Friday, April 29, 2011

365 Jobs, Day 119: Peace of Mind

Tuesday, April 29, 1986

"I'm a little nervous about earthquakes," she says.  "I experienced a six point four quake in Santa Barbara.  Would you take a look at my foundation?" 

Her name is Marilyn.  She has a nice house in Los Altos. 


"And also tell me if you see any fire hazards?  My husband—"  Her eyes indicate a back bedroom.  "My husband is on one hundred per cent oxygen twenty-four hours a day.  I'm a little nervous about fires."

She's young.  She's gentle.  She has grade-school children.

I crawl under the house.  I return and report that her sills are properly bolted to the concrete.  No fire hazards, either.  Their home is already safer than 90% of the dwellings in California.  If she wanted to be any safer I could attach steel plates to the foundation posts where they meet the beams.  Right now the beams are toe-nailed, the weakest link.

"I want it," she says.  "But wait.  Let's run it by my husband.  I try not to completely emasculate him."

She leads me to the back bedroom.  A young man - somehow I can tell that he's young, though he looks like he's ninety - lies in bed, propped by pillows, with tubes up his nose and a big steel oxygen tank at his side.

I explain the situation, describe the steel plates as optional but something that might give them peace of mind.

"Fine," he says.  He looks at his wife.  "That's what I want for you.  Peace of mind."

In the hallway I have to stop, compose myself.  Marilyn glances at me and says, "You're right.  It isn't fair."  She offers no explanation of his condition, and I don't ask.

I spend the rest of the day on my back under the house banging 44 steel plates onto 44 foundation posts.  Upstairs, I'm sure he can hear - and probably feel - every strike of the hammer - pounding for peace of mind, the one thing nobody can give.

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