The suspense builds. I won’t know which item is the booby trap until I get to the store.

Here’s the dilemma. She has added one or more brand items to the list that are Safeway specific — brands that Mollie Stone’s supermarket doesn’t carry. This puts me in the position of having to make a substitution call. I can’t just settle for a reasonable facsimile, I need to determine what she would have bought if she were at Mollie’s.

The tricky part of the substitution call is what I refer to as the “features triage.” For example, she wants whole-wheat, reduced-fat Brand X crackers. I am faced with one type that’s whole wheat and another that’s reduced fat but not whole wheat. I have to decide which is more important to her. I’m always sweating when I get out of Mollie’s. My odds of surviving a trip to the supermarket intact are on a par with a infantry second lieutenant’s odds after he says, “Follow me men; we’re going to take this hill.”

The doorbell rings. It’s the carbon monoxide detector guy. The property management company has sent him to install CO detectors. I open the door. A heavyset nice-looking guy introduces himself as Gary. We scout each other. He’s more muscular. I’m taller. He’s wearing a multi-tool belt. I’ve got tools but I am comfortable enough with my masculinity I don’t have to wear them everywhere. I don’t tell him that.

He’s here because California SB183 requires all single-family California homes to be equipped with carbon monoxide detectors. Further “the landlord may enter dwelling unit for the purpose of installing, repairing, testing, and maintaining carbon monoxide devices.” I know that. Gary knows I know that. I let him in.

“Where’s the little lady,” asks Gary in a poorly graded attempt at macho humor.

“She’s out.”

“Going commando, huh?” Gary gives me the look over again. There’s more respect in his eyes this time. “I gotta put one around here.” I spot the tall ficus. He can put it there and the leaves will mostly hide it. “OK,” says Gary. “I’ll just go out to the truck and get my tools.”

Aha! Made it. I looked the lion in the eye and then walked away.

“Oh,” says Gary from downstairs. “What color do you want?”

Dagnabbit! I was so close. I go downstairs. Gary is looking at me with that wanna-call-her-now? look. I make a nonchalant, negatory nod — in for a penny, in for a pound. I can see Gary is impressed.

I went with the off-white. It was similar to the wall color. I might have won big with puce, but I’ve learned the safest route is to minimize the damage — and, in that regard, white is my friend.

Later, I sit on the deck, Scotch in hand, and look at Richardson’s Bay. I wonder if Gary is in the CO Installers Locker Room. “No, I swear. The guy made the color choice on his own without breaking a sweat.”

I’d smoke a Cuban cigar if it were allowed.

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