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BORIS 

by Dody (mostly) and David Westheimer

 

Sometimes when my wife returns home from shopping excursions she entertains me with accounts of chance encounters with strangers. In the years I was writing a column for the Houston Post, one such was Bonnie Franklin's father. But her notes turned out to be better than anything I could have written so I quoted her verbatim in the column, giving her proper attribution, of course. So a few months later, when she had a memorable chance encounter with Boris, I asked her to write an account of it for me. This is it:

"I went over to Florence's (our niece) to drop off some books and papers (Variety and Women's Wear Daily, which she traded with our niece for The New York Times) I had for her.

When I got to her house, I saw she wasn't home (by the red light on the alarm system), but the refrigeration repair man was in the driveway. I told him I would let him in the house.

(She normally would not let a stranger in our niece's house, but this gent had a nametag and a company logo and besides my wife knew our niece's icemaker was often on the fritz.)

I turned off her alarm system and unlocked the door. The nametag on his shirt said Boris. He had obviously been there before because he went right to the icemaker in the den. He checked it and told me in a heavy accent — he didn't talk like me — that it needed a new motor.

'This icemaker,' he said, 'is the Rolls-Royce of icemakers. You fix one part, then another part breaks. Very expensive. Better to put in a cheaper icemaker because this one is complicated to fix. Is it under warranty?'

I said I didn't think so but he would have to check with Florence.

'She's your daughter?' he asked.

I said no, she was my niece, and it was lucky I had come by so he could get in to fix the icemaker.

'I have the model number and I will call and see how old it is,' he said. 'Can I use the phone?'

'Sure,' I said.

He dialed his number and, while waiting for the call to go through, he looked up at the wall opposite him.

'Is this by a famous painter?', indicating a painting on the wall.

I said 'I don't know how famous, but it is by a well-known artist.'

'What is it?' he asked.

I said it was a modern painting.

'Can you see anything in it?' he asked.

I said, 'You have to look at it carefully and then you will see a man upside down and other figures.

'I wouldn't have it in my house,' he said.

He walked to the living room and looked at the other modern art on the walls. 'What do young people see in this?' he asked.

I said, 'You probably like the Old Masters and still-life paintings, where a face looks like a face and an apple looks like an apple.' Then he inspected the standing sculpture.

'This is nothing but concrete,' he said. 'It's a mess.'

I said, 'You just don't like modern art.'

Then my niece arrived, asking all kinds of questions about the icemaker. He reported everything to her. She said, 'I'll look up the papers, but I'm sure it's off warranty.'

(Things are always off warranty when they break.)

'Oh,' she went on, 'I bought the best loaf of bread. Grainy. No salt or sugar. Take some.'

I said I wasn't hungry but Id try a piece. And I gave Boris a piece.

He said, 'Very good bread.'

I asked him, 'Do you want a little butter on it?'

He said, 'Oh, no, but it's very nice.' He left, promising Florence he would call her back.

She turned to me and said, 'He seemed to have had a good time talking to you.'

I said, 'Yes, he stayed a long time. But he hates your art.' "

On rereading this, I see she has left out a part she had included when I asked her to please put it down on paper. This is about our niece's husband. Maybe she left it out on purpose, not wanting to disclose a family matter in a hometown newspaper so if that was her reason, everyone should be advised she is not responsible for it getting into Senior WomenWeb. The blame is all mine. This is the part she left out:

"Boris told our niece, 'Somebody pulled down a wire in the icemaker.'

'That was my husband,' our niece said grimly. (She is petite but can do grim at least as well as any large person.)

'He's never going to touch this icemaker again!' "

And I'll bet he won't either. Not while she's around. Also, I'm kind of hoping he won't see my wife's account of her conversation with Boris. It's not that I'm concerned about him learning what Boris thought about his art, which cost more than the icemaker even if it was the Rolls-Royce of icemakers.

What I'm concerned about is Boris' bill. I'm sure Boris was charging for his time while he was speaking with my wife and commenting on modern art. Refrigeration persons do charge by the hour

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