I’m in a bitchy mood and I have to buy curtains. I’ve got an all-over sprain, it hurts. Like there’s a dial with a razor-finned knob and it’s in my left hip. I’m dying and my mood’s switched to Pissed. On top of this, it turns out buying curtains is hard. The windows are 54 inches by 69 inches, and it turns out that the big department store sells no curtains, the big home furnishings store sells no curtains shorter than 86 inches, and the cut-rate department store says they do have curtains shorter than 86 inches, but only at certain time. I should wait until Monday, then check back every afternoon. The man telling me this was doing me a favor. I’d never have known the situation if he hadn’t been willing to talk. Well, I was polite. But perhaps I was barking my questions, going rapid-fire. One is keyed that way under my physical circumstances. Of course, I created them. But let’s not litigate that.
Thinking about curtains, I figured it would be easy. Curtains are household goods. They’re standard equipment for an essential feature—I mean windows—and they’re low tech. I always have a sense of the world crowding me, wallowing its fat belly at me, with this belly taking the form of the unwanted complexities that bulge their way into my daily life. I know that any new project is an opening for the world to squash me. I knew, in theory, that this project (buying curtains) provided such an opening. But I couldn’t see how. I had to take the threat on blind faith, and decided that I was being silly. But I wasn’t. Buying curtains is hard. It shouldn’t be, and perhaps in a Platonic way it isn’t. But it is when I have to do it. I always suspect that I carry my own Soviet Hungary around with me, a pocket society where all rules are misaligned and effort dies because it knows not hope. Then I have to buy curtains.
I stumped along my city’s petite downtown, hitting the likely retail spots. Was I rude? Once, but the guy had kept me waiting. This was at the big home-furnishings store, the second place I went. First one paces the barn and its wasteland of duvets. Then one barges to the cash register because no floor staff is in view. Then one is guided to the barn’s far left corner, buried deep behind the slip cases and the towels. Then one waits as the lone floor walker helps a couple buy their curtains. Then the floor walker retreats with the couple in the direction of the cash register and never comes back. When sighted next, he’s on the other side of the floor—down at this end, but a ways off. When approached, he proves to be busy with an espresso machine display. Asked about curtains, he affably consents to speak with one in a few minutes. Ten minutes pass. Approached again, he marches happily to the curtains section. One reads off one’s window measurements, and he confides that, no, they don’t have anything that short. Anything close? Well, no. Nothing shorter than 86.
At this point, one’s arm (the hand is holding the paper with the measurement) flaps down, and the floorwalker veers off. In fact, he seems to veer in front of one, though that ought to bring him into contact with the wall with the slip cases. But one does not see. One has swung about and begun marching. The situation is over.
No curtains, and a giant knob has been embedded in my back. My life continues.
—Follow C.T. May on Twitter: @CTMay3