IT IS SPRING AGAIN, so I am preparing to do some of the yearly chores that Franco and I used to do together, like putting away heavy bathrobes, opening all the windows wide, getting out the sandals, and taking the down comforter out of the duvet cover. I have never been sure if you are supposed to say duvet cover or duvet by itself, but whatever it is, the change of seasons always brought the duvet task to Franco and me.
At the start of winter every year, trying to stuff that comforter into that cover was our most dreaded job. We would stand on opposite sides of the bed and try over and over again to get the comforter into the right position so as to be fastened to the cover by four clips. We’d inevitably end up screaming at each other:
“Hold your side up. It’s falling on the floor!”
“It’s too heavy. It keeps slipping out of my fingers!”
Then there were those stupid buttons that you had to fasten on the inside of the cover so they wouldn’t show, even though nobody ever looked at that thing except us.
It is times like this that I miss Franco even more, especially the melting into hysterical laughter after the yelling had subsided. I recently watched a new documentary on Woody Allen, and they showed that clip from Annie Hall where the two of them are chasing the lobsters all over the floor. That’s what it used to feel like when we had to shove the comforter inside that cover.
Today I was proud of myself: I filled up the container under the car’s hood with windshield wiper fluid. First, the challenge was to find that knob underneath the dashboard that would click open the hood of our VW Jetta. Then came the tricky part of getting my fingers under the narrow opening of the hood to locate the button that would release the hood all the way up. It used to take the two of us what seemed like hours to figure out where that button was. Even the Volkswagen mechanic told us he had trouble with it.
Then I heard a click and realized that, miraculously, I had found it almost instantaneously, a miracle because I remember how much time Franco and I would spend cursing when we couldn’t get the obstinate thing open. Now I just had to locate the lever that held up the hood and then the hole it was supposed to go into. I looked down onto the array of boxes and wires and tried to figure out which one was the wiper-fluid box.
Franco was a master tinkerer, and his signature piece was what many called a Rube Goldberg invention. He had gathered up all sorts of pieces of metal and wire from his basement work space and fashioned a 6-foot-high fountain. It is a marvel of imagination and engineering, and everyone who had ever seen it was stupefied. Pieces of an old watering can, plastic cups, copper pipes, hoses and wires, tiny metal buckets, funnels, water and gas gauges, sink faucets, and various indeterminate objects had all been put together to form a perfectly working fountain. Children were transfixed as they watched the water spurt out from the top between tiny colorful flags, then travel all the way down through the various objects until reaching the bottom, when the water rushed up and spurted out once again.
It is a work of art. But it needs the yearly maintenance that Franco did every spring. I don’t know how to do it, and nobody I know, however much they may understand engineering, knows how, either.
I brought the much admired piece into the living room for the winter. It may never work again, but I can look at it every day and remember the delight that registered on the face of every person who ever saw it.