Sunday, September 16, 2007

Time for a New Table

It was an important moment, a momentous bridge to cross. The Jawa and I, and only us, were to complete our first father-son furniture moving project. The question was, would he, at age ten, be able to hold up his end of the deal? Literally.

The challenge was this: after several years of shopping for a dining room set, never finding one we could agree on, balking at the price of them all, Sandra Bullock and I finally found one we liked, for the low, low Craigslist price of $225 (chairs included). But there was a complication. Said dining room set was in San Jose, and once we drove down there (Saturday), checked it out, decided we liked it and plunked down the $225, we realized that we could only fit 3 of the 6 chairs into our car. No way was that table going into our car, nor the 3 other chairs. For once, we missed our old Subaru. But only briefly.

So we drove home and planned to return later in the week in a more appropriate vehicle. Not a rented truck, which would cost almost as much as the table itself. More likely, a borrowed truck. And then we learned this: we know like two people with trucks. "If we lived in Seattle," I told my bride, "we'd know tons of people who owned trucks."

"Do you think we can fit the table into a Prius?" she answered.

And right now I'd like to stop and say yes, Hammer, I know Wine Guy has a truck. S. Bullock said the table wouldn't fit in it because he's got that shell on it.

So we borrowed Jenny From the Block's Minivan on a Friday morning -- the first day of the year 5769(?), in fact -- and set out for San Jose for the momentous task at hand.

Jerry Seinfeld used to do a bit about the father-son team, moving furniture, with his father squinting through the cigarette smoke as he backs up the stairs holding a desk, saying, "easy, easy," while Jerry thinks he should be saying, "difficult, difficult, impossible..."

Would my Jawa be able to assist? Or would I be lugging this huge, mahogany table into Jenny From the Block's Toyota Sienna alone, or perhaps with the help of Charlotte, the retired librarian who sold us the table?

The spirit was indeed willing. My Jawa, age 10, head pumped full of Pokemon, wanted so badly to help me carry that table to the car. He grabbed one end, I grabbed the other. The table, at this point, did not seem all that heavy. The Jawa made it a few steps, then rested, then a few steps more, and then Charlotte stepped in and grabbed the other corner, so it was the Jawa, Charlotte and me hauling Charlotte's parents' wedding present to the car.

A word about Charlotte's house: it was in the middle of San Jose, across the street from a dead gas station and a Mosque. Cars sped by two at a time. It wasn't the greatest location for a house, but Charlotte, who had grown up there, told us of a time when the house sat across the street from nothing but fields and trees. "They went all the way to the river," she said. "What river?" I thought.

Too bad. As is often the case in San Francisco politics, "progress" (or "progressive") is not what it's cracked up to be.

We laid the table upside down in the back of Jenny From the Block's minivan. To do so, we had to flop the back seats down, leaving the 10-year-old Jawa no choice but to ride shotgun.

He did this with a mixture of awe and anxiety. At first, after we'd waved goodbye to Charlotte and her emotionally damaged house, he marvelled at the improved view of the road. It was panoramic, way better than the back seat, where you have a chair in your way. But there was the issue of the airbag.

"Will it decapitate me?" he asked, half-jokingly.

At ten, you are under some pressure to handle with poise many things -- like airbags-- that would have frightened you when you were in single digits. Only problem is that while they may still scare you, you cannot show it. You must joke about it endlessly, or ask seemingly calm questions about it, as if you were just curious. "So, it this airbag came out, would it break my legs?"

Meanwhile, I'm aging several years each minute, worrying about the dual tragedy that would result should I get into a head-on collision. With the Jawa at 4'7" and 70 lbs., he is only 2 inches and 10 lbs. below the minimum for front seat occupancy, but still. And then to return Jenny From the Block's minivan damanged.

So I'm a little nervous, but also living the wonder of parenthood as I look over, for the first time, and see my pre-teen Jawa sitting in the front. I can just reach over and mess up his hair, for example. It made me wish we were sitting in an old pickup truck, bouncing down a dirt road, but maybe that's just evidence that I've seen way too many of those Chevy truck ads they play during football games, the ones with John Mellencamp music playing in the background.

And all is well and good until we reach the freeway, at which point my Jawa turns into the most obnoxious male backseat driver I have ever met. "Dad! DAD! DAD! You're too close to the car!"

"DAD! You're driving 75 miles per hour! What's the speed limit here? 65? Slow down!"

It had become obvious to me that we would need some support for the 32-step task in front of us, so we dropped by Sandra Bullock's massive new place of employment and kidnapped her, placing her in the back, along with the table and chairs. She hunkered down back there while the Jawa continued to deliver a continuing assessment of my driving skills in real time.

"DAD! OOOH! YOU ALMOST HIT THAT CAR! CHANGE LANES! YOU'RE TOO CLOSE!"

By the time we reached home, I had decided that, eligible or not, the Jawa was banned from the front seat until age 12. Maybe by then he will have calmed down a bit and come to terms with the airbag.

Although, via the absolute magic that is Volvo engineering, our car's airbag will not deploy unless the front passenger seat is holding a minimum weight of 100 lbs. So in theory, he could ride in the front seat, as the Shaman and Tony Hawk have before. In reality, he is banned. For reasons of my mental health.

The new dining room table now takes the place of our old pink formica 1950s table. We bought that one at an antique store in Snohomish, Washington, in 1993 for $100. On Friday, fifteen minutes after we posted it on Craigslist, it was gone, sold to a San Francisco mini-mogul with two kids and another on the way, for use in a rental property. She paid us $74, only because she didn't have another dollar. Afterwards, I worked it out: that table cost us 8 cents a month.

After it was gone, we were oddly somber. That table, we realized, had taken us through life as apartment-dwelling newlyweds, through the Jawa's birth and resulting babyhood. It had born the brunt of Play-Doh, water-soluble markers and countless blobs of food. Fourteen years we had it, from ages 28 to 42, which is a pretty significant period. It was time for a grown-up table, but also time to take note of all that our old pink table gave us.

We can only hope our new table -- Charlotte's parents' wedding present -- will offer as good an ROI.

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