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Less Than Frank
By Lynn Bulock
Center Point Large PrintCopyright © 2006 Lynn Bulock
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I love my son dearly but I do believe he's the worst bathroom hog in three counties. I'd forgotten how long Ben spent on the simpler tasks in life, such as taking a shower, until we had to share the same bathroom on a regular basis for the first time in over a year.
I'm already getting ahead of myself. My name is Gracie Lee Harris, and I am a transplanted Midwesterner slowly getting used to a new life in Southern California. After nearly eighteen months here, I feel like I belong now — for the most part. It hasn't been an easy time of it, but anyplace where you can wear shorts and a T-shirt the week after Thanksgiving has its good points.
Of course, my friends who are natives would say that the mere fact that I was wearing a T-shirt and shorts this late into the fall was proof that I hadn't adapted yet. My Missouri blood just hasn't thinned enough to be cold yet at sixty degrees. To me, "cold" means you have to scrape stuff off your windshield and those little hairs inside your nose freeze when you go outside to get the newspaper. Here, "cold" means anything in the fifties or below, and that's when folks start wearing their heavy sweaters.
The change in weather and how people react to it has taken almost as much effort to get used to as the more severe changes in mylife. I moved out here as a woman married less than two years to a handsome self-employed businessman. Then Dennis Peete promptly drove his car off the road, leaving him comatose in long-term care for close to six months while I bunked in with my mother-in-law. And that was the fun part.
From there things only got worse, other than the fact that I found a wonderful group of women to support me during a really rough time when Dennis died. The Christian Friends group at Conejo Community Chapel kept me sane during what I can easily say was the worst period of my life so far. But even they, with their bountiful wisdom, didn't have many hints on how to get a teenaged male out of the bathroom.
In fact, in an odd twist of things, I am the only one in my particular group to have much experience with teenaged males at all. Linnette Parks, our group leader and my new best friend, has two daughters just past the teen stage and launching into adulthood. Dot Morgan, who is my landlady now that I am living in her garage apartment, has a daughter as well. Candace is in her thirties, but has Down syndrome and functions on a teen level most of the time. She lives in a group home in Camarillo, and I've met her several times when she's come home to go to church with her mom and dad at Conejo Community Chapel with the rest of us.
Lexy Adams doesn't have kids yet, although not for lack of trying. She may look like an early-thirties go-getter attorney, but she'd love to have baby drool stains on that blazer lapel, believe me.
The Christian Friends member I knew the least about, Paula Choi, lost her only daughter in a car crash a few years before I'd joined the group. And the newest member of the group besides me, Heather Taylor, has a beautiful nine-month-old daughter, Corinna Grace, who also happened to be my late husband Dennis's child.
It's a long story, and one we're done hashing over, for the most part. Heather and I are still trying to get our hands on the money that vanished once we gave it to Dennis, but that's going to go on for a while. Thanks to the way he left things, his estate and his late mother's have been tangled up together in a legal dispute that may take years to get through the courts.
Of course that tangled legal web was somewhat to blame for me sharing one lone bathroom with my college freshman when he came home weekends and such from Pacific Oaks Christian College. He'd spent the long Thanksgiving weekend with me in the apartment, and even put off going back to his dorm today until he absolutely had to. Apparently my company was preferable to five other male suite-mates when it came to preparing for class on a Monday morning.
Of course that didn't help me out when he went into the bathroom, locked all the doors and took an hour-long shower. Dot and Buck have been planning to renovate the apartment ever since I moved in back in February. The original plans were for the galley kitchen and the bath to both be done when I came home from Ben's high-school graduation in June with Ben in tow.
Thanks to a variety of problems, from the endless number of permits required by the city of Rancho Conejo to the unavailability of some of the appliances they'd picked out and that unfortunate problem at the tile factory, nothing was even started at that point. There were great plans in the works, but no actual remodeling until some time in July. Naturally the first thing to show up then was the portable — how do I put it nicely? — facility that parked on the driveway, required by any construction project of this size. Since then we'd slogged through the kitchen remodel and started, just barely, on the bathroom. At this point Dot and Buck were getting fairly peeved, and personally I was ready to strangle the general contractor, Cousin Frank.
Frank Collins really was a cousin, related to Dot on her mother's side of the family in a distant way. He was one of those relatives she wasn't particularly fond of claiming, and once he'd been working on the apartment where I now lived for a couple of weeks, I could see why.
Somewhere in his late 30s or early 40s with thinning brown hair and a gut that overrode his fashionably low-hanging jeans, Frank was crude, loud and aggravating. He wasn't nice to anybody that worked for him, and half the time didn't even appear to remember their names. I had a sneaking suspicion that the Thermos he carried to drink out of on breaks was loaded with something a lot stronger than plain black coffee, but I hadn't shared my concerns with Dot. She had enough to deal with right now on the remodeling issues with Frank. Why add one more to the pile?
Most mornings he drove a beat-up full-sized pickup truck to the job site before I was really ready to get out of bed, and expected to start work on the bathroom immediately. It was hard enough to deal with when I was the only one in the apartment. At times like this, when Ben was sharing it with me, it was way past annoying. If the early starts had meant that Frank was actually getting something done every day I could be more understanding. Instead, the work is still moving at a snail's pace.
The whole idea of this bathroom remodel was to make this a functioning apartment where two people could share all the facilities without getting in each other's way too much. I think Buck and Dot are still considering that Candace may be back here some day, and while she enjoys as much independence as possible, she's not capable of living on her own.
Even with two independent adults, the new bathroom design will be great once it's done. Dot had the idea to reshape the existing space into three smaller compartments, with a commode and sink in each of the side units, and a nice shower, tub and lots of storage in the middle unit. She says fancy housing developments call that a "Jack and Jill" bathroom and I'll take her word for it. I've never been able to consider fancy housing developments on my take-home pay, especially in southern California.
The partition walls are up now on all three parts of the bathroom, and if there was functioning plumbing in my side of the "Jack and Jill" part, life would be a lot easier when Ben showed up like this. Of course with my luck he'd still lock all the doors on all the connecting parts of the bathroom, making it impossible for me to use whatever he's not using anyway. It's a moot point right now, because only half the plumbing is finished to date. One can use "Jack's" side of the bathroom, and the shower works. "Jill" and the tub are coming soon, according to Frank. But then everything has been slated to happen "soon" since Labor Day, so I'm not real optimistic.
I'd gotten up early on this Monday morning hoping to get going with my routine before Ben had to bolt out the door to head for school. He had earlier classes than I did this semester, which was truly ironic since he is not a morning person at 18, while I definitely am at 39. But then, I'm "only" doing nine hours of graduate work and working two part-time jobs, while he's taking a full load for a freshman.
Setting that early alarm often gets me up before Frank shows up, and before Ben claims the bathroom on those mornings he's here. But today I managed to hit the snooze button once and it was my undoing. I got about thirty seconds in the bathroom before Ben knocked on the door telling me he was going to be late for class if he didn't get in there right away.
At that point I brushed my teeth quickly, hollered through the closed door to his room that the bathroom was now his, unlocked his door and scuttled through the shower compartment to my room. I didn't even see him through all of that; just heard him thumping around in his room and cranking up the music.
I pulled on clothes, then went and made breakfast for the two of us. That took about half an hour, but of course his shower took longer. The cinnamon rolls out of a can that I'd put together were cold by now, I'd read the newspaper, and still the kid was showering. I'd looked out the front window a couple times expecting to see movement around Frank's truck, but there wasn't any. It was parked at the end of Dot and Buck's long driveway as usual, and I dimly remembered hearing him pull in this morning, or at least I thought I had heard him. I'd heard some engine noises and door-slamming at some point, anyway.
Beyond that I hadn't heard anything else from him, which probably meant he was expecting to do something right away that needed two men. That usually posed a problem for Frank if he made those plans to happen first thing in the morning, because the only person less reliable than Cousin Frank was his helper, Darnell.
There had been a lot of different subcontractors working with Frank over the months since he started this job, and I'd noticed one thing that they almost all had in common. Everybody had an apprentice or a helper, or something like that, depending on how organized their business was. If they were an actual union shop, there was an apprentice, maybe even somebody working up to journeyman status. The smaller organizations had a helper, and if it was a really small business, that helper was often family and might be part-time. Almost all of them were of the same variety as Darnell; tall, weedy, pushing thirty and likely to vanish on good surf days when they always claimed sickness or a death in the family.
Excerpted from Less Than Frank by Lynn Bulock Copyright © 2006 by Lynn Bulock. Excerpted by permission.
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