I was hoping that our recent earthquake would cause my wife to reconsider her plans for remodeling our house.
I was sitting in our living room with her sister Suzie when it came. As a veteran of earthquakes, I felt that it was bigger than the 4.5 it was later reported to be. Suzie grabbed the arms of her chair. She was obviously scared. Trying to reassure her, I said, "It's only an earthquake."
My wife was not home. She had gone to a retreat in Malibu. I don't know why she goes to retreats. What is she retreating from? Her sister had spent the night with us after our anniversary party. I felt that it was gracious of me to have provided an earthquake for her entertainment.
The house shook. I was frightened, too, though I tried not to show it. In an earthquake there is nothing you can do. It is a demonstration of nature's primacy, like a volcanic eruption.
Suzie was amazed that the house had stood. It is a typical Southern California house of wood frame and plaster, and peculiarly resistant to earthquakes. I decided to tell her about my wife's plans.
"She wants to add a laundry to the kitchen," I said, "and a bathroom for the pool."
Suzie said that sounded reasonable. Then I told her the rest. My wife also wants to add two feet to the den, so it can be used as a dining room, put a staircase in what we now use as a dining room, add two upstairs bedrooms and a bathroom, and bring the front porch into the house, thus creating the largest foyer outside of Versailles.
Naively, I had asked an architect who is a friend and neighbor of ours to do some preliminary work on her plans. It is true that he was rather dilatory, but so was she, and after two years of inconclusive negotiations, neither understood the other or felt that anything had been achieved.
My wife went out of her mind. I mean she was psycho. She accused him and me of trying to circumvent her plans; of trying to limit her to the bath and laundry. She said we were a male conspiracy. I have often been attacked by feminists, but I never thought my wife would be one. She prevailed upon me to write a letter terminating his services. It hurt me. I hated to do it. I felt that his ineffectiveness had been our fault as much as his.
Like Freud, I asked my wife, "What do you want?" She said she wanted two upstairs bedrooms so we would have a better view. I could use one as my den and she could use one as hers, for sewing and whatever, and for storing her collection of old Times food and travel sections and her 1,000 cookbooks. I admit I had never thought that a woman needed a den.
In writing, I said her plans were grandiose, impractical and ruinously expensive; she said OK then, forget it. I accused her of screaming at me for the first time in years. She said she was not screaming because she did not have that kind of voice. She was yelling.
"Do you realize," I told Suzie, "what it would mean if she has her way? In time we would be two old people living in a house with four bedrooms and four bathrooms. Isn't that mad?"
Suzie said she thought the laundry and pool bathroom were a good idea.
"What will you do while they're building it?" Suzie asked.
I said, "We'll move into the Hollywood Roosevelt, at about $150 a day, or else we'll rent an apartment somewhere for $1,500 a month."
I didn't mention that I would have to move my computer into our temporary quarters, and that we would have to visit our house every day to select our clothes. I reminded her that when we expanded our bedroom wing the stress had almost kept us from achieving our 50th anniversary.
I told Suzie that I had once visited Will Durant in his home, a two-story Spanish-style house above Hollywood Boulevard, when he was in his early 90s, and I noticed that he could no longer use his upstairs library, because he couldn't climb the stairs.
Suzie said, "I think the laundry is a good idea."