Home Depot Harvey says when it comes to entryways you can’t go wrong with a pergola. The culturally appropriated East Asian architecture in rot-resistant cedar suggests a certain refinement of spirit, i.e. “Why, yes. I did read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in college,” while simultaneously declaring, “Here is the front door. This way. Come inside. Relax.” I buy lumber and a DeWalt cordless framing gun and put them on VISA. Between my Chase and Alaska Airlines Mileage cards, my limit is $10,000. I haven’t been watching my purchases.
It’s Saturday. Lawnmowers cry from front and back yards. A house finch shoots out of an Oregon Grape and nearly kills me. I google “How to build a pergola” and watch a tutorial on YouTube. This is going to be trickier than Harvey let on.
Anne sticks her head out the window. “What are you doing, babe?”
“Pergola,” I say.
“What?” she asks.
I put on construction earmuffs and load my nail gun. I point it at the sky and consider pulling the trigger. How high would the nail go? I wonder. Would it kill one of God’s creatures flitting through the blue world? I have felt like crying for 11 days now and I don’t know why.
Eleven days ago, I came home from work and found Anne in the bathtub. There were candles burning at the four cardinal directions. A tarot spread on the bathmat. Major arcana in prominent positions.
“Everything okay?” I asked.
Anne clicked the screen of her phone with her fingernail and forgot to answer my question.
I walked out the front door and found myself in the backyard. I don’t have a front door. When I bought this house, the realtor said, “I think you’ll like this house, but it doesn’t have a front door. Only a back.”
“Why doesn’t it have a front door?” I asked.
She didn’t answer my question. But she was right. No front door, otherwise perfect.
The first time I invited Anne over, she said, “Why doesn’t your house have a front door?” The neighbors said, “Such a beautiful house, too bad about the door.” When my mom came over for dinner, she called me from outside and said, “It’s like Fort Knox. How do I get inside?”
Home Depot Harvey says my situation is common. “You have to teach people how to enter your house. Your front yard isn’t just bushes and lawn. It is a set of teachings. Blueprints, if you will, that invite the chosen ones into your interior spaces.”
We discussed a stone walkway, but he dismissed it.
“Too much intimacy too fast,” says Harvey. “Like getting a blowjob before your first kiss. The gate requires you to pass under. It’s sort of a test. An initiation. Follow me. I’ll take you to the pergola department.”
To get a 4×4 to stand vertically forever, you have to mount it to metal brackets which must be bolted to concrete. The place where I have decided to put my pergola has no concrete. I have to pour concrete.
I fetch a wheelbarrow from the shed and fill it with concrete, hose it down, and mix it with a garden hoe.
The secret to good concrete is not too much water, not too much concrete. Six pints water for every eight-pound bag. When you mix it, it should have the consistency of peanut butter if peanut butter was gray and made of rocks.
I mix it just right and pour the foundations. I start crying and stop myself. A neighbor appears and asks what I’m doing. “Pergola,” I say. He wants me to go on, but I put on my construction earmuffs. I get so scared sometimes, but as a man the expectation is that I have no feelings. I am to be perfect at all times, yet also “be vulnerable.”
A pergola, well made, according to Harvey, should communicate the following ideas:
- You are welcome here
- Sort of
- Do I know you?
- Are you selling something? (please don’t)
- Are you approaching with humility?
- Do you recognize that all of us will die one day and after that there won’t be anything?
While the concrete sets I tie and untie my shoes. They never quite feel right. Often too tight, then too loose. Where is the world where shoes are perfect every time? I have been looking for that place since the day I was born.
Anne comes outside wearing a flower dress.
“I’m going to the store,” she says. “Need anything?”
“Yes,” I say. “I need a different world where shoes fit.”
“What?” she says.
“Sometimes I get so scared that everyone will realize that I am not strong. I am supposed to be strong.”
“Sweetheart?” says Anne.
“Milk. We’re out of milk.”
The concrete dries. I mount the metal bracket to the wood.
BANG! says the poof of air. The nail penetrates completely and I am amazed.
I am going insane here on the sidewalk, sitting on the ground next to a parked car and an empty red bottle of 24-Hour Energy Drink somebody discarded here because apparently I have the kind of yard that indicates “garbage can.”
I have the kind of house that indicates “no front door.”
I am building a pergola that will teach people how to enter my house. It is like a blueprint but subtle. It will kiss you before the blowjob happens.
Anne gets in her car and drives away. Will she come home? My ex-wife went to get peanut butter once and still hasn’t come back. She has a new husband named Dork. Dirk, possibly. I think I mixed the concrete wrong.
Hey, here is a level. My pergola will be upright if nothing else. True. Raise High the Pergola, Carpenters. Bolts hold things together. Look at that. All of this works for some reason. When I was a boy, my dad nicknamed me “Worthless Piece of Shit.” I did things like mow the lawn, but my name never changed. I smoked a lot of pot in high school and went to the forest. I smoked out of an apple and ate it and everything in my brain went into nine boxes like the beginning of The Brady Bunch. I walked around and tripped balls, which is another way of saying, “doesn’t have feelings anymore.” It was good, like when God made the ocean and the birds.
Speaking of which, here comes another fucking house finch. That fucker was close. What is wrong with these goddamn birds?
Build this pergola, Self. Make it true.
I am building a pergola, but I am thinking of the major and minor arcana.
Scariest cards, in order:
– 10 of swords
– 9 of swords
– swords, in general
– Death (kind of rad, actually)
– The devil… just kidding. Satan forever. 666
I raised high these beams and they are true. When people come to my house now, they will say, “I have no idea where the fucking door is, but look at those goddamn true pergola boards. Good lord? Is there anything more vertical?”
Now the top. The trick to pergola is: TOP IS TOO WIDE.
That is the aesthetic of a pergola.
Anne comes home with milk. We are not getting a divorce. We have to get married first, I’m sure that can be arranged.
I have so much love in my heart, but first people need to know where to enter my house when they come over.
I am building a pergola and the top is too wide, as it is supposed to be.
To cut wood, you use a chop saw. It makes a sound that goes ning-ning-ning-ning!
Good fucking Lord! Another house finch! Fuck the Audubon society. Cats of the earth: COME OUTSIDE AND BE HUNGRY.
I am building a pergola that doesn’t give blowjobs too fast. The saw goes ning-ning-ning-ning. I used to put half and half in coffee, but since Anne, it’s milk. Doesn’t go bad as fast, she claims. Good for not getting fat. We use honey too, because something about bees and local.
I am definitely crying. Eleven days ago, I asked Anne: “Everything okay?” and she didn’t say words, also known as an answer.
That means: 1) she is going to leave and never come back. 2) she didn’t hear me and I’m freaking out for no reason.
My dad died of cancer three years ago. Since then, I have been “sensitive.” Meaning, “the opposite of how men are supposed to be” because we must “keep our shit together and build pergolas.”
I put the nail gun to my temple and pull the trigger.
I open my mouth and a house finch flies inside and I bite its head off.
No, not that either.
I keep building the pergola. A neighbor comes up and says, “What are you doing?”
I say, “Channeling the ghost of my father.”
My neighbor says, “What?”
I say, “Trying to defy the major arcana, an impossible task.”
Neighbor goes away. The sun blazes. Trees have names. This one is: maple. My cats are indoor cats, so I have to eat the birds.
Anne comes out with beer. She says, “Take a break and drink beer and kiss me.”
Maybe we will die holding hands. The day I met her, I said, “This one. Your hand, honey bun. That’s the one I want to be holding.”
I crack a beer and Anne cracks a beer.
“It’s crooked,” says Anne.
Fuck a duck, she’s right. I botched the concrete. It’s like soup, not peanut butter. When people come over, they will have to enter diagonally, and they will get lost in the backyard. House finches will shoot out of the Oregon Grape and destroy them.
“It’s cold,” I say, meaning the beer, but Anne knows I really mean: “This earth. The darkness that is waiting.”
I start crying and Anne lets me. It is my turn. In our relationship, we take turns being insane. My time is now.
I cry and the collar of my Pendleton shirt gets dark from tears.
Sugar ants crawl up my pant leg seeking sugar.
Fuck off, little ones.
I am building a pergola. A crooked one. No one will find their way in.