My wife doesn’t need booze or drugs. She has a kitchen. She herself slew it and brought it home, and it gives her a bigger thrill than any intoxicant, or jewelry, or fuzzy little mammal ever born. It’s not so much the cooking she loves as it is being in the kitchen and looking at it. She likes talking about it too. She created the room over several years. She plastered the pale yellow walls. She painted the cabinets cobalt blue one winter, holding heaters next to the oil-based paint so it wouldn’t bubble and run. Michelangelo could not have been prouder of the Sistine Chapel.
One thing marred her happiness, like a serpent in her garden of good things to eat. The floor was covered by scarred, pus-colored linoleum tiles that would shame any prison camp barracks. My wife considered the matter with immense gravity, and she conceived a plan in which she would dress that floor in magnificent red tile. I approved of course. It sounded pretty, and even had I wished, I lacked the force of will to deny her. She charged out to find red tiles of the particular shade she wanted, but no one—no one—sold them then. Red tiles were out of fashion, and they were expensive to make. If no one wanted to buy them, then no one was going to make them.
I found that disappointing, because I knew she really wanted them. I suggested nice brown tiles, or maybe terra cotta. My wife was unconvinced. Perhaps I wanted to just smear the kitchen floor with excrement and let it dry instead? I recognized this was sarcasm, and I recognized she hadn’t given up. I’d seen her like this before. She was going to have red tiles, or every other person on earth was going to die.
Sometime later, as we watched television, we saw a Pier One commercial. She shot up from the couch like Old Faithful and said, “There! Those are my red tiles!” The commercial depicted the inside of a Pier One store, and indeed it sported red floor tiles of just the shade she wanted. I breathed a warning that this was a set for the commercial and not an actual store, but that didn’t matter one damn bit. These tiles existed, and if they existed then she could find them. And when we walked into a Pier One store a bit later, she proved me wrong by pointing at the floor, which was covered with her tiles. I acknowledged my lack of faith.
My wife asked the register clerk where she could buy the floor tiles in the store. The clerk asked if we were serious, and my wife affirmed that we were. The clerk said that she didn’t think we could buy them, and she turned away to rearrange some boxes. I’m sure she hoped we’d go away and ask somebody else if we could buy the store’s heating unit or something. My wife asked again, louder, and the clerk took two steps away from us and paged the manager.
The manager handled this better, pulling on a fake smile and confirming that we couldn’t buy this tile. My wife asked how the manager knew this. Had anyone else ever asked to buy the tile before? The manager said he was positive that no one had ever asked that, and his fake smile kind of melted like that oil-based paint on our cabinets. She asked where the tile came from. The manager, who must have gotten high marks in conduct as a boy, said he didn’t know. She asked him who he would ask if he needed to find out, and just like the register clerk he punted. He called his district manager. And he put my wife on the phone.
I could only hear my wife’s side of the phone conversation, but it sounded like this:
“Where can I buy the red floor tiles you use in the stores?”
Indistinct buzzing of a voice on the other end of the line.
“Yes, I’m serious.”
Buzz buzz buzz.
“Well somebody has to know where they come from. Can’t you call someone?”
“Oh, I’m sure you can. Who buys these tiles?”
Buzz BUZZ BUZZ buzz BUZZ.
“I’m certain that’s true, but I bet you can figure it out if you think about it.”
Buzz… buzz buzz buzz… buzz.
“Great, could you please give me their number?”
Buzz buzz buzz buzz!
“Okay, could call them for me? I’ll call you back this afternoon to see if you reached them.”
Buzz… buzz buzz… bz-bz-bz, bz-bz-bz, bz-bz-bz-bz.
“Thank you! Goodbye.”
My wife turned to me, and I took a step back. She looked like a lioness that had just dragged down a wildebeest. She said, “Let’s go home. I have the number of the people at Pier One who build the stores.”
Over the next three days my wife talked to the following people:
-A secretary in the Pier One Capital Projects division who bonded with my wife over herb growing techniques.
-A manager in the Property Development and Renovation office who gave my wife anything she wanted because he had to go pee.
-An Executive Vice President in the Store Construction branch who thought the whole thing was so damned funny that he gave her the buyer’s number and wished her luck.
-A buyer in Purchasing who was perplexed by how my wife got her phone number, so she coughed up the name of the tile company before she really thought about it.
I would have given up at least three times before this point and taken the “smear shit on the floor” option. My wife still looked neatly pressed and determined. Then the Pier One buyer mentioned that the tile company was situated about fifteen minutes from our house. My wife was within striking distance of her prey.
A nice sales rep at the tile company told her that this tile was made exclusively for Pier One. No, he couldn’t sell it to anyone else. No, they didn’t make exceptions. No, there was nothing he could do. No, there wasn’t anyone he could call, or anyone else she could talk to. No, he didn’t like to grow herbs.
I felt bad for my wife. She’d come so far, just to be crushed now. Then she asked the sales rep, “Isn’t there anything at all like this that you can sell me?” And the sales rep offered to sell her “seconds.” These were tiles that didn’t pass inspection because their color might be slightly off or something. And they were cheaper than any other tile we’d looked at. They may have been cheaper than shit. She almost broke her jaw saying yes.
My wife borrowed a truck and picked up the tile. We started opening boxes and realized why we got them so cheap. Twenty-four boxes were about the right color and size, but twelve boxes were two shades darker and an eighth of an inch larger. There was no way we could lay this tile and make it look decent. I wilted. She just puffed up to even more impressive dimensions and sat in the kitchen with a cup of Earl Gray tea and her thoughts.
The next day my wife called a friend who’s an interior designer, and she explained our problem. Our friend laughed as if this was no harder a problem than a plaid shirt with a striped tie. She directed us to a tile man she said could lay this tile and make it look like it was meant to have different colors and sizes, rather than like it was designed by a baboon smoking dope. And within a few days the tile man had done this thing, and my wife luxuriated in the kitchen she’d wanted, striven for, and smashed through every conceivable obstacle to secure.
My wife has convinced me forever that if she really wants something, she will attain it with the inevitability of space junk falling into Earth’s gravity well. In fact, if the eccentric scientists of the world possessed her determination, the Loch Ness Monster would be jumping through fiery hoops at Sea World right now. And this is a good thing. Maybe I can convince her to really, really want an in-home theater, a Ferrari, and a recreational flamethrower.