I’ve unpacked the tin tubes, plastic posts, and curved tops from the skinny box that has arrived from Walmart. The directions for the shoe rack appear fairly simple: attach this to that, then that to this, and finally, remove scrambled shoes from the floor of my bedroom closet and set them neatly on the gizmo. Alas, my assembly looked like a wacky Lego, rather than the structure promised on the carton’s front.
Ramir to the rescue. In less than five minutes, he unscrewed and repositioned all of the parts until it was a replica of the image. Ramir, along with George, Greg, José, and Roberto, who are members of the maintenance crew in my apartment building, have smoothly taken over the helpmate role once performed by my husband, and several men who lived on my block on Dakin St.
Back then, when Tommy and I were in our three-bedroom house, John topped the team who cared for us. Even before my spouse became ill, when he was able to still mow the grass or shovel the walk, John would beat him to it.
“Honey,” I’d say. “I hear a snow blower outside. Do you think it’s John?”
We’d both go to the window, open the drapes, and wave as we saw our neighbor steering through through white mounds on our front walk on his way to our driveway. While John was the über neighbor, there were other males who came to our aide.
“What ever you need, any time of day,” was what Casey said as the ambulance drivers were bringing Tommy up the stairs from our ride from Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Then, Casey placed a yellow post-in in my hands with his cell phone number.
Joél on Dakin St. asked how he could help after I had hip surgery. “My car needs maintenance,” I told him. “Give me the keys,” he said.
During the 12 days my husband was in hospice, upstairs in the bed with railings on both sides, his long-time buddy, Randy, visited several times a week to rake leaves and de-clutter the downspouts.
After Tommy died and I sold our house and moved to an apartment building, friends who were experienced renters said, “You won’t have to worry about lawns or snow anymore. And if anything needs fixing, you just call maintenance.”
And I did. At first, my requests were basic: replace a dead light bulb, unclog the bathroom sink’s drain, coax a stubborn ice maker. But the new men in my life have far surpassed those everyday appeals. With care and precision, members of the staff have hung all of the two dozen paintings on the walls of my convertible studio.
And it was Ramir who was at the door after this request, “I have a Hoover Upright vacuum cleaner, and I can’t figure out how to put it together.” As I stood nearby, feeling like a dazzled intern watching a surgeon, Ramir studied the carton’s image, and quickly performed the operation. “Let’s test it first,” he said. He plugged in the cord to the wall socket and after the first loud hum, showed me how to steer it. Then, he stood by to be certain I could manage the hefty machine on my own.
“Can I give you something?” I asked him then, and again at the latest shoe rack assembly, for I knew these tasks didn’t really fall under the category of Maintenance. But, this new man in my life waved away my question and was quickly out the door.
When Tommy was well, which was the majority of our 16 years together, he was our family handyman. In the basement of our house he erected a wooden table where he placed all of the tools he had accumulated in his adult life. He mounted a pegboard on the wall that stored nails, screws, hooks, and other tidbits essential to his odd-jobs and carpentry ambitions.
As his health deteriorated, and this aspirations evaporated, I bequeathed the table, tools, and pegboard to good neighbor John. But, I held onto one hammer, one screw driver, and a pair of pliers, believing I’d need them in a future life.