Over the weekend, I fired up my 1966 Simca 1500, with 375,000 miles on it. First we filled the old car with about 300 of my heaviest books and everything my wife could stuff into every corner of the vehicle. There wasn't even room for the blankets we usually drape over ourselves, since the colder the weather, the more balky the car's unreliable heating system.
There was a ton of traffic leaving the city. The new road-maintenance regimen requires three lanes to be shut down if road crews are working on one. One lane is the lane they're supposedly working on. One lane is a safety buffer. And one lane is so the road maintenance crews can park their expensive German SUVs. I'd hate to think that they, like everyone else, have to walk to their job site.
By the time we escaped the crush of New York urban traffic, the Simca's three-liter BMW straight six installed by Lothar my Croatian mechanic in Toms River and reputedly the best Simca-man, in the free world was spinning like a gambler's lucky dreidel, and I was regularly hitting 85 on the straights of the winding Merritt Parkway, surely one of the world's most scenic highways through one of the world's least scenic onslaughts of suburbia.
One thing I've noticed during the three or five years I've traveled up to Connecticut from Manhattan is that an inordinate number of roads are called North Avenue. I don't know what it is, but I think I've counted eight or ten in the 110 miles to our country place. I suppose everyone wants to be north of the city, presumably where the air is cleaner and the rats are hardier.
Speaking of our country place, our ramshackle little cottage on the sea is ramshackle no longer. After four months of construction that took twelve months and x dollars that cost xx dollars, the house is about 99.7-percent new and 99.7-percent less creaky and leaning to one side than ever before.
The house is one-hundred years old, and for the first time in probably eighty years or longer, there's a right-angle or two on the premises and floors you could play a game of marbles on without the marbles all rolling off to one side. In our benighted age, this counts as progress. Paying for it all does too.
Rafael, our towering 6'8" contractor was in the house to greet us when we arrived, with a beautiful bouquet of fall flowers, the type a society matron would have in the foyer near her private elevator.
My wife remarked how nice that was, the flowers especially. To which I replied with my typical austere stoicism, for xxx,xxx dollars, he should have also dropped off a fan-dancer or two, something for the man of the house who had to sweat to afford the whole megillah based on his ability to write in eight word spurts thing that make people think, laugh and act.
Also, if you're thinking of rebuilding or renovating a house, it makes sense to not hire someone 6'8", no matter how highly he comes recommended. If the project ever devolves into a shoving match, you're sure to end up with a bruised keister. As Preston Sturges' J.D. Hackensacker, III, (Rudy Vallee) said to Geri (Claudette Colbert) in "Palm Beach Story," "that's one of the tragedies of this life, that the men who are most in need of a beating up are always enormous." Same with contractors.
But onto the counterpoint and the advertising point of today's post.
When we entered the house we were in my wife's gleaming new kitchen. I'd imagine she feels the same way in that kitchen that a tech titan feels when he enters his new 352-foot yacht, the kind they have to raise bridges to accommodate. My wife's pride was a palpable as a teenager losing her virginity.
Rafael showed us an eight foot stretch of Carrera marble that Michelangelo would have coveted. "Thisa woulda makea gooda Davido," he might have said. It shined like Harry Winston under old-fashioned flash photography apparatus. Then he walked closer to the six-burner stove that consumes as much gas as a Saturn V rocket. "Look how I hid the seam," Rafael glowed.
His craftsmanship really was a sight to behold. The unseamed countertop was flatter and seemingly longer than the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Magnificent in all this is something too many of us in our dying business for too long have completely forgotten. A simple word:
Pride in doing it right. Even if no one notices.
Taking the time to "hide the seams."
Here's a bit by Saul Bass that sums up everything I've been writing about for the last 92 years.
Don't blame the machines who can't. Don't blame the people who run the machines. Blame the titans who rule the world who don't care, don't know, and amass all the money.