How to Make a Screen Door with Oompa-Loompas, Khana, Do-hickys and Nail Polish


One of the most difficult aspects of living in the Middle East is to convey to you, my dear, how impossible it was to keep any kind of schedule. Any activity can expand and collapse in unpredictable ways. Par example, getting a screen door in the States would start and end with a quick trip to a ‘house supplies place’ and either you install it, you get a friend to or you hire a carpenter. It would not involve buying snacks – which is the first step of any house project your most marvelous Auntie undertakes. ‘Khana first’ is the inviolate rule.

To have a screen door for the kitchen, I first went to a bakery and got some slices of cake and cupcakes. Then I went to pick up my fix-it man, Lukesh, then to the housewares shop. Of course, my job was to sit in the chair by the cash register while Lukesh went in the back storeroom and conferenced with the main supply guy and a few of the underling supply guys. I had to avoid eye contact (i.e. read) until he came out and announced what the total was. There was never a question of me being involved in what I would like – that was for my fix-it man and the supply Oompa-Loompas.

Supply Oompa-Loompas and fix-it men rule the world. When I take the plumber to the store to get new faucets, he asks me “Chinese, Italian or German?” i.e., what quality/ cost did I want – no mention of the color, size or style of the faucets. Be happy you can choose your own clothes (or rather, you get to wear what the tailors feels like making for you). Sigh. Let’s simply admit that living in the Middle East causes one to develop the super-human patience that your cherished auntie is renowned for. If I wasn’t so confoundedly modest I would declare that I am fit to run any Buddhist temple as my karma is so polished and pure, my reincarnation as a unicorn is assured.

In any case, for the screen door, we needed two large sheets of plywood and various small bits of hardware. The plywood was too big to fit in my car, so this meant the store manager had to call for a ‘truck.’ That was another 15-minute wait, then I had to bargain the price with him, pay for the plywood, supervise the loading of the truck, i.e. standing with the unintelligible ‘bill of goods’ in hand while Lukesh, the supply store Oompa-Loompas guys and the store manager pointed out what each do-hicky was and how much it cost. I had to look eagle-eyed and knowledgeable so as not to be cheated, but we all knew that I am clueless about anything that does not involve rhinestones. Accept your position in life.

I drove home; Lukesh went with the driver in the truck. Then I had to supervise the unloading of the plywood, pay the driver, give Lukesh 7-Ups and the cake, and listen to him explain that the reason I didn’t purchase any mesh (screen) was that you can only buy mesh by the roll, over $50 dollars. He would ‘find’ some for me and bring it with him. Darling, ‘find’ means ‘steal.’ Now don’t be upset, having a few stolen things about the house gives you some panache and everyone, sauf moi bien sur, needs more panache.

On the weekend, Lukesh, the carpenter and a helper guy arrived at 9am. They all worked steadily sawing and doing vaguely carpentry things until 11:30, when I came outside with snacks and drinks. At 2 pm, conveniently the time that all stores closed, Lukesh knocked on the door to inform me that they needed more do-hickeys.

He insists, “No problem, three going.” I suspect that meant they were going to nap for an hour, but did I complain? Mais non, complaining causes mismatched eyebrows as we all know.

At three fifteen Lukesh, the carpenter and I head out. We get the do-hickeys, then I insist on stopping to get them real food. Cupcakes are ok for mid-morning tea, but it seems like this is going to be a much more serious project than I thought. So we stop by three restaurants until we find one with the right kind of khana.

Back home, they disappear back up on the roof to eat, then more pounding and sawing. At six thirty I am invited to inspect my two new screen doors, one in the kitchen and one on the roof. They are perfect – if what I had wanted from a screen door was an inch of open space between the screen and the door frame and mesh with several tears. There were no handles but sliding locks fitted on outside, so you could be locked inside the house.

They were deconstructionist screen doors – screen doors that signaled, our original purpose was to keep mosquitoes out, but that is so limiting, not to mention exclusionary, let’s reframe the concept of screen doors to allow not only multiple meanings but to reverse-engineer the meaning so that now we say both “keep out” and “Mosquitoes – enter here!”

I declared them perfect (Darling, screaming at workers causes chin hairs, the Mayo Clinic verified this with a double-blind, peer-reviewed study) and paid them off.

What came to the rescue? Nail polish of course. I cut small squares from the remaining mesh and stuck them over the rips with En Pointe (a ballerina pink shade). Then got another carpenter to nail on thin slats of wood so that the screen doors now fit in the door frame.

And what have we learned from this instructive story? It’s not fair to fault workers for not being clear about lack of screen door training – in general, quite unreasonable to expect someone to represent themselves and their abilities acutely. It is either “I am not qualified” (i.e. no way are you hauling me into that mess) or “Yes, I can” (i.e. hypothetically, in a perfect world, I might be able to handle it and as it seems you really want this, I might as well give it a shot. What’s the worst that can happen? Hand me that chisel. If nothing else, it will be amusing and I might even get paid.)