There was this table

There was a summer in 1985, in the time of Duran Duran and trickle down economics, that I decided that I wanted to build a coffee table for my dorm room.  Now, I was already well along in my lifelong career of being “not handy.” Yet I was not without resources.

“Dad,” I said, “I would like to build a table.” How did he gauge my intent?

I looked at him to convey that I was serious, albeit for some complicated reasons. Would he challenge me on this?

No. “I think that would be a good project for you,” he said.

I knew my dad was comfortable with this commitment.  I suppose it was the body language.  He removed his brown plastic frames, puts a lens in his mouth, and exhaled. He took the lenses back out. The condensation from his breath fogged the lens. He pinched the lens between the folds of his t-shirt. Holding his frames by the end of the temples, he examined his work. Not bad. He rubs the front of the lens against his shirt again. The shirt, bought in 1971 and worn well, gently buffs the lens. “Maybe I could give you a bit of help with that.”

He is definitely interested.

It takes some explanation to understand why I want to build a table, because it is more than just a need for furniture. I probably couldn’t explain it then. But now, I know what I was feeling. I wanted to have friends. I imagined sitting around the table with Rob and John, with my copies of Spin and Rolling Stone opened to sections on concerts, after we get back from practice or during a break from classes. ‘Sure, kick back here,’ is what this table projects.

I want to build it, instead of buying a table, because I am such an uninformed shopper that I do not know where I could find a table that would match the proportions I am thinking of — about 18 inches tall, about 18 inches wide, and about three feet in length.

This table building amounts to one surge against the growing dread I feel for going back in the fall. I cannot think of anyone that I can really call a friend. I had some friends as a sophomore. Things change fast, maybe in weeks. I am going to be living in a single, too, and that makes my prospect of friendship seem even more daunting.

Dad spreads a sheet of paper across the hood of his car. He has a shop pencil, the kind that unravels, in his teeth.

“Here,” he says, “is what I think you need to do.” The pencil stays in his mouth.

Dad has adapted a plan from a book he got at the library. It is legit. There will be no nails, just bolts that will be hidden under the surface of the wood with some artful wood working. Its modern looking, with flat surfaces unfettered by edging and thick dimensions.

My dad swings the wood-paneled door of the Plymouth Volare shut. He looks over the black roof for my figure. Am I, I sense he is saying, going to get out of the car already? We have work to do. No sense standing around.

I scramble to his side.

“OK,” he said, “we will get what we need here.”

I am very glad to have him here with me. I do not know the first thing about buying lumber, or getting nails, or any of it. Yet here we are, in a lumberyard in a light industrial section of Bridgeport, Connecticut. If you have ever been around such a place, you know that they are marked by the smell of sawdust.

I love the smell. Each type of wood has its own smell. I love even the scent of a lowly two-by-four, cut by a circular saw.

Wood is special to my Dad, too. He worked at our family business, Rush Sash & Door, for about ten years. In those years, I ran through the warehouse and played on the railroad tracks. I could climb the four stories tall shelves of windows. All of that stuff was waiting to be trucked to Omaha or Hays or Poplar Bluff. I could climb because I was the lucky son of the boss.

Being here reminds me of that, and it makes me proud of my dad. I think, “My dad knows a lot about windows and doors.”

Maybe too much. “Get off your a__ and move that glass,” was the mantra that he claims my granddad utilized to motivate his son. Today, our family’s old factory houses the distribution center for Wolferman’s English muffins. It is run by a Kenan-Flagler grad.

It is really cool to watch how he instructs the people at the lumberyard. No one is going to give him any knotty boards.

I am sanding the table. It is almost August. The table looks good. Some things have changed. The table has grown in size. Now it runs four feet in length. It is strong. We have already applied several coats of sealant. It will shine like a sheet of ice after the Zamboni machine.

My mom sticks her head from out of the screen door to the kitchen. “Phone for you,” she says. It is “Osky,” the uber-manager of all physical property at school. Osky supposedly once taught Latin, but now he serves only to make decisions about room assignments and to be the advisor to a group of students of his own choosing. D. Dupont, S. Woolworth, A. Kennedy, maybe you get a sense of “his choosing.”

I am worried. Maybe I am not going back to school after all.

“What does he want?” says Mom.

“Listen, I need to ask you something. You would like a roommate and a double room, or not? We have a new junior who needs a roommate.”

“He wants to know if I want a double,” I relay.

Of course I want a double room. I want a roommate. What could be better. A new student, too.

“Yes,” I say, “yes, I would like that very much.”

“Wait,” my mom interjects. “What are you doing?”

It is too late. Osky is moving on. “Great, then, I will make arrangements.” The phone clicks.

The table was transported to Watertown upside down on the top of a wood-paneled Volare station wagon.  I was living in the upper school dorm that year.  Osky followed through and gave me that double.  He added a wrinkle, though.  He put me in a section set off on its own that was populated entirely by stars of the varsity football team.

My new roommate was not on the football team.  He had a spindly frame and slicked back hair.  He planned to play intramural golf in the fall.  In the spring, he would go out for pole vaulting.  He said his dad was responsible for the company that made the vinyl seat covers for all of the domestic cars in the United States.  His parents signed off on smoking permission, so along with the box of Chinese stars, he arrived with a few cartons of Marlboro lights.

I was not ready to be impressed by the car seat story, but I was bothered by the Chinese stars.  That didn’t seem to have a palatable explanation.


One Response to “There was this table”

  1. samsondoggie Says:

    This is great, but I want more of the story! What are Chineese stars and what did he do with them?

    Where is the table now?

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