Hard Knocks

In our house, “door” is a four-letter word.
Situation Wanted: Like suspiciously cheap Porsches with Nigerian escrow accounts, Dog the Door Man came to us via Craigslist.
Illustration by Nigel Buchanan

Doors are a marvelous invention that one doesn’t fully appreciate until they are removed from one’s home for several months. And held hostage. By Dog the Bounty Hunter. At least our door man looked like Dog: white-blond mullet, dried-riverbed complexion, wraparound shades. The kind of guy who can work the ear cuff, put his stink on a pair of leather wristbands. A guy who has stuff on his belt—useful, manly stuff.

Dog—the door man, not the bounty hunter—came to be in my employ thanks entirely to a freakish form of ESP that I possess that allows me to root out and hire the one person on earth guaranteed to bring maximum drama and minimum productivity to whatever job is at hand. It’s a gift. I didn’t ask for it. I never try to profit from it. I just have it. It’s how I found Missus Graciela, the house cleaner. All was well until her husband tried to poison her. How else could she explain the mysterious headaches? The alarming feeling of being drugged? The crushing weariness that left her unable to do anything more strenuous at my house than a bit of desultory dusting? Only after I insisted we talk to the police was the case cracked. “Oh, Missus Sarah, is not the poison! Is the coffee! Mi marido does not tell me he makes now only the descafeinado!” Okay. Sanka. Case closed.

Sensing that personnel management was not my strong suit, I avoided paid help until a looming book deadline forced me to hire a babysitter. She was a gorgeous UT coed. Let’s call her Leadfoot. My son, a slave to beauty, adored her. She nicknamed him Li’l Weiner, and, although authorized to make trips only to the neighborhood library and the swimming pool, she drove him all over town in my car. In spite of the fact that my gas tank was always empty without my going anywhere, it still took me several weeks to work up the nerve to confront Leadfoot. I waited until she and Li’l Weiner returned from a trip to “the swimming pool.” Leadfoot walked in dry as a bone, hair and makeup perfect, loaded down with bags from Old Navy and Abercrombie & Fitch. Li’l Weiner had a temporary tattoo of a unicorn on his cheek and smelled as though he’d been spritzed with Tommy Girl and Vanilla Musk. I presented Leadfoot with my record of secret odometer readings. She glanced at it, took a slurp of her Pumpkin-Spice Frappuccino and a bite out of her Cinnabon, and said, “Your mileage dealie’s broken.”

Desperate to get my child off the career path to long-distance trucking and to never say anything mean to anyone, I defaulted to a classic management strategy and told Leadfoot that my husband had lost his job. Sadly, we could no longer afford her exemplary services. She hugged Li’l Weiner goodbye with tears in her eyes, never knowing that she’d been fired.

Many happy years of self-service ensued, marred briefly by a painter who claimed “years of experience” in his ad. Only after he arrived wearing mad-scientist glasses and “painted” our living room using a braille method of running his fingers along the molding did he reveal where he’d gotten those “years of experience”: painting over graffiti at highway rest stops. We showed Fingertips the door. Literally. He couldn’t find it on his own.

And then, for some godforsaken reason, I decided that the perfectly serviceable doors in our house needed to be replaced—possibly because they were constructed of a balsa wood—like material that had delaminated, giving the doors the frayed and shaggy look of old cedar trees. Or it might have been their unique sound-amplification properties, which allowed us to yell peevish questions from one bedroom to another, like “I hear you in there. Are you eating the last of the Fiddle Faddle?” And, with heavy sarcasm, “Could you possibly turn those pages any louder?”

Like suspiciously cheap Porsches with Nigerian escrow accounts, Dog the Door Man came to us via Craigslist. In all fairness, Dog did know his doors. Dog was the Dean of Doors. In a just world, Dr. Dog would be lecturing somewhere on hollow versus solid core, bevels, reveals, swing, prehungs, and slabs. And that somewhere would not be my kitchen, where hours passed as he instructed me on all these fine points. That, and all the ways in which his past customers had been idiots conspiring to thwart his doorificence.

I ignored this warning signal and let him take every door in our house to his shop to use as patterns for our new ones. Bedrooms, bathrooms, closets: Dog took them all. Just for a day, he promised—two, tops. After a week filled with truck breakdowns and moving in with the widow of his old buddy Bear the Biker, we hung sheets where doors had once stood.

Two weeks later he returned, sans doors. He needed supplies to complete the job. And gas money. Rather than listen to Dog’s lengthy indictment of the United Snakes of Amerexxon, I reached for my checkbook. Dog asked to be paid in cash. He started to tell a convoluted story about bank overdrafts and a deadbeat ex-girlfriend ruining his credit, then stopped and confessed, “F— it. I can tell you’re good people. I been underground since 1970. Just dropped out and got lost in America.”

Probably another warning signal. Over the next two months, as gas and supplies money trickled out yet no “movable, usually solid, barrier[s] for opening and closing an entranceway” trickled back in, the absence of such barriers became especially poignant: There was nothing for any member of our increasingly annoyed family to slam. No matter how high the thread count, banging a sheet shut just didn’t provide the same emotional release. Our two dogs, however, loved the ease of access. No more scratching at forbidden bedroom doors, no more being beholden to every bipedal a-hole with a prehensile grip. They could nose their

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