May 16, 2015

On Perception

Nothing is ever easy.
I needed 4 glass shelves for my daughter’s bookcase, 24 by 26 cm. Since I do not know a glass man, the issue is discussed over dinner with hubbie. He might know a glass man that can help me out.

A perfectly good window. Too big a piece though.

“Yeah, that guy by the light house, he frames pictures. But don’t buy any glass. I still have lots of glass in the ware house. You know what? I’ll take care of it. Let me handle it,” says hubbs.
That  ‘let me handle it’  implies 3 options:
Option 1: I will wait until he actually handles it, which will require patience, as this could take up to 6 months. If handled at all.
Option 2: I will remind him a number of times, until he has handled it in a more timely manner, meanwhile making me feel like I asked for a heart transplantation.
Option 3: I will do it myself.
And so I wait patiently for a week, remind him once, and then, this morning, decide to go for option 3.
Easier to handle, but this time too small
And so I go to the guy by the lighthouse who frames pictures.
While on my way, I walk past a huge glass window leaning against a wall. Pity, I think. It's too big, but here’s free glass. 
A bit further I see more glass, also discarded. These pieces are too small, but it gets me thinking.
Then I walk past a row of Sukleen dumpsters. And there, next to them, in the garbage, lie two long glass shelves. Perfect pieces, nice thick glass. I don’t have a measurement tape with me, but surely, this looks like 24 cm wide.  All I need is getting it to the glass cutter.
Perfect! Exactly what I need, and for free!
Now the Dutch are a frugal people. Why pay if you can get it for free?
In Holland, once a month there is a ‘grof vuil’ day, meaning 'big garbage'; a day when you can throw away larger items. As a student, we’d drive by the houses (in Holland garbage gets picked up from the house) the night before ‘grof vuil’ days and scrounge for furniture. Beautiful sofas, chairs, entire dining room sets, standing lamps, paintings, carpets and all sorts of very useful stuff for a student dorm would be standing there, ready to be taken away. Many a student room gets furnished this way.
We students used to call it 'tof vuil', a pun on 'grof vuil', meaning 'awesome garbage'. Heck, everybody does it. It is not considered a shameful thing, it is a logic course of action. Someone wants to gets rid of something, you want it, and bingo; everybody happy.
In Lebanon however, dumpster diving has a slightly different connotation. Going through trash is definitely not done. That’s for another class of people; the men that do it for a living, and that go through all the cans early in the morning, looking for clothes, plastic bottles, scrap metal, metal cans and anything else they can use.
So even if you’d see a perfectly fine antique Thonet chair or a classic Eames lounger in pristine condition, you will not haul them home. You do not go through other people’s garbage, no matter how valuable or how useful the item you see may be to you.
Okay, so it's in the garbage. No big deal.
But here’s exactly the glass I need! Perfect. And it is for free!

I am in a bind. I realize I am hesitant to do this because of the perception of what other people might think of me here. It is absolutely not done. On top of it, it’s close to my house. People know me here.
However, the realization that my actions are being influenced by other people’s perception of me is of course equally unacceptable. Had I been in Holland, I’d have claimed it already. And so I stand for a while, next to the dumpster, and think.
You know what? Fuck it. I am taking this glass. I don’t care if they see me. Passing by glass and not picking it up, but pay for it 500 meters down the road is like 'uber snob' to me.
 I walk back home, get my car, and order my daughter to help me. After all, it's for her book shelf.
Seriously embarrassed teenager
“You want me to do what?!” she says, as I stop the car next to the Sulkeen dumpsters. “No way, woman, you do it yourself.”
I need some serious negotiating here, but eventually she gives in; we grab the piece (it’s not even in the dumpster, but outside) and drag it to the car. But it is quite long, and heavy, and three man, just passing by, are seriously confused. They want to help, after all, here are two helpless women in need of some muscle, and Middle Eastern etiquette stipulates they put everything down and help. But on the other hand, we’re getting it out of the garbage can. They hesitate.
It’s okay, we got it, we got it,” I say. They laugh at each other, but are visibly embarrassed by the sight. As if they caught us doing something illegal. They want to help, but they can't help with something that came out of the garbage! They do not know how to react.
Then an acquaintance passes by, and honks the horn in recognition as he passes by.
Dumpster Diving is 'not done' in this place

“Jesus mom, our reputation is pretty much shot,” says a seriously disgruntled teenage daughter.
Yes. Probably. But I don’t care. I got my glass for free.
And on to the frame shop we drive with our long piece of glass.
At the frame shop, the man with the glass cutter takes one look at it, and dismisses the glass.
“Can’t cut that. That’s out of the oven. Heat Strengthened Glass cannot be cut.”
It's not for lack of trying. I accept my defeat in silence.
No so the teenage daughter. She rolls her eyes, and huffs and puffs as she stomps to the car.
This picture is not related to the story, but I needed some visual fillers. This is Beirut though. My neighborhood, where my reputation has taken a serious dent :)
Fine. I tried.
So how much would a glass shelf cost, 24 x 26 cm?” I ask him.
“$5,” is the answer.
That sounds reasonable. Actually, I have no idea what a glass shelf should cost. Maybe he’s ripping me off. But for $5 a shelf, it’s worth it to me.
You know what, I am thinking, let’s buy 6 pieces instead of 4, you never know, I could add some shelves to the book case.
When I bring the glass pieces to the car, teenage daughter takes a quick look at them and remarks, “They’re way too short.”
Now that’s funny, I was thinking exactly the same. But that can't be, I’ve got the measurements written down on my phone Surely I could not make a mistake that big? 24 x 26, it reads.
We drive home, leaving the long shelf with the glass cutter.
At home, we try the shelves.
Indeed. Too short. I take out the measurement tape. The shelf should have been 24 by 48 cm. Maybe I measured the smaller shelves instead? But even that doesn’t work; they are 24 by 36 cm. Seriously? How could I have measured it that wrong?


This picture is  also not related to the story, but I needed some visual fillers.

A day of work, reputation shot, $30 dollars down the hole, a morose teenager in the house and still no shelves.
Nothing is ever easy.


Anonymous said...

Oh no!Ya haram alaiki. :( Well at least you put your mind at ease by taking the recycled glass with you. Besides, there is nothing wrong with using recycled stuff.You are reducing the carbon print and saving the environment in terms of landfill.It just wasn't meant to be for you on this occasion. :)

Fabulous said...

Another great story, you should seriously think about writing a book with short stories of your adventures in Lebanon, it would be a fun and interesting read for sure!

Best regards from Germany!

pierre said...

You should have let the hubby takes care of it. Lol. Really u should write a book. Very amusing.

ehden said...

you got a chuckle out of me today. great story and lovely pictures of Beirut. hopefully it's like that whenI'm there in September. we engineers say measure twiceand cut once