I thought it was a good idea at the time. Silly me. A pumpkin carving party on a Tuesday around 6:00 when people drift in from day jobs. I run Paul around in the early afternoon to select four sizable pumpkins purchased at Gina’s landscaping store, also smaller pumpkins, some colored twisted gourds, and several pots of kale. I clear part of the deck that can be viewed from my window and stack the leftover summer tools and candle holders with other storage. I disturb as little of Candish and Jack’s arrangement as possible. My intent is to create a Halloween display I can enjoy when I look out during the morning coffee hour.
Dan calls. He has moved from Colorado Springs to Silt and works packaging elk meat. Elk meat? The work pays twenty dollars an hour, though. The winter tourist season starts in November, so he’s spending the transition time hiking and white water rafting. He emails photos of himself holding garter snakes and black snakes.
I tell him I used his photos of the Chicago Bean for an in-class demonstration. He is pleased and cooes over the phone. The students seem to care, or are they just waiting out the class for their b and then released to study something they like? I confess that I cannot tell because freshmen are so unformed.
I post a notice about the pumpkin carving party, but it’s too cryptic. Paul writes a longer version on the message board about bring your own tools and band-aids and pumpkins are available at Gina’s. With preparations in place, I wait for Tuesday at 6pm to roll around.
Except… Studio 113 rented to a friend of Jonas, a senior at Columbia College who also works full time. Marty has moved to 114, but he’s a chain-smoker, so 113 needs painting. The landlord’s painter has a schedule conflict, his busy season after all, and Paul decides to paint the studio himself. Five days are allotted for start to finish, or so it’s agreed. Paul, of course, has an idea about scrubbing the walls first, then primer, then various shades of white each applied to an appropriate area. The ceiling is fragile tin, so a small roller and extra care is required, Paul asserts. “This effort is like painting the grit on a potato chip.” Marty is required to clean the kitchen or lose his security deposit, so together they work in studio 113 for three days, with Candish’s advice, of course.
So I come down to ask about can we start with pumpkin carving now and find Paul stressed and being judged by Marty and Candish and Jack. Paul is hours from finishing and the new tenant wants to take possession by 10pm, a full day early. Jack whispers in the halls that last year Paul was still clearing the studio Jack rents three days after Jack wanted to paint and move. Mama-drama is about to rev into full throttle.
Marty circles outside his old apartment where Paul is frozen with indecision. Marty doesn’t pitch in, too busy smoking and drinking, so I volunteer to paint the baseboard, and add, “The new tenant won’t care that the cupboard under the stairs is unfinished.” We select what can be completed by deadline and roll up our sleeves and have at it.
Marty circles back and asks what about the pumpkin carving party. “We’ll have to do it when we do it,” I say while painting. “It’s just us. It’s not like we’re being timed or graded or something.” I don’t get the problem, silly me.
It’s October, but still 82 degrees after sunset. I finish the baseboard and go to the deck to cool down. Candish and Marty and Anne are seated at the table, so I take a seat in the deck chairs on the side and drink a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I get the distinct feeling they’re gloating that the pumpkin carving party didn’t happen, so I linger to claim a presence on the deck. Conversation changes from gossip to the cost of fixing New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
They go inside and each person speaks to me in passing except Candish who doesn’t talk to me EVER. She returns twice to gather her cats, and still doesn’t speak. I stay where I’m seated, stubbornly, but a picture about their talk begins to form in my mind. I go to check Paul’s progress and learn the tenant has arrived and wants the keys and for Paul to finish and leave the place free to occupy.
I realize the new tenant has stepped around to greet Candish and Jonas, now all seated in her studio since the deck is befouled with my presence. None offer to help Paul move ladders or clean or carry. They sit over there judging Paul and telling stories about other times he was a day late and a dollar short. Well, I’m done with all that. So I pitch in again and rush him past gestures of perfectionism. We dump cleaning and painting equipment in the hall, and Paul wanders over to Candish’s studio to deliver the keys. They are frankly disappointed the new guy named Emanuel isn’t angry and shouting about Paul’s performance.
Mario comes in from a gig and stops to talk. He makes no gesture to help, but at least he’s not perched on some overhead branch with caw-caw-caw. Marty circles again with some lame comment about how Paul says they cannot leave anything in the hall but all his painting gear is stacked here. I never liked Marty, but now I hate him, a satellite to Candish who watches and smokes, but doesn’t lift a finger. And her! Candish takes credit for Marty’s renewed self-esteem with the cleaner studio, but waits like a magpie for Paul to fail so she can say I told you so. Ugly people.
We post a notice about how pumpkin carving is postponed to Wednesday and make several trips to carry painting equipment upstairs. Others are hanging around shadowed corners with whispers and smirks. Then it’s my bedtime.
In the morning when I leave to teach, the halls are clear. I’m thinking this particular mama-drama works in my favor because it renews the deck from trailer-trash use. The drama saved a friend from torturous machinations, and creates an excuse to continue my presence as a gardener. We’ll carve pumpkins when it’s convenient. The effort could take days to finish.
Ha, ha. Every day brings a new passive-aggressive gesture. Candish reclaims her bathroom next to the deck that she supposedly couldn’t use all summer. She removes the garden hose that was strung through the bathroom window for plant maintenance. Is this abdication? Is she abandoning the garden to pumpkin carvers? And if pushback works so easily, then why was I walking on eggshells all summer to avoid a fight? Silly me.