We had one of those huge summer thunderstorms the other night. The kind of storm that makes you want to crack your window open a little bit further so you can hear the rain coming down, and the thunder, and pray that the eavestroughs are not blocked by any leaves or twigs, or that the roof hasn’t found new ways to seep water into your home.
The next morning my wife was surprised to see that our mailbox had come away from our house and was laying on the ground. It was a bit weird because there didn’t seem to be overly strong winds associated with the storm, but there you go. This mailbox was made entire of wood, and so when it was flung from our house and onto the sidewalk, it did what most older wooden things do: it splintered and cracked. It was beyond repair. We needed to get a new one.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sad to see it go. We had it for almost the entire time we have lived in our house, and I harboured a secret hatred of the damn thing this entire time.
I don’t even know where the stupid thing came from, but I have my hunches. Because it was wooden and “folk arty”, there’s an excellent chance that it somehow came from my Mom’s place. I still remember the first few days of taking possession of the house. We cleaned it from top to bottom, got the hardwood floors refinished, painted everything, put new carpet down in the bedrooms, got rid of old curtains, you name it. The mailbox that came with the house seemed fine to me, in that it was a mailbox. The letter carrier could open the top and slip envelopes inside, and then sometime later that day, the homeowner could also easily open the top and retrieve the letters and bring them inside. And yet despite the fact that this mailbox seemed absolutely normal and functional in its “mailboxedness”, I was surprised to come home one day to see this wooden monstrosity had taken its place.
First of all, it was ugly. It looked like a rejected jr. high shops project, and it seemed to stand out, rather than blend in. Your eyes were drawn to it. Mailboxes should be neither seen nor heard, right? The second thing I didn’t like about it was that it was riddled with folk art style cut outs, which I guess were artsy, but resulted in soaked letters if the wind was blowing the right way on a rainy day. The third thing I didn’t like about it was the little design and saying on the lid. It had a silhouette of a cat family. You could see what was probably the mommy cat, the daddy cat, and a couple of kittens lined up in profile. Above this family of cats there was a phrase. I believe it said, “Families are Forever”.
First of all, I am no friend to the cat. I’m allergic to the best of them, and I hate the worst of them, and this mailbox was suggesting that not only was this house “cat friendly” but it was also suggesting that maybe we had a cat or two on the premises, which was patently false. It’s so bad I have to take an anti-histamine before I put on a “Cat Empire” CD. And yet one of my favourite musicals is Cats! What I’m trying to say, people, is that I am complex, like Charlotte Bronte’s Mr. Rochester. The only difference is that I don’t have a crazy wife locked up in the attic. She’s free to live on the main floor here.
The other thing that bugged me was that it seemed to be flaunting our “familyness”, which for the first six years of our marriage, was just my wife and me. TECHNICALLY a family, but really, when you think of families, you’ve gotta include at least one kid in there, am I right? And the lack of kids was not on purpose, by any stretch. Our seeming inability to have kids was brought front and centre every morning when I went to bring in the mail and was met with this goddamn Cat Family. I began to dislike the box, and dislike turned into resentment, and finally contempt. But reader, you will be happy (and probably amazed) to know that I did NOT ONCE voice my displeasure over this mailbox. I’d like to say it was because I respected my wife’s decorating choices, but I think the reality was that I didn’t know how to put a new one up. In fact, I’m not at all sure how that Cat Family mailbox got put up in the first place (or how the totally normal looking mailbox was taken down). It was secured somehow with a single nail into the stucco, and it darn well lasted nearly ten years, so what do I know?
And actually, just over four years ago, something amazing happened. Our incredibly wonderful daughter showed up and somehow those stupid cats didn’t bother me all that much anymore.
Needless to say, the mailbox was beyond repair and we needed to get a new one. So off I went in search of a replacement. I realized on my way to the hardware store that this was the type of thing most people don’t ever buy in their lifetimes. If you buy or rent a house, chances are that house already has a mailbox, and unless you’re deranged, why would you ever change it? What kind of criteria should I be following? There were no consumer reports written up on mailboxes, I am sure.
When I got to the mailbox row I was surprised at the variety. What kind of statement did I want to make with my mailbox? You had your “uprights” and your “horizontals”, you had some that had the little hooks on the bottom (to hang bags off of, maybe?) and you had some without. Most were metal, but there were a few that were actually made out of wood! (No thanks, friend.) In the metals, your colour choices were limited to black, various browns and greys, and white. I sure as heck wasn’t going to get a white one. What would the neighbours think? I also stayed away from the wood ones for sure, and selected one that I thought sort of matched our house number sign (and it had the hooks, in case you were wondering), and brought it home. It sort of had a brown fleck to it, which I thought would be good. I don’t know if mailboxes rust, but if this one started to, you could just say it was “the fleck”.
My wife liked it, and all that was left was to attach it to the house.
The old wooden cat box was attached with a single nail, and when the storm wrested it away from the house, it took the nail with it, leaving a hole in the masonry. I recall when we first moved in, buying the number plaque and trying to figure out how to attach it. This was back in the days when I was so dumb, I thought I could do anything. I think I just went to the hardware store and told the guy what I wanted to do, and he sold me a masonry drill bit. I came home, drilled a couple of holes, stuck up the plaque and it’s been up there for a decade now, no problem. I went downstairs to look for that drill bit, and I think I found it, but it seems really really wide, like way too wide for these little mailbox screws. My wife was wondering whether I had bought a second drill bit, a smaller one, but I couldn’t remember. In the ten years of owning a house, instead of becoming more confident with “handy projects”, I’ve gone the other way, losing all confidence in myself and my ability. Even something as simple as hanging a picture, I usually defer to my wife, who is great at it. Something relatively simple like replacing the handle on our storm door turned into a bit of a scene, and my wife had to take over the whole operation. The handle is on, but the door doesn’t lock, but who cares, really? It’s just a dumb storm door, and there’s been a movement afoot to replace the whole damn thing one day soon, so why worry about it being perfect.
But I digress. Here I am with a mailbox, a couple of tiny screws, and a brick wall. I feel a certain sense of urgency to get this thing up. I have a vague sense of some federal regulation that it’s illegal to NOT have a mailbox, but that surely isn’t true, is it? I’m reminded of that Simpsons episode where Homer threatens to take the numbers off his house so they can’t find him. “Well, we’ll just look for the house without any numbers,” was the response, and Homer’s solution was removing all of the numbers from all of the houses. A crazy notion crossed my mind. Could I get rid of all the mailboxes on our street, or at least our block? But what would THAT accomplish, really? Just a bunch of angry neighbours.
“Why don’t you look it up?” was my wife’s expected rational response. Of course! Google! But you know, when you google “attaching mail boxes” all you get is a bunch of links to digging a hole, and sticking a post in there and sticking the mailbox on the post, New England style. I guess the internet assumes that attaching a mail box to a house is SO FRICKIN’ EASY that there is no need to upload an ehow video or create a yahoo answers page. As I was musing about this, the mailman came up the walk. He had a bundle in his hand and reached up to where the mailbox used to be. He stopped, looked confused, and looked around to the other side of the door, and then looked for a mail slot IN the door. He started to go around to the side of the house, assuming maybe that the box was moved there, before the spell was broken and my wife shouted out, “Hey! Sorry. Our mailbox blew down.” She pointed over to the new mailbox, still sitting in its box on the ground. He looked at us with dead eyes, handed me my mail personally and went on to the next house without a word.
At least he didn’t think we had cats.