Of course it had to take place on the most sweltering day (thus far). My friend Mike is in construction, so he came over last week to have a consultation with me about what I wanted. I moved in on July 1. I had gotten rid of most of my bookcases in the move, because I wasn’t happy with them, and many of them were falling apart. My books are my life. I was sick of compromising with them, and also living in places where I didn’t have room to have a proper library. That was one of my main reasons for moving. I have basically moved into a 2 bedroom now, so I have room to stretch and I have options (something that is new for me). I gave a lot of thought to where the bookshelves would be – and I talked about it with Mike. My dad had said to me once, “You should never buy a bookcase that is 8 feet high. They should always be higher.” They need to go to the ceiling with a book collection like mine. I hadn’t forgotten that. My goal was to have two walls be all books. So the books ARE the walls. Floor to ceiling. We were going the IKEA route, and Mike was going to buy extensions for the normal-sized bookshelves (that were 8 feet high) – so he could make them go higher. He took measurements, I was his secretary, noting it all down. We were also going to have a thinner bookcase fitted in the middle of two wider ones on one wall – all of them attached to one another – so I could also have a place for my movie collection (another thing I have never had room for). It was a nervewracking decision. Not a ton of money (IKEA is good that way), but certainly more money than I am used to ever spending. Operating from scarcity.
Yesterday was the big day. In more ways than one.
Mike and David (one of my best and oldest friends) were going to put the bookshelves together for me. Mike was going to go to IKEA that morning, buy all the stuff we needed, and then come to my place. Mike is married to my good friend Sheila. She was working from home yesterday, and her daughter Carson would be with her. David’s two girls aren’t back in school yet – so David was going to drop his girls off at Sheila’s (they and Carson are really good friends) – and then come over to my place.
The construction was going to start at around noon.
THEN, to add to the nutsoness, that night I was having a “housewarming party”, where basically my friends were going to come over and help me put my books away, and hang stuff, all of the things I have been unable to do over the terrible last two months. David organized the entire party. Invites and everything. I wasn’t even on the invites! I had no idea when it was starting, who was coming, I was kept in the dark. I knew it was happening, and I felt a little bit baffled and embarrassed – first of all, by how distraught I have been for this entire summer, so incapacitated, although it makes sense – and then also embarrassed by their generosity. Like, wow, fun Friday night, right? Come and help a friend unpack?
I’m still kind of blown away by the whole thing.
It makes me think of that movie About a Boy, and the last line of the film: “Sometimes you need backup.”
One person is not enough. You need backup. I have needed backup. I am wounded and sick. It may seem strange that I would be unable to put a damn nail into a wall and hang a picture, but it wouldn’t seem strange if you know what it feels like to be wounded.
So. That was the plan for the day.
There were very few glitches – except for the oppressive heat. My AC didn’t make a dent in my apartment – especially not with two sweaty men working their butts off. Gallons of water were drunk. And nobody peed. Our bodies were like, “Uhm, yeah. I’m gonna hold onto this if you don’t mind.”
They started building at noon. Not only were they building the two huge bookcases for my study (which were actually five separate bookcases, all attached) – they were also building another huge bookcase for my kitchen, and a smaller bookcase for my hallway. There were buzz saws going at one point. Saw dust covered everything. Major tools. I was on trash detail – getting rid of all of the cardboard and extraneous stuff as they went. David set up his work room in my kitchen, constructing the little shelves one after the other – and handing them in to Mike in my study, who perched on ladders, drilling into my wall and other terrifying things.
There was a very funny “who is more of a real man” thing going on between them for the whole day. Poor David’s screw gun had a dead battery. So that definitely put Mike in the alpha dog position. David, at one point, called out to Mike, “I just made this shelf in 7 minutes. I think that’s a record.” Mike replied, “I could drive to Newark in 7 minutes.” Oh, and at one point Mike gave David a task, and basically set him free to go do it, without walking him through it first. David headed off into the kitchen, shouting in a loud manic voice, “THANK YOU FOR YOUR TRUST.” We were all a little bit delirious.
The hours moved by. I started getting freaked about the fact that I was having guests. I would look around at the buzz saw and the piles of tools and the cardboard lining the hallway and think, “How the hell is THIS going to work?”
My friend Sheila was handling the food – bringing over stuff for tacos – and the three girls would be coming, too – which would be new for me – hosting three tween girls? With no TV? And also no chairs??
David and Mike, drenched to the skin (we probably sweated off our entire body weight over the day) finished at 6 p.m. on the dot. They were going to go shower and change at Mike and Sheila’s and also pick up my friend Rachel at the PATH train. My guests would be arriving at any moment. I had swept up all the sawdust, the bookshelves were empty – but the most beautiful things I had ever seen. I had no time to revel in them, though. I jumped in the shower, turned the water on to ICE FREAKIN’ COLD, and washed off the grime and sweat. Raced into my bedroom, threw on a party outfit, and at that moment, my doorbell rang. Hair still dripping, I buzzed them in, my first guests. Sheila, my friend Kerry, and the three girls, all so sweet and excited and walking around being adorable, looking at everything. Sheila set up in the kitchen, and Kerry, bless her heart, started dragging books out of boxes and putting them away. Then people started arriving fast and furious – many of them I haven’t seen in a while, because the summer has been crazy and I have been out of it.
There was beer, wine, tacos – and two chairs. At one point, I glanced in the study, and saw everyone sitting on the floor, plates in their laps – and my friend Sheila was sitting in one of the chairs available – and using my VCR as her dinner tray. I am still laughing about that. And nobody thought it weird. It was that kind of night.
My books have been in boxes since I moved. They were lining the walls of my study. In preparation for the construction project, I moved all the boxes (about 30 in all) into my poor bedroom. It became a storage unit. It was stressful just looking in there.
My friend Maria walked in, gave me a kiss, a hug, and then was like, “Okay. Put me to work. What do I do.”
I love these people.
We got all the books put away (in no particular order – that’ll have to come later – when i decide my organizational structure) in about half an hour. We had a little conveyor belt going on. The shelves are so high I can’t reach the top two shelves (glorious!!) – so Kerry stood on a chair and we passed books up to her.
The tween set were so sweet, so into it – checking out my copious “young adult” collection. Books are good conversation starters, no matter the age. Carson asked me if I liked I Am the Cheese. Emma borrowed Emma, by Jane Austen. The whole night had a glow like that. It made me happy. To not have my books crammed into every available space, but out – and about – my library – my life – with room to breathe. Oh, and best part? My book collection does NOT FILL all of the shelves. Unbelievably. So I have room to expand.
Becca (David and Maria’s youngest) put away the Harry Potter collection. She was determined to keep them together, even though they weren’t in the same boxes – so we left spaces for the rest of the Harry Potter books – and called out Becca’s name whenever we found another one of them, so she could have the pleasure of putting it away.
Rachel basically took charge of the hallway, and hung up a ton of stuff in the hallway. I would glance down the hallway and see her with a tape measure and a pencil, and feel tears come to my eyes. How lucky I am.
It just turned out that most of my Irish stuff (the map, the Irish Proclamation, the Book of Kells) ended up on the walls in the hallway. I took a look and exclaimed, “Look at my Irish hallway!” David (who had been working like a DOG all day long) commented that “my Irish hallway” sounded like a euphemism for something sexual – which then began a battery of jokes, headed by Rachel – involving words like “The Troubles” used in a lascivious context. “What do you think of my Irish hallway, huh?” “Yeah, you like that? Wait till you see my Troubles!”
During the party, Mike and David put up my curtain rods and hung my curtains.
At one point, my friend Liz, glass of wine in hand, was huddled over the floor, sweeping stuff into the dustpan, as Sheila barked orders at her from nearby. Liz looked so NERVOUS that we all started laughing, and Liz said, “I just want to go to the ball!” Poor Cinderella. I was like, “Sheila, please be nice to Liz!” and Sheila started roaring with laughter. Liz had literally been huddled down over the floor, after a long day of work in the city, shrinking with fear at the slavedriver who once was her friend Sheila. Hysterical.
Maria knit me a GORGEOUS afghan blanket, beautiful deep colors, with big soft tassels. It was so funny, she handed me the bag and said, “I realize that this gift is so INAPPROPRIATE on a day like this …” The hottest day of the summer! But I was so so touched at all the work she put into it, and how beautiful it is!
And then, in one fell swoop, at 10:30, they all left.
And I was left alone. Wandering through my now-beautiful rooms, with books everywhere – but not TOO much everywhere, like they were in my other place. Here, they ARE the walls. They are a PART of the room, they don’t take over the room. It looks so beautiful.
And now when I look at those bookcases, what I see is love. I moved into this apartment with what I call “bad juju”. My juju in July has never been worse. I almost felt like I would have to move again, because the energy was so atrocious. I am not saying that I am better, or that my problems don’t still exist. They do. But the apartment has now been christened with a gathering of dear friends, and the laughter of young girls as they played with the door buzzer and raced down the hallway, giggling hysterically. At one point, I looked across the room and saw Becca curled up in my new chair (bought for me by my mother), reading the first Harry Potter with a big smile on her face.
Now that’s some good juju.
Mike was the last one to leave. I was suddenly overwhelmed, and we hugged, and I said, in tears, “I’m overwhelmed – thank you so much.” He said, “Listen, baby, what we did today was a barn-raising.”
Here’s a photo essay of yesterday.
What my bedroom looked like at around 10 a.m. yesterday morning.
Mike dropped off all of his tools before he headed to IKEA to pick up the stuff.
This cray-cray table with the long legs was left in the apartment by the stager, and I have been wanting to get rid of it. But boy did it come in handy yesterday. However, at 10 a.m. I didn’t know that. I just needed to clear that wall in the kitchen, because a bookcase would have to built and then slid in by the fridge. So this is what my kitchen looked like. Guests arriving in about 6 hours. Panic.
David arrived after dropping the girls off, and Mike arrived shortly after that, with all the stuff from IKEA.
Mike getting the stuff organized.
Looking into the study from the kitchen.
And what was Hope up to during all this chaos, you may be wondering? The answer is quite simple.
David set up his work area in the kitchen.
Hope “helping” David.
The bookcase for the south wall of the study. Now these are not at their full height yet. This is the height for “normal” people. 8 feet high. Two more shelves would be added to the top.
David’s screw gun, with a teary-eyed Gena Rowlands looking on.
The bookcase for the kitchen. As you can see, there is this weird empty spot next to my fridge. Perfect for a bookcase. Again, this one isn’t done yet. Two more shelves to be added to the top.
Laying out the stuff to make the small bookcase that would go in my hallway.
The small bookcase, built and placed in the hallway.
It appears that Spongebob Squarepants is in my apartment.
David made a mistake and put one of the shelves in backwards, which meant he accidentally nailed into the face of the bookshelf. I didn’t care – as long as the damn thing holds all of my books it could be covered in rusty nails, I don’t care – but there was much manly shame going on, and manly joshing about David’s messup. So I took a picture of his shame.
Getting there … Mike putting on the extensions on the bookshelf on the east wall. It’s still not at its full width yet, but the height is correct now.
David using the aforementioned cray-cray table as a work table, which ended up being a blessing, because he didn’t have to bend over at all. Words cannot describe how hot it was at this point. David is like a factory now, churning out bookcase extensions and passing them off to Mike.
Mike checking out his work.
At one point, it appeared (from inside) that the light had been snuffed out of the sky, and suddenly an almost cold wind came streaming in through the north window. I glanced out the east window, and saw THIS. This is an untouched photo. This is actually what I saw.
The bookshelf on the east wall. Almost done now. This is its final form.
Moving on now to the bookshelf on the south wall. Extensions placed – almost done with it.
I am fascinated by levels. Have been since I was a little girl. I think I liked the glimpse of another little world in there, with the drops of colored water. Mike’s level was spectacular, huge, and stuck to the side of the fridge when he wasn’t using it.
First book placed in my new bookshelf. More of that good juju, please.
It was now 6 p.m. My apartment was a sauna. David and Mike raced out, and I raced into the shower, and people then arrived. Kerry headed up the book-putting-away aspect of the barn-raising. Here she is, with Liz and Sheila, putting away my books.
Turkey tacos made! Here is my group of dear friends, and their children, sitting in my new study, books put away, eating and chatting. Please notice that my friend Sheila is casually using my VCR as her dinner tray.
Glancing over and seeing Becca sitting comfortably and happily in my apartment, enjoying one of my books, feeling right at home … It did so much for my heart and soul to see that.
There was a thwarted effort to string my old-fashioned Christmas lights along the tops of my cupboards. It ended up not working, but we found a better way to occupy our time, as seen in the photo below. David had worked his ass off all day. He earned his play-time that night. The funniest thing is Liz is also seen in this picture, and she is totally casually doing something else, not even looking up at David. It’s like, “Oh, David is standing on Sheila’s counter, wearing a derby, no shirt, and draped in Christmas lights … whatever … where is that bottle opener??” His daughters looked up at him with a mix of mortification and boredom. They’re over it, too. Nice to know some things never change
Here is the bookcase on the east wall. All done.
Here is the bookcase on the south wall. You can also see my barrister bookcase over to the right – but there is plenty of space for a big comfy chair in front of all of this. That reading lamp was my grandmother’s, and that drawing on the wall is an old sketching of Sarah Bernhardt that my dad found for me.
The bookcase in the kitchen, with room for Hope’s crate on the bottom shelf. I believe that was Becca’s idea.
My “Irish hallway” (nudge nudge wink wink)
The kitchen. David ended up taking the cray-cray table with him, he loved it so much. So here’s the kitchen, with the curtains my mom found for me. We knotted them up so they wouldn’t get dirty. Anything on the wall was put there by Rachel, who headed up that aspect of the barn-raising.
And so now, when I sit at my desk, and turn my head to the right, this is what I see.
It’s beautiful. Not just because all of my books now have homes, and look so gorgeous. But because of the memory that is now contained in those shelves.
Thank you, friends. I have needed backup. Thank you.