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Man of the House

Chapter 1: Linc

Let me tell you about the screwed-up state of things in our house
these days. We have no kitchen. We haven't had one for eight weeks
and four days. The refrigerator is standing where a bathroom shower
used to be. I am boiling my pasta and making my oatmeal on the
grill on the patio. Our kitchen table changes weekly. Right now
it's the new stainless-steel dishwasher, still in the box.

Mid-night peeing has become a hazardous endeavor because someone
inevitably has left something in the middle of my memorized,
sacred, eyes-closed path to the toilet. Nails, screws, wood
splinters, gobs of caulk and sheetrock dust litter the floors, and
shoes must be worn at all times. Bathrobes, too, for the girls. We
have strange men coming and going in and out all doors of our house
for most of the day.

The renovation at 363 Jacaranda St. has been systemic, to say the
least, and I know now that we should have moved out for the
project. Jo says we still should move out for the duration of the
renovation, but how much longer can it take? Staying in this war
zone has become somewhat of a badge of honor with me. If we can
weather this, we can weather anything, right?

We are gutting all three bathrooms down to the studs. For the time
being, we shower in one bathroom, pee in another, brush our teeth
in a third, and this configuration changes with each week.

We are redesigning the kitchen and great room. We are replacing all
forty-two windows and five doors.

But the biggy is this: we are literally raising the roof - okay,
not the roof but the ceiling - of the entire house by eight inches
because at six-foot-four I feel like Gulliver in this 1952 ranch
home. To do this, we are knocking out the existing ceiling and
robbing some space from the attic. Can you say 'old crumbling

Have I mentioned yet that we're living here while all this is going

Oh, and did I fail to say that hurricane season is just around the
corner? Last year's was the most active on record, and this year
promises more of the same. As Violet would say, 'Oh, joy!'

I hear the door of Rod's truck shut outside, and I go to the window
to peek out and see if my contractor has parked off the grass this
time, as I asked him to do last Thursday.

Yeah, he's good. The pickup rests an inch or two from the edge of
green. His wheels are straight. Everything Rod does always looks
solid, angular, sensible. I can always count on Rod. Wish I could
say the same of all his subcontractors.

Rod rings the bell on the back door and comes on in, unannounced,
as I've told him to do. I meet him in the hallway.

"Sure hope you're a good dry-waller," I say.

Rod grimaces, then scratches at his beard. "I take it Bud didn't

"Yep," I answer. "That guy's allergic to punctuality if you ask



"I wanted to get that tile started in the guest bath. Carlos is set
for tomorrow."


"My tile guy - and he's busier than Santa Claus these days. …


"I don't know when I can get him down here again. That sheetrock's
got to be hung today."

"When could you get him here if not tomorrow?"

"You don't want to know."

"Can't you do it?" I ask.

"Well I sure hadn't planned on it. I've got to be on Marco Island
at six."

I look at my watch.

"That gives you eight hours, Rod."

He frowns in concentration, purses his lips, then looks at his
watch, which is the coolest watch on the planet. You can tell it's
as old as the hills, an analogue model with Roman numerals, the
rounded, crystal face smudged with scratches accumulated over the
years, all held on by a brown-leather wristband stained with sweat
and speckled with paint. If the designers at Abercrombie weren't
asleep they'd already have come up with a "distressed" model of Rod
Hayden's watch.

"I've got a consolation prize," I say. "You smell it?"

Rod puts his hands on his hips and lifts his nose in the air as
Tillie, our cat, does when she's trying to detect some foreign

"Cherry pie?" he asks.

"Blueberry," I answer.

Ah, my new weapon! I had been told by a friend in Rochester that
the secret to getting subcontractors to show up at your house is to
time the serving of aromatic baked goods with the predictable human
blood-sugar crashes of mid-morning and mid-afternoon. (Since I have
no working oven right now I have to run over to Mrs. Artuzi's house
to use hers.)

I have found this to be especially true between nine and ten in the
morning. Up to this point it's worked well on Bud The Dry-waller,
but now he has gone AWOL. I'm guessing it has something to do with
the fact that the game and fish commission lifted the ban on
grouper fishing in the Gulf this week. I know he owns and loves a
new 24-foot Sea Ray with two four-stroke Yamaha engines. He talks
about it 24-7.

As I do with all the sub-contractors, I listen and pretend to be
interested and ask questions and give comment - 'Yeah, man, I hear
ya … Cool, very cool … How fast can that go again?' -
knowing that their wives couldn't give a damn, and if I prove to be
a hospitable sounding board they'll return more often and finish
their damn jobs so my family's normalcy and happiness can be

We sit down at the ersatz bar in the kitchen, an old door atop two
sawhorses. I pour Rod a cup of coffee, which he likes black. I've
always liked Half-n-Half in mine, but I've been trying it black
lately and like it.

He takes a bite and leans back in the stool and closes his eyes as
he chews.

"Man, is that good," he says. "Almost as good as that peach
cake-thing. Did you always cook like this?"

"You mean bake," I say. "This isn't cooking. There's a big
difference between cooking and baking."



He chews and says nothing, shrugs his shoulders.

"Cooking is fluid and organic, more impromptu, like
finger-painting," I say. "Baking is more exact. More like science.
Or like construction. I actually like cooking better. I think it
takes more creativity than baking because in baking you have to do
everything exactly as the recipe says, and in cooking you're more
your own boss. You'll be making this sauce, and you might taste it
and say, 'hey, it needs some white wine, or some dried basil might
add a dimension to this. … I mean, that's not to say it's
easy. God, no, it's not. Cooking requires some science as well.
Like if you're using cardamom pods, for example. I mean those
little bastards will release their flavor only after a certain
point, and then there's a difference between the green cardamom
pods and the black ones."

Rod nods as he chews.

"And then there's gravy. I mean that's temperamental as hell.
You've got to choose flour or corn starch, and if you use flour
you've got to make sure it cooks long enough to get that floury
taste out of it, but if you cook it too hot it'll scorch on the
bottom, and then you've got to time it right, and let me tell you
with my wife's unpredictable schedule I don't make much gravy,
because once it's reached boiling point it's never the same, and I
just won't serve something past its prime. Oh, it goes in the
fridge, sure, and Jo always eats it. She couldn't care less if the
food's lost its integrity. She'll eat anything. That may sound
good, it may sound like it makes my job easier, but it's also kind
of degrading. I mean if she has no standards then why do I try so
hard to make incredible meals? You know what I mean?"

I notice that Rod has accelerated his eating. His bite-size has
grown as I continue talking. His plate is nearly empty.

"Do you want some more?"

He strains to swallow one last, large bite. "No, thanks. Was real
good, though."

"You sure?"


He disappears down the hallway, wiping his hands on the back of his
thighs, and as I put the dirty dishes in a tub to take outside to
the hose I am wondering why I feel so stupid and vulnerable right
now … exposed in some way, as if I've been caught standing at
the curb in my underwear.

Which reminds me: Add toilet paper to grocery list.

Which reminds me: Get clothes to Goodwill

Which reminds me: Buy copy of Goodnight, Moon for the
Weiss's new baby.

Which reminds me: Trim bougainvillea bushes on trellis by driveway.
(See the connection? Remember that line, 'In the great green room,'
from the book? See it yet? Green? Outdoors? Yardwork?)

Excerpted from MAN OF THE HOUSE © Copyright 2011 by Ad
Hudler. Reprinted with permission by Ballantine Books. All rights

Man of the House
by by Ad Hudler

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345481089
  • ISBN-13: 9780345481085