I don’t usually run into Hugo Ferchau nearly as much as it sounds like when reading this blog. I can go months without seeing him, but for whatever reason I have been running into him a lot these days.
Like the other day, and he wanted to know how it was going. “I ate too much for lunch,” I reported, because boy had I, and I was suffering mightily. (Damn Lynn’s brother for making me eat chips as well as my not-quarter-pound, not-third-pound, but half-pound hamburger — with bacon — and every last french fry.) So there I was, grossly overfull and kind of wanting to curl up in a ball but afraid that if I lay down I would pop like the rubber pig in a game advertised on television (you stuff plastic hamburgers into it as its belly expands until its belt bursts open, at which point I suppose you lose) —
[That’s weird, isn’t it? But there’s obviously an entire genre of games, Jenga perhaps being the most famous, where no one actually wins. You’re just playing not to lose. That’s weird when you stop to think about it.]
— and then I saw Hugo. After I reported on my status, he shook his head and said, “First-world problems, huh?”
And so I hesitated, yesterday afternoon, to make this report. It’s not even a first-world problem (I recovered from my last first-world dilemma by not eating any dinner); it’s a first-first-world problem. Because while many, many people in this country have spent this year at the mercy of Mother Nature, with tornadoes, hurricanes, fire and/or flood tearing not just houses but entire communities down, I have a complaint, and all of us, mostly me, should probably try for some perspective on this:
Shelf-a-Palooza hasn’t been nearly as successful as I hoped.
The event, which has now been drawn out for most of the month we’ve been in the house (or is it now five weeks?), started small and skipped several of the projects I was hoping for in the run-up to the signature event: installation of my library. That happened Friday. I left for work (which I’m sure my co-workers don’t believe, but I do sometimes go there and do work-like things) just after Sam and Dusty arrived with all the pieces ready for assembly. It was done and they were gone when I came home for lunch.
Have you ever been really excited to open a gift and then been horribly disappointed when it wasn’t what you thought? That’s where I am with most of Shelf-a-Palooza, especially my library, which isn’t a library at all, but a set of utilitarian shelves that goes out of its way to minimize the use of space.
Some of this is my fault. Dusty drew a diagram that was very symmetrical, and then I drew a diagram that was less so, but I failed again (on shelf spacing) with the tape measure, and we didn’t ever stand in front of my space together with either diagram. Some of it is fixable: I’m quite sure he can make more shelves, and perhaps he can retro-fit the footer that his diagram showed. But some of it isn’t. I don’t know why he didn’t make the shelves go all the way to the ceiling, and I know that the fixed shelves offer stability, but setting that two feet above floor level just renders all the space below it either impractically tall or drives all the paperbacks to ankle height.
I imagine, like Lynn, that you are wondering why I am making such a fuss. To Lynn, the shelves looked quite nice and she saw nothing wrong with them. And as shelves, they do look quite nice and there’s nothing wrong with them. But this is supposed to be my library, and it’s not.
I love my books, even if I rarely crack any of them open any more. I no longer go into the Tattered Cover and come out with $200 (probably $400 in today’s dollars and book prices) of books, because I don’t even go in, knowing I won’t get any of them read. When I was in grade school and we ordered books through Scholastic, my stack was always equal to most of the rest of the class combined.
There are many things in this world I’m not good at (and moving into a new house where I’ve had to have other people do every last lick of production has made these skill omissions abundantly clear), but I used to be a champion reader. Books and paper seem to be how I best define myself, as I look at the labels on every box I packed.
Many of these boxes have been waiting and waiting to be unpacked, because they were books, and I needed my library. So Friday and yesterday afternoon I unpacked book box after book box, setting books without rhyme or reason on these new shelves just to see.
Previous shelf-builders took better care of me, is what I see. I can’t remember if I gave Jim Scales (who now confines his enterprises to asphalt but who in my old house installed windows and grass seed) any sort of diagram, but he is the one who built my full-wall bookcase that I loved so much I brought it here to be my garage shelves.
In retrospect, I should have tried harder to see if I couldn’t get the pieces to fit in my library nook, but it didn’t seem like anything was going to work out mathematically (and they do fit quite well along the garage wall), and while I loved my shelves, I was aware the craftsmanship was not perfect, and I doubted Dusty would want people thinking he had built them.
But even as I lie here looking at the shelf he installed along my bedroom wall, I am not as in love as I want to be. The brackets, while fairly unobtrusive, are just so noticeable after I was spoiled by Jim Barry, who made most of the shelves for my shop and then several for my toy room and garage. He repurposed old screen frames for brackets that lived on top of the shelves, where they were mostly hidden from view by the shelf contents and also served as dividers. I brought two of those shelves with me, although so far they remain stacked on end in the garage.
In the annals of world problems, I know, this is not going to stack up as anything noteworthy. And I have spent two days imagining all of you losing patience with me. What is the expression? You would bitch if they hung you with a new rope. But these are my books, the one constant through all of life’s turbulence (and it feels quite turbulent to me these days — I can’t remember who told me just the other day that moving is right up there with losing a loved one on stress levels), and other than one bookcase that made the move with us that I didn’t expect to use but which fits gorgeously into our Good Room, nothing else feels quite right in the book realm.
Which means nothing feels quite right. I thought Shelf-a-Palooza would fix this, but instead it has so far done the opposite. And that’s disappointing.
This set of shelves has a lot less rigidity in both vertical and horizontal planes. And it reached to the ceiling at its old house, topped off with crown molding that made it look less utilitarian. Jim Barry’s screen-bracket shelves are to the right.