The Zen-Lunatic Art of Building Eva’s Cupboard
By Roon Lewald
Assiduous readers of this blog may remember “Eva” (pseudonym), who shared several important chapters of my life and accompanied me during a magic tour of the Land of Oz (see “Arguing with God at Coffs Harbour”) before we broke up. Plain-spoken, argumentative Eva, whose wilful nature charmed me, buoyed me up and shattered my nerves by turns – thankful as I am to have anchored in calmer waters since we parted, I often think of her with deep affection and gratitude for what she meant to me during some very difficult years of my life. My mingled memories of her are best illustrated by a letter I wrote to some friends shortly before Christmas 2003, a year or two before our final rupture:
Dear…., Bonn, 9 Dec 2003
Have yourself a right merry Christmas and a prosperous new year! Same for me too, please, because 2003 hasn’t been my best-ever year. My megrims caught up with me again and left me tired and don’t-carish. I finally turned to my ship models to focus my mind on a distinct task, however pusillanimous – i.e. a Test of Perseverance. Well, I passed it – two new models now clutter my already full bookshelf-top, enabling me to turn to the more meaningful task of cleaning up the resulting mess and restoring order in my neglected flat.
Since then, Eva has kept me busy with a great Project: building a large, fancy stting-room cabinet in which to display her prized collection of glassware and porcelain. I wish I could make a movie of this chaotic process – a cabinet-maker would laugh like a drain to see us at work. She couldn’t find a glass-fronted cupboard she fancied in any of the furniture catalogues she pored over, so she decided to make me design and build one for her. God knows, I’m not an expert cabinet-maker, but that didn’t put her off. So I glumly listened to her specifications: the thing must have three tall, glass-panelled doors and a whole bunch of drawers. It shouldn’t cost much money, but it should look as professional as those which grace the pages of Better Homes & Gardens.
I told her we lacked the professional tools and knowledge for such an expert job, so that e.g. we would have to cart every single plank to a hobby mart to be cut with sufficient accuracy. Action Lady was not deterred one whit. Discovering a cheap surplus offer of good-quality glass-front doors in some or other boutique, she bought a set of three and triumphantly bore them home in her little Fiesta. Nice, I said, but do you realize that they’re all in different sizes? Back to the drawing board for some more complicated calculations.
She wanted seven smoothly opening drawers positioned below the doors. No problem – she went bargain-hunting again and came back with a pile of marked-down drawer kits in different widths, lengths and heights, but no front panels to match the rest of the pinewood cupboard. It took me yet more hours to design an esthetically pleasing configuration for the ill-assorted doors and drawers. To do so, I had to devise a rather complicated structure that would be solid and rigid enough to support the large cabinet and yet keep it as airily transparent-looking as Eva wished.
Worst of all, she is firmly convinced she knows enough about carpentry to interfere with my laboriously produced design, often pulling it to bits whenever I redrafted it for the umpteenth time and making me revise dozens of great and small measurements. This or that (statically crucial) support is too visible – it must go, she declared. And why not use antique wooden dowels instead of those nasty modern screws (none of which were readily visible anyway), regardless of the fact that we lack the tools and experience for accurate dowelling? Unkind words would then be exchanged, one or both of us would storm off in a rage and tedious compromises would have to be found to complete the already commenced task.
I kept telling myself on such occasions that I’m a very reasonable, soft-spoken fellow who hates noisy arguments. Why was I foolish enough to try to realise this meshuggene, chaotic woman’s dream of home-crafted designer furniture at the expense of my nerves? Part of the answer, I found, was that the unaccustomed adrenalin highs of our frequent scrapping were doing me good after my long depressive spell – as long as I could recover in my peaceful city apartment between my weekend labours in Eva’s house out in the countryside near Bonn. Because both of us tend to forgive and forget quickly, even the worst of our cupboard-building arguments have been bloodless and we have always laughed and made up afterwards. After all, I reflected, Eva is okay even if she is as crazy as a hatter. And I would really be rather sad if I failed to make her dream come true, because who else but me is there to do such things for her? And in the end, I realized that Eva’s cupboard (after building model ships) is a second Test of Perseverance which I must accept and successfully complete for my own sake. So I’m going to finish that godddamned cupboard if it’s the last thing I do.
You may now be wondering why I filled this Christmas letter with my rambling tale. Well, people write about their lives in letters, don’t they? and this happens to be how I have spent mine lately. You might also benefit from the improving moral it contains: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” And finally, consider yourself privileged. This sneak preview of my story may well be expanded into a full-length novel: “The Zen Lunatic Art of Building Eva’s Cupboard”. J.M. Coetzee isn’t the only South African novelist around – it’s about time he stopped hogging the Booker and Nobel prizes!
Peace be with with you!