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.