It was the chocolate chip cookies.
My wife, Janie, who for years has entered her award-winning baked goods in the Indiana State Fair, was upset because she failed to earn a blue ribbon last summer. Upon inquiry, she was informed that her chocolate chip cookies were slightly burned on the bottom. (I have always been one of her official tasters, and they looked OK to me.) She blamed her lack of success on an unreliable 25-year-old oven that had to go.
I offered some helpful advice: "Replace the oven? Why not just take the cookies out earlier?" That was a bad move. I retreated with, "Sure, honey, it's OK with me. Let's buy a new oven." Two weeks later, I came home early from work one afternoon and found Janie huddled with a bunch of men around our kitchen counter. They were looking at construction drawings-you know, plans and specifications that roll up into the size and heft of a fire hydrant.
Women instinctively know that you don't put a new oven in an old kitchen. It's somewhere in their DNA. Janie had embarked on a complete remodeling program. I made a cogent argument: "Didn't you love this kitchen when we built it 25 years ago?" "Yes." "Then what's changed?" After 40 years of marriage, I should have known that line of reasoning would go over like a sunken soufflÃ©.
That was three months ago and Janie hasn't made a home-cooked meal since. She can't. Our kitchen looks like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I have eaten out more often than Barack Obama. I miss my favorite meal, breakfast. All I ever wanted out of a kitchen was someplace to fry an egg. Instead, my car is full of banana peels.
I am an honored patron and aficionado of the neighborhood restaurant scene. Come to me for advice if you want to take your spouse out to dinner. I can rate the hamachi at Ocean World, Noah Grant's and Kona Jack's. Do you like Italian food? Ask me to limn the nuances of eggplant at Salvatore's, Amalfi and Pamfilio's. Pizza? Do I know pizza. I can give you the provenance of a slice of pepperoni. If you go to Mitchell's in Clay Terrace, ask the chef for The Mickey Maurer Special. Did you know there is a Chinese restaurant on three corners of 86th Street and Ditch Road?
The remodeling project has grown like the rising cloud of a nuclear blast. Janie needed to refinish the floors in the new kitchen. But why stop there? Floor work spread to the adjoining breakfast room and down the hall to the laundry room. Not only has the kitchen been rendered useless, for a few days I could not sleep in my own home because it smelled like Chernobyl. That odor has abated. Now when I walk in the house, I'm greeted with that euphoric aroma of fresh glue.
We stopped locking the back door. Plumbers, painters, carpenters, electricians, floor men, ceiling guys, cabinet makers, designers-contractors come and go like out-of-town family. Ah, but they can't eat me out of house and home.
Last week, some appliances were delivered. Janie made me an egg on her new gas stove. I paid a fortune for that breakfast (that includes the price of the egg). The first thing out of the new oven better be a chocolate chip cookie.
Janie has been wandering around the house with her hand on her chin. The other day, she winked and said, "You know, I think we should replace the TV in the family room."
We finally have a projected finish date. Last night, Janie said, "We should do something to celebrate our new kitchen. Let's go out to dinner."
Maurer is a shareholder in IBJ Media Corp., which owns the Indianapolis Business Journal. His column appears every other week. To comment on this column, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.