By Diane Ako
This is a story about marital ridiculousness. For about two years - though my husband insists it's been just one year - I've been asking Claus to modify my container garden in the front yard.
It was built with a jerry-rigged entrance. I had to lift and remove a large lattice panel, secured using zip ties, around metal stakes. It was functional but cumbersome, and as a result, I really didn't like going in the garden.
I really like gardening with my herbs and vegetables - and lately, succulents and tillandsia - so I've been asking and asking for a real fence gate. Claus got tired of hearing about it and finally started sketching out a design and putting it together.
"You'll have to walk sideways to get in," he warned. I said it was OK. In my head, I envisioned a somewhat smaller-than-normal opening, but one that would still leave me with a few inches of space on both sides of my body if I scooted in sideways. For me, that would be about 16 - 20 inches wide. It just makes sense, right? I did not think I would have to manage this like a work project. I was wrong.
Poor guy. On Thanksgiving - oh, the irony - Claus woke up bright and early and spent hours, all morning, finishing the gate. He had slowly prepped the elements over the past month or so, and this was the day to put it all together.
In the afternoon, he proudly declared it done. I was sufficiently amazed. I made all the right ooh and aah sounds and congratulated him on his prowess with a power drill. It really did look nice.
It had the same two plastic lattice panels, but they were more securely fastened to a center wooden post. They looked nice and straight. The old gate's panels weren't fastened well, and the plastic eventually drooped at the bottom, creating a space that Inca realized she could easily paw through.
I was very excited to use my garden. "Which one of these is the gate?" I asked, pointing to the lattice.
"It's that," he answered, pointing to what I thought was the center wooden post. This thing was so skinny, I was stunned that he wanted me to use that as a gate.
"What?!" I asked. I was honestly flabbergasted. This is not a stupid man I married. I have no idea what he was thinking.
"You can fit through this," he insisted, and opened the gate. I halfway tried, but every part of my body brushed up against the posts. No space. This did not seem like it was going to go well.
I didn't go in all the way. I instead took a step back and stuttered, "I'm sorry, this is not acceptable. I can't use this. You have to redo it. I know you really put a lot of effort into it, but why did you build me a gate that's a foot wide?"
Obviously, a case of mismatched expectations. We parted ways for an hour or so to cool off.
You should know this about me: I'm very accommodating. If I get a bruised fruit, the wrong food dish, a smoking room, etc, I'll tolerate it if it's half-workable. I'm not really high maintenance like that. If the fence were even four inches wider I would have thanked him and gone to work playing with dirt.
When we decided to speak again, he told me he was upset with me for being ungrateful. I can see that, I conceded, and apologized... "but what were you thinking when making a 12 inch gate? How am I supposed to use that? Some mornings I like to run out right before work and pick herbs to bring to my coworkers. I will snag my nice clothes on the wood," I explained.
"Mostly, I just don't understand why you built it so small. You made this from scratch, with no other limitations or parameters. Why give me such an unusable gate?" I asked.
He is very stubborn. For a really long time, the answer I got was, "That's how it was designed." You know, the adult version of the sullen teenager's "Because."
"Designed for who? Olivia?" I sputtered. "How wide is that gate, really? Is it 12 inches? I'm going to go measure it."
He knew he was about to get busted so he 'fessed up. "Ten inches. But it looked bigger on paper." I think he means he used the width of a sheet of paper as a guide.
I looked at the gate again. It does not swing open all the way. Due to the way the vertical posts are positioned and the fact that it only opens 75 degrees or so, I actually have more like eight inches width. RIDICULOUS.
Finally, he gave in and shared his logic with me: he thinks doors are hard to hang, so he was keeping it as light as possible. As you may have guessed by now, he's not really a carpenter-type guy, so he wanted to make it as easy as possible.
"Have you even tried the gate?" he huffed.
So I did. I can barely get in. It is so tight, it unsnapped my pants as I passed through the fence. It's like going through a birth canal, it's so snug.
I offered to hire someone else to do the job, but I apparently threw the gauntlet down with that suggestion because in Man-Speak, it means "You can't do it, I have to get another man in here to fix it." (A lesbian friend offered to remedy it. Even worse for a man's ego.)
Now he said he was intent on fixing it himself, and how wide did I want the gate? This story gets even more stupid.
"Two feet," I said.
"I'm not going to make it two feet wide. That is too heavy," he balked.
So we negotiated. We have never negotiated before. We were throwing numbers back and forth like an auction.
He had me down from 24 inches to 22 inches. I got out a yardstick. It is so silly that I am bartering with him over a few inches. "Twenty, and that's the lowest I'll go," I insisted.
He held the yardstick to my body and rejected the number. "You're only 13 inches across. You don't need 20." If this wasn't my real life, I would be LMAO at the married fools having this conversation.
We agreed on 16.
"The wider you make it, the likelier Inca can fit inside," he warned.
WHAT? I'm pretty sure he was just being stubborn because we had just been bickering. I have no idea what this means.
After more circular conversation with this supposed "warning," he finally explained that he meant to continue using only two vertical posts, but widen the gap in between.
I do not know why he cannot add a third vertical post. He insisted it was to keep it light, but it just makes NO sense to me that I have to practically audition for Cirque du Soleil every time I want to squeeze into a dang garden.
At Thanksgiving dinner at my cousins' house, I told the story. My relatives were laughing so hard. "He doesn't want you to gain weight!" my cousin said.
"He doesn't want to fit inside so he doesn't have to help you garden!" chuckled another.
Claus tried to defend himself. "Hey, aren't you lucky this is what I think of you?" he pointed out.
Sure, lucky. Or is he trying to suggest to me to lose weight?
So he's at work now on widening the gate. I'm sure it'll be another 12 months before I see that become reality. In the meantime, I've suggested to him that should he ever tire of running a mortuary, he would probably be a perfect fit as set designer for TLC's Little People, Big World.