“Okay, now pay attention,” Michael instructed as we approached the yawning doors of our nearest Home Depot in the Washington suburbs. “We’re going to pretend like this kitchen is for our house in D.C. Then we’ll take the plans and order the whole thing from one of the Home Depots in San Juan.”
While this made perfectly good sense, it also made me squirm. I’m a terrible liar, and although this wasn’t exactly a lie, it did a very nice job of tiptoeing around the truth.
So I decided to let him do all the talking.
Our “kitchen associate” was a young Asian woman named Luong. She was infinitely patient, which made me feel even guiltier about our little ruse.
We gave her the exact measurements of the space and told her the type of cabinets we’d chosen.
She laid it all out on a computer grid and shifted appliances and cabinets around with a practiced flourish, asking questions all the while.
“Where this house is?” she inquired, batting her preposterously long lashes.
“Upper Northwest,” Michael hastily replied.
There was an awkward pause. “I don’t think so,” she giggled. It was charming but embarrassing—she’d seen through us already.
Michael stared single-mindedly at the computer screen. “How about if you put the dishwasher there?”
But I couldn’t bear it any longer. “It’s in Puerto Rico!” I blurted out. You’d have thought someone was applying hot coals to the soles of my feet.
Michael gave me a Look.
“We’re planning to buy everything from Home Depot,” he explained to Luong. “Just not this Home Depot.”
“No matter,” she said good-naturedly. “Maybe someday I come to Puerto Rico to see.”
This seemed unlikely, though maybe no more unlikely than our ordering a kitchen for a house in Puerto Rico from a Vietnamese woman in Virginia.
She gave us a computer print-out that included detailed drawings and all the necessary specifications.
As we said goodbye, we told her we’d bring back photos of the finished kitchen. And we made good on this promise a year later, after the kitchen was complete.
Over the next month, Michael developed a close, personal relationship with a woman named Ana Maria at the Home Depot in Carolina, just outside San Juan. He even learned to say, in halting Spanish, “Quiero hablar con Ana Maria en muebles de cocina.”
This usually got the desired results, although one time he was transferred to light bulbs. (Just when you think you’re getting the hang of a foreign language, someone shoots you down.)
Michael and Ana Maria talked every day. Sometimes it struck me that their relationship was more meaningful, more fraught with depth and nuance, than ours. I wasn’t exactly jealous but I did wish I could discuss the finer points of double-hinges with more authority.
Slowly but steadily our order took shape. There were inventory issues, of course—it appeared that although we had deliberately chosen a very simple cabinet style, most items in that line were on back order. Maybe, I reasoned, it was because we had chosen such a simple style that this was true. This caused me to picture kitchens all over America (not to mention its territories and possessions) looking exactly like ours.
Finally, after about three weeks of fits and starts, the order shipped.
We considered popping open a bottle of bubbly but unscrewed the top off a bottle of Stoli and drank that instead.
Not quite as elegant but it did the trick.