Monday, September 13, 2010

Vacancy in the Basement: But Not for Me, I Hope (Gulp)

One thing Matthew kept reminding me of as we journeyed home from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and I kept saying, "this stinks" or "that stinks" or "that other thing plus another thing stinks" was that the trip as a whole had been successful, just the journey home was abysmal.

While we were in Albuquerque, Berto and Ana went fishing with their grandpa and papa and caught their first fish.

And Berto had his first birthday party with his cousin (their birthdays are only a week apart). The cakes I made were edible, and they didn't collapse, get smooshed, catch on fire or cause anyone to be ill. Plus, once Matthew decorated them, "Hello Gorgeous!"

The other bonus was, of course, that I did not destroy one single piece of furniture or square of carpet while I was at my in-laws. I didn't even break something valuable and irreplaceable. To those relatives in the know about my tendencies to destroy major appliances and break all things glass this comes as a shock, but I swear it's true.

There was a time not long ago, though, when my father-in-law jokingly suggested that I stay in the basement the next time I visited. Chances were good that the suggestion would cease to be a joke if I committed one more act of destruction in their beautiful home.

Let me state my defense. They have white carpet - beautiful plush carpet that human toes love to curl around, that a grown person could fall asleep on in a matter of minutes. Still, it's white, and we all know that the human race is split into two camps: those who embrace the white fabric of the world and are experts at maintaining its purity and those who are deathly afraid of it and cannot help but destroy it by some terrible means.

One Christmas, Matthew polished my old knee-high, square-toed boots for me. My dad had bought those boots for me in my senior year, I believe. They were looking a little worn, but I loved them still. So I had brought them on the trip to visit my in-laws in their new home at Christmas.

They looked not bad after he applied the polish, so I yanked them on, glad to be reunited with their supple leather. A few minutes later I sat cross-legged on the floor in the guest room, playing with my daughter. Then I crawled around the carpet, chasing her.

Matthew came into the room.

"What's all over the carpet?" he cried.

I looked around, bewildered by the long black smudges that had seemed to appear by some strange voo-doo magic on the white flooring.

"What is that?" I wondered aloud, but even as the words left my lips, my little leprechaun was tapping my brain with his walking stick. "Uh, Hello!" he was saying.

 "Oh, no!" I cried. "The boots!"

Matthew looked at me bewildered a moment, and then the knowledge flooded his eyes all of a sudden, and his head hit his hand.

That was not the worst thing I ever did, however. There are greater enemies to carpet than plain black shoe polish.

It was the evening of my brother-in-law's rehearsal dinner. I was almost ready to go out and mingle. I had changed into a nice pair of slacks and a brown shirt. My make-up was done. My hair looked fine. There was only one thing I hadn't been able to do before we left home: paint my toenails.

It was summer; I was wearing open-toed heels. They had to be painted, you see. But I took precautions. I laid out the baby changing mat over the white carpet to protect it. I had thought about doing them in the bathroom, but it would be cramped. As long as I was very careful....

Ana came in while I was painting them. Toddlers are exorbitantly fascinated by fingernail polish; in their little hearts they know this stuff, with the exception of possibly mustard, is the most permanently staining substance that can be handled by mere mortals.

"No, Ana," I said. "You don't get to touch this."

She tried anyway, and I jerked the bottle away from her. The bottle tipped, and the bright maroon polish slid off the changing mat and onto the gloriously plush, impossibly creamy white carpet.

My life flashed before my eyes.

Matthew was already out with his family in the main rooms. I had even heard some of the guests arrive.

I began frantically blotting it up with tissue paper, washcloths, cotton balls - anything. Some had come off, but it had sunk into the pile, a bright maroon circle where no furniture could hide it.

"Ana, go get Papa!" I ordered.

Then I did the only thing I could do. I called the one person who had cleaned up a similar mess I'd made a few years before: my brother-in-law. That color was a pleasant pink, if I remember right, and I was applying it while staying with my bro-in-law and sister in preparation for a date night with Matthew (I called Matthew after that spillage, begging him to come early so he could be there before my brother-in-law got home).

"Hello! Hello, are you there?!" I screeched into their answering machine. "I just-oh, s--t!" I finished, abandoning all manners as I gazed in panic at the stain that would never, never go away.

Suddenly, a voice. "Hillary?" said my bro-in-law. "What's...."

"Hey!" I interrupted. "How did you get the fingernail polish out that I spilled at the apartment?"

"I didn't," he said. "We lost our deposit. Why?"

"Because I just spilled some bright red polish on my in-laws white carpet!"

I waited for the laughter at the other end to subside before saying, "I don't know what to do. Last Christmas I got shoe polish on it - they're going to hate me!"

After another good chuckle at my expense, he said, "Alright, calm down. Let me look up something online."

I was calming down, feeling better. I had help! Then Matthew walked in.

"What is it?" he asked. I pointed. "What the hell did you do?" he demanded.

"I put the baby mat down and everything," I moaned. "I was trying to keep it away from Ana."

"That's white carpet!"

"I know, I know!"

"Hillary?" said Bro-in-law, still on the cellphone.


"Most of them say to use fingernail polish remover, but it has to be the acetone kind. Some recommend alcohol or GooGone, but be careful; you can mess up the pile or make a hole with that stuff. And keep the stain wet - add water to it."


 "Good luck!" he said, laughter returning.

"Ask your Mom for some acetone fingernail polish remover," I said to Matthew.

"They have guests," he answered, his face pale with anger.

"I have to get it out now," I answered desperately. "Please. And GooGone if they have it."

He left. I could have told them myself, I suppose, but I was too coward to face them. Meanwhile, I kept squishing tissues over the stains and dribbling water, getting up small blots of color.

"Matthew came back, grim faced.

"What'd they say?" I whispered.

"My mom's too busy. When I told Dad I was sorry, he just said, 'These things happen, son'."

But only with your wife, I added in my head, feeling more dejected as he handed me a bottle of fingernail polish remover and the GooGone.

The remover did almost nothing except fading the color to a paler red. The GooGone finally gave me a glimmer of hope that my fatal mistake would not leave a lasting impression on my in-law's carpet or their minds. I was pouring it on like mad until I came to the point where I knew no more could be done.

Needless to say the rehearsal dinner was full of anxiety for me. I slunk around, avoiding my parents-in-law and watching for Matthew's brothers to come in a pack and pitch me from the house - banished FOR-EV-ER!

I offered for Matthew and I to pay for a carpet cleaning when we left a couple days later. Then I apologized for ruining their carpet. Again.

"That's okay," said my father-in-law as he held the front door wide open for me. Then chuckling, he added, "Maybe you should stay in the basement next time."

After that, I often begged Matthew to let us stay in a hotel when we went to Albuquerque. If you ruin something in a hotel, sure you'll pay for it, but you're not going to destroy any personal relationships. Matthew insists his parents want us to stay with them, and, thankfully, I've noticed there are still no guest accommodations in their basement, not even a single rickety cot. Probably because I've done no damage since. But, shhhh...I'd better not jinx myself.

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