Just Sherring

My Brother at the Hardware Store is Me in a Bookstore

Is it still a Honey Do List if it’s from sister to brother? My brother spent a few days with me. Of course, the main reason was for some long overdue sibling time. Despite a trip home a couple weeks ago, I hadn’t seen him since June. But the catalyst for him packing a suitcase not only with clothes, but tools is because I asked him to help me. Help make my apartment feel like a home again.

Months ago, after residing in the same Bed-Stuy apartment for 12 years, I was offered to get it repainted. I jumped at the chance choosing colors for my kitchen, bathroom and living room. I opted out of my bedroom because I still liked the color, didn’t want strangers in my bedroom, and most of all, didn’t want the hassle of moving everything around. Doing so for my living room was headache enough.

Though the repaint happened in February, here it was September and I had yet to rehang the art and mirror on my walls. Replacing the Crate & Barrel leaning tower shelves and desk were custom shelves where they once stood. The books, pictures, plants, and knickknacks were placed in their new home while the paintings, souvenir masks from Haiti, Mexico, Puerto Rico were still on the floor, leaning against the wall. Hell, the protective brown sheet I’d strewn over my Crate & Barrel bar was still in place with a bottle of peanut butter whiskey, wine glasses, a vase and other items thrown haphazardly on top. When my brother and his girlfriend visited me in February, weeks after the apartment painting completion, and days after our grandmother’s burial, I asked them to pardon the mess.

“The state of my apartment is an accurate reflection of my mental health right now,” I said.

Only the “now” stretched on for months. Therapy isn’t magic. I was strickened by COVID, then struggled with long COVID for weeks. Just as I started to get my sea legs back, I was felled by a double tooth infection leading to my bottom left and right wisdom teeth being pulled. The damn holes have yet to fully close leaving me to ask what was the point of stitches?

Late August, I called my brother to ask if he’d make a trip from Boston to New York to help me get my apartment, and life, together. Everything I was asking him to do, I can and have done. I got my first apartment at 20. I’ve assembled several bookcases and chairs, hung and rehung the same paintings, screwed light balls, swapped curtains and blinds, flipped my mattress, and painted walls on my own.

This time, I didn’t fucking want to. I didn’t want to pay the charge on Task Rabbit either. It’s not fair to say the prices are ridiculous. It’s manual labor and people are trying to make a living. Unfortunately, I live the life of a chronically single woman. Fortunately, I have a big little brother who can do all those things for me. For free.

I told my brother to meet me by the Krispy Kreme at Penn Station on a Thursday afternoon. I saw a video that said for most men, the first and only time they receive flowers is at their funeral. I greeted him with a small bouquet of flowers, which included a beautiful sunflower. He danced when he saw me, smiled when I told him the reason behind the flowers. I admonished him when I saw the crumpled Krispy Kreme bag in his hand. Could’ve gotten me a classic glaze, dammit.

Thanks to a friend’s list of requested suggestions, we hightailed it to Friedman’s nearby and threw down on Korean barbecue wings, mac and cheese balls, B.L.A.T. (bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato) sandwich, and sweet potato fries. The pineapple mango drink garnished with the largest mint leaves I’ve ever seen in my life was too sweet for me. My brother gladly inhaled his and mine.

At my apartment we got right to business. On the rug in front of my couch, we mapped how to hang the mixed art on the wall behind it. For years the sole painting had been what I call the Good Times painting, as in the painting at the end of the opening credits of the sitcom. I’d purchased it nearly 20 years ago at the Boston Caribbean Parade.

Another wall had the aforementioned masks and three slim African paintings gifted to me by a cousin from his trip there. I wanted the couch wall to resemble a museum display. I included a woven fan and a black and white marker sketch of me reading drawn by a subway artist unbeknownst to me until he handed it to me before exiting.

After presenting my brother with a small pack of 5/8” #10 tacks, which I’d been calling nails all along, he seemed shocked and appalled. He spoke of such things as anchors and wires. I told him I didn’t speak German. With the exception of my wrought iron art deco mirror, (approximately 20-25 pounds) and an oversized clock, maybe about 10 pounds, I had used the #10 tacks to hang everything. For the mirror and the clock I used screws. “That’s dangerous,” he said.

“Okay, so let’s go to the hardware store up the street. I’m not sure if they’re open.” It was after six. There was some sunlight.

I told my brother the other tasks needing to be done so he could survey what else he we’d have to purchase. The hardware store was closed after the brief two-block walk. I was ready to call it a night. Homeboy whipped out his phone and voice-command Googled “hardware stores near me.” There was one on Fulton Street, a 13-minute walk. I personally didn’t want to do it, but his eyes sparkled. My brother at a hardware store is me in a bookstore.

I was cold but I commanded my feet to walk. I told him to close the GPS and put away his phone. I knew the store in question. Not too long ago, I bought replacement blinds for both my living room windows. I had snipped one of the blinds and asked them to tell me the measurement to select the correct box.

Once at the store, my brother and the greeter immediately launched into talking shop. My brother asked to be pointed in the direction of “this and that,” the man asked “X or Y” then gave directions. I followed and suppressed a giggle as my brother inspected stock with a stern look.

The aisles of the store are narrow. My 5’9” probably close to 200-pound brother looked like a bull in a china shop. I let him do his thing and moseyed to the plant aisle looking for decorative pots until he summonsed me to interrogate me about specifics. His voice changed. The lady behind the counter jumped in and I felt like a third wheel hearing about brackets, Velcro, and rubber cement.

“I’m not paying $15.99 for a whole roll of two-sided tape to hang one painting,” I interjected.

The painting in question was a 15×20 canvas with half a front-facing elephant (my favorite animal) with a beautiful landscape behind it. The main colors are orange and yellow, both colors I love. It was painted by, and a Christmas gift from, my goddaughter. It had never been hung in the previous iteration of my living room. It sat atop a Pier 1 mosaic table with a built-in magazine rack. Since the apartment repaint, I moved the table by the couch to hold my Bose speaker and a lidded wooden vase from Haiti which stored lotions and lip balm. I also kept a decorative coaster for my daily mugs of tea.

The lady suggested ordering museum putty from Amazon after I told her I was looking for the sticky stuff that often came attached to items in the mail, like the fake cardboard credit card telling you you’re pre-approved or coupons from Express and DoorDash. Peeling it never damaged the paper. I like to play with the fake “boogey” afterwards. She told us she uses it to hold down vases because her cats are assholes and push things over that aren’t tethered.

I don’t remember what I paid for, but my brother was excited. So this is what I look like when I’m leaving a bookstore. It was dark and chillier when we left the store.  At least it wasn’t raining like when I scooped him at Penn Station. Back at the apartment, we finalized the mapping before he got to work, and I started dinner. The day before I’d gone to the fish market for salmon. I cleaned and marinated it with various seasonings to make salmon bites. I peeled and cubed sweet potatoes, halved Brussel sprouts, chopped red onions then tossed everything in olive oil, garlic powder and Adobo to bake in the oven.

It sounds like it went smoothly, but every few minutes my brother called me into the living room.

“Do you want it here or here?”

“This way or that way?”

“Higher or lower?”

My brother knows his sister is particular. I’d have him show me the options up close, then step back and take a picture. Depending on the item, he nailed, screwed, anchored, or used Command Strips, which I bought months earlier intending to “Do. No harm.” as per the commercials.

Museum Wall was done but the other tasks remained. Those would be done the next day before our city adventures. The next morning, I dragged opened and unopened delivery boxes from the hallway into the living room. They were a tree coat rack, a Tiffany-style lamp, and a bathroom shower tower that needed to be assembled. I also asked him to tighten the screws of another coatrack, my bathroom, closet, and kitchen doorknobs, dresser drawer handles and to hang the art deco mirror in the living room and the 50-60 pound mosaic full-length mirror from Pier 1 in my bedroom. I had to crouch or stand back to see myself.

My landlord had attempted to hang it for me years ago. Instead of honoring my wishes of where to hang it, he insisted upon centering it exactly between the ceiling and the floor, which meant I could only see my shoulders up.

“Well that’s all you need. Women only like to look at their faces,” he declared.

I was furious but couldn’t say so. I had him replace it on the floor, leaning against the wall, where it stood for over a decade. Many years later, his nephew who was doing the paint job said he’d mount it, my new 65” TV, and install ceiling hooks for $100. I changed my mind about the TV, but our schedules never matched for the rest.

Once again, my brother was in his element with his measuring tape, power drill, leveler and other Tool Man toys. He asked for a pencil for markings, asked me if I liked the placements.  I made eggs with cheese and tater tots for breakfast. I wanted those things done before we headed out to view Basquiat: King Pleasure, an exhibit curated by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s sisters. I also wanted to try Zanmi, a Haitian restaurant in Soho. If, and I mean a giant IF, we had time and energy we’d go watch The Woman King starring Viola Davis and John Boyega, preferably at an Alamo Drafthouse location, to be served food and drinks.

The Basquiat exhibit was awesome. I’ve seen his work at MoMA, and a larger exhibit at Brooklyn Museum, but this was different. Like Brooklyn Museum there were personal effects, such as his sketchbooks, but this also included over 200 items of never before or rarely seen items, including clothes, VHS tapes and short film interviews with his sisters and other family members. The sisters shared how their Haitian father had worked hard to preserve the legacy of his son after his death and prepared his daughters that he’d pass the baton for them to carry after his own passing, which happened in 2013.

It was a time warp walking through the exhibit. There was a room that played 80s music. I don’t know how long we were there. People filed in and out. I’m excited I got to experience it. I’ve been meaning to go for months. My brother enjoyed it as well. I was glad he was here to work but also to enjoy and have fun. It was a nice brother-sister outing. He treated me to a souvenir mug that I was reluctant to buy, instead opting for a $3 3-D bookmark. I also purchased one of my goddaughter. I wanted a hoodie, but they were $80.

After the exhibit, we headed for dinner at Zanmi, a short three-stop train ride away. It was so chilly and windy, we saw a pigeon crouched in the corner so still we thought it was dead. I feared the wind would rip my earring from my ear. The restaurant was cute and cozy. Food was good but not mind-blowing. Perhaps I’m biased and spoiled by my Haitian aunties, late grandmother, and even my uncle. Americans or non-Haitians will be over-the-moon impressed. I was annoyed because my options were limited. They fried everything in the same grease even, the proclaimed vegan meals. The waiter looked me dead in the face and said the high temp meant I didn’t have to worry about cross contamination from shellfish. “Not so” say my memories of having allergic reactions. Cliff got to enjoy the three griot sliders on King’s Hawaiian mini rolls. I couldn’t even order bannan peze (fried plantains).

We were pooped and headed home. No The Woman King for us. We didn’t even make it through the Kevin Hart Netflix movie at home.

Saturday, his final day, he made another run to the hardware store as I showered. Before leaving, he blew my mind by perfectly folding the fitted sheet that had been on the air mattress he slept on. He returned to the one that had been closed Thursday evening. He came back excited, admitting that he wanted to walk up and down every aisle. This store was smaller than the one on Fulton but it was a bonafide 100% hardware store. No pots, pans and other household items like on Fulton. I had been there to make a key copy and again for paint samples before the repaint.

One of the three light bulbs in the living room fixture was out and the Tiffany lamp needed a bulb, so he went to buy them. He also installed hooks from the ceiling because I wanted to hang plants. I asked him to break down boxes for trash day, bring down items like the old bookshelf, shoes, and throw pillows to set out on the sidewalk for people to scoop. I made breakfast: French toast, eggs, turkey Italian sausage and tater tots. Per my uncle’s request, we stopped at Junior’s in Times Square for strawberry cheesecake. I also bought a slice for my BFF aunt. My brother bought slices for his girlfriend and her daughter. We got to Penn Station at 2:51 for his 3 pm train.

No track was posted on the board, but a snaking line had already formed at the 15/16 track and continued to 13/14. I waited in line with him, hugging him right before the down escalator entrance. I waited for text confirmation that the train had pulled off as we exchanged weekend photos via text.

Not wanting to go home, I purchased a 4:20 pm ticket to The Woman King at the Herald Square AMC Theater a block away. Just like that, Brother-Sister Weekend was over and morphed into a Sher Date.

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