December 17th, 2011

Since we moved into this house a quarter century ago we have been living with a kitchen floor covered with simulated vinyl brick. We have hated it since day one but have lacked the means and energy to replace it. We have tried hard to ignore it, but it’s hard to ignore a floor that is warped and torn, with sharp ragged edges which from time to time reach up to snag socks and slash exposed skin.

One day last week I walked into the kitchen and found Anne on her knees, ripping up sections of flooring with her bare hands while cursing a blue streak. Clearly, the time had come to replace the floor.

But with what? I once recovered a kitchen floor with vinyl, but as I recall, things didn’t go well. I ended up with glue on my hands and clothing and blisters on my knees. Here and there were lumps—one of which turned out to be a mislaid utility knife. Another may have been a cat.

Anne was adamant that this time around we would hire a professional, and we were lucky to find Marty, who strongly advised against the vinyl solution. Turns out our kitchen boasts not just one but three layers of linoleum—going all the way back to 1926, the year our house was built.

Underneath the faux brick lay a half-inch-thick sheet of particleboard (faux wood), and underneath that a second layer of lino, this one featuring a faux rock pattern. Underneath the faux bedrock we found the original linoleum, which featured a parti-colored speckled pattern. Each layer represented a particular dynastic period, and it was interesting to speculate upon the various families that have called our house their home—and wonder why two of them had opted for plastic replicas of stone and masonry.


We settled this time around on real stone, which meant that all previous layers must go. As Marty set about ripping up the underlayment, Anne and I went shopping. We settled on a nice creamy Italian travertine. Marty didn’t participate in the process, and I think I know why. The last thing he wants is to be blamed for choosing unwisely.

The following morning I awoke to find 200 square feet of travertine stacked on the deck, not one square foot of which resembled the sample tile we had seen in the showroom. We turned to Marty for advice; he simply continued ripping up underlayment.

“Well, I suppose we’ll just have to take it back,” my wife said., and I agreed. I asked Marty if he also agreed. “It’s your floor,” he answered. “You’re the one who’s going to have to live with it.”

“But what would you do if it were your floor?” I asked. “I mean, you know a lot more about flooring than I do. I would value your opinion.”

Marty just shrugged and grinned—a Cheshire-catlike grin. As Paige Davis might say, “Your home, your way—go suck on it!”

Anne and I spent the next little while loading several hundred thousand pounds of Italian travertine tiles into our car. Marty didn’t offer to help, and I think I know why. After all, it was he who had picked it up from the warehouse and transported it to our house in his pickup truck—a truck that he now claimed was in the shop. No doubt the suspension was broken, and I imagine Marty might have cracked a vertebrae or two as well. No, of course he wasn’t going to help us return the tile. He was teaching us a lesson!

We drove very slowly to the tile store, dragging our rear bumper the whole way. We asked the salesman why the tiles from the warehouse only vaguely resemble the ones in the showroom. He reminded us that Italian travertine isn’t a man-made product. “It’s natural and the pattern varies,” he explained. “The color varies as well.”

As he was explaining all this, he cast a sideways glance at our poor overloaded Pathfinder, sagging pitifully in the parking lot. He looked at my wife, who isn’t a large person—then at me, whose manly physique has gone somewhat southward since my days as a lifeguard.

“Why didn’t your contractor return the tiles?” he asked.

“We’re being taught a lesson,” I answered.

“I see. Well, I want for you to be happy. Let’s go have a look in the warehouse.”

In the warehouse, we walked among towering pallets of quarried stone. We saw a sign reminding visitors to be wary of forklifts. Another sign advised that it is not permissible for customers to pick through pallets—a practice known as “high-grading.” Now, I happen come from mining stock, so I know all about high grading. My wife’s mother was a jeweler. Don’t try telling a jeweler’s daughter that high grading is a bad thing.

We were introduced to a warehouseman named John, who was even more determined than his boss that we “be happy.” Soon Anne was working her crafty magic, merrily chatting John up about this and that while cracking open crates, sorting through tiles, pulling out the good ones and tossing aside the bad ones. By and by the warehouse floor was littered with cracked and broken rejects and our car was brimming with hand-picked beauties.

Now all that remains is for the tiles to be laid and for my cat Casper to be refurbished. I didn’t find out about her mishap until daybreak, when I awoke to find a trail of cat tracks across a layer of thinset mortar. Poor Casper was frantically licking at her paws, but it was too late; the mortar had set and so now what we hear at night instead of the soft pitter-patter of pussycat paws, is a Michael Flatley-like staccato tapping on hardwood. Ah, hardwood! I’m beginning to wish we had never pulled up the wall-to-wall carpeting.

-Richard Menzies