Patricia Yarberry Allen, M.D. is a Gynecologist, Director of the New York Menopause Center, Clinical Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Assistant Attending Obstetrician and Gynecologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. She is a board certified fellow of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Dr. Allen is also a member of the Faculty Advisory Board and the Women’s Health Director of The Weill Cornell Community Clinic (WCCC). Dr. Allen was the recipient of the 2014 American Medical Women’s Association Presidential Award.

Two weeks ago The Husband and I met with a retired bishop who is the interim rector at our church for a year.  The conversation was helpful, since we needed guidance about ways to become more involved in the church that might extend our life there beyond just the Sunday service.  At the end of the meeting, the bishop suggested that he would like to visit us at our home before Christmas.  I agree with the bishop that house calls provide a wealth of information about a patient or a parishioner, and we were pleased that we would have more time to get to know him better.  We invited him to tea the third week of December.

Christmas madness all around, and I invite the bishop to tea! Who does such things? When we came home that night I surveyed the apartment with a very critical eye. Many sins were visible.  The foyer, painted in an unforgiving high-gloss aubergine, was now stripped of three paintings that had been moved to a new home on the walls of the waiting room of my new office (where, frankly, I would prefer to entertain). There were two electrical fixtures pushed back into the foyer walls where portrait lights had illuminated the paintings and provided dim light in the aubergine hall.  In truth, the lighting had never been right. 

But now the bishop was coming to tea.  I could right so many wrongs with removal of those wall electrical outlets: I could find a ceiling fixture that would  provide the first real illumination since the aubergine had taken up residence. This fixture would announce, quietly but firmly, that the apartment about to be entered would display just a hint of 1930s elegance.

Scott, my friend and decorator of 25 years,  sent Bruce, the most competent of his general contractors, to do an evaluation. Bruce suggested that perhaps the holiday season was not quite the right time to begin even a small foyer project. As he rubbed the surface of the walls he used words like skim coat and replaster and hmmm. However, The Husband, who cannot tolerate disorder in his living environment, was to be away for the weekend of November 30through December 2.  Surely we could remove the outlets, refinish the walls and repaint such a small space in three days?  I agreed to pay two workmen time and a half, plus a secret pre-completion bonus.  Bruce relented.

On Friday evening, after their regular work had been finished, Juan and his assistant arrived “to prepare.”  On Saturday morning, Juan needed more “preparation”: going off to buy the plastic and tape needed to keep the dust away from the bookshelves, the drapes, and the off-white upholstered furniture.  Then the team told me that the walls had to be prepared in a different way after all.  They had to be covered with a new coat of thin plaster and then sanded. “There’s gonna be lots of dust,” they warned. Coats were removed from the foyer closet and the doors removed to be refinished in Santa’s workroom.

The Husband arrived Sunday afternoon to find workmen gone and wife in place, looking fetching in something too risqué for a general audience to know.  Vague waves of the hand toward the war zone were accompanied by a welcome-home kiss. After a very happy return, The Husband was allowed to visit the now uninhabitable part of the apartment. He was, of course, understanding and generous. 

A new foyer light fixture had been chosen, along with a complementary ceiling light to replace the not-right one over the piano. These arrived on Thursday. The super found an electrician who came on Friday to make an outlet come out of the ceiling, remove useless foyer-wall electrical outlets, and hang the foyer light. This light had 100 small and medium-size clear baubles that had to be installed after the fixture was attached to the ceiling. In addition, the super had been told that the ceiling light over the piano was to be replaced with the complementary new fixture. 

The Husband picked me up at my office on Friday night so that we could arrive together for a much-anticipated holiday party at the Union Club given by friends.  As soon as I entered the car, he commented that I should have discussed replacing the 140-year-old dining room chandelier with a new fixture.  I was certain that he was just sick sick sick of the ongoing mess and had decided to torture me. So I called the super to inquire about the placement of the new ceiling fixtures.  In fact, the super had instructed the electrician to take down the delicate and beloved chandelier from the dining room and replace it with a smaller fixture that had the same baubles as the fixture in the foyer. 

It is a delicate balance, dealing with an apartment disaster and a relationship with a competent and kind super. I chose to internalize my agitation and anxiety, and risked having a stroke instead of cursing at my super.

The super told me that he knew that the big chandelier should not have been removed and he knew that he had just not followed through. He was apologetic.  He said the electrician would return that night to make it all work.

I suddenly had no holiday spirit left. We chose not to attend the party and instead spent Friday night with the electrician. The super sent up an ancient building porter with a decided tremor to assist the electrician as the heavy glass fixture, with its 100 multi-sized crystal baubles, was removed from the dining room and placed into the ceiling over the piano. I recognized that the unexpected removal of the chandelier had given me an opportunity to clean the many fragile chandelier glass pieces carefully before it was to be replaced in its home over the dining room table. This work provided some distraction for 30 minutes while glass baubles fell from the ceiling onto the quilt placed on top of the piano while the team attached the fixture.

Then I had to watch what could have been the most famous YouTube video ever, starring The Husband, the electrician and the porter with the tremor on two stepladders, struggling to replace the delicate chandelier above the glass dining room table. They had no direct light; they used  only a tiny flashlight for illumination.  I hovered, asking if I could hold the light while the one with the tremor and thick glasses tried to place a screw that would hold the chandelier in the ceiling, urging them to please avoid all pressure against the curved arms that held the bulbs and globes in place, since they were so fragile.

One hour into this renovation adventure in the holiday season, I spotted an almost-empty bourbon bottle.  Soon it was an empty bottle.  I was shooed and shushed by The Husband, then subdued by the drink.  However, it is the season of Miracles. The family chandelier does once again grace the dining-room ceiling. 

The dust storm’s been eradicated: Let the bishop come to tea.

Juan and his team arrived on Saturday, finished the walls to aubergine perfection, hung the beautifully repaired doors, and removed all the plastic, tape, and work materials.  The cleaning team arrived for the first round on Sunday.  Duraclean will deep-clean the upholstered furniture and remove the dust from the heavy drapes today.  On Tuesday, Esperanza and my team will begin the two days of intensive cleaning that such a dust storm requires.

Ah, and the bishop comes to tea on Saturday to discuss how we can find more time for our spiritual life and more time for life in the church.  Thank God for the bishop.

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  • Catherine Wood February 3, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    I missed this expose during the holidays and am catching up finally…howling with laughter! Thanks Dr. Pat, Douglas…and The Bishop!

  • Abigail Congdon December 10, 2012 at 9:25 am

    Thanks for starting my Monday with such a good giggle! I can envision you and your team as the plan for a spruce-up moves from simple to complicated and the aubergine is victorious in the end.
    Yes,, church beautification committee for sure, but only with the current super, porter, Husband, Esperanza, Juan and crew. It’s sounding like a pilot for a BBC TV series starring not Judi Dench but a glamourous red haired powerhouse , a handsome husband and a Bishop… Merry Christmas!!!! Abigail

  • Ruth Woodie December 10, 2012 at 7:38 am

    Pat, I am visualizing the ordeal in your space & have to say, maybe your calling is a position on the beautification committee at your church!! Hope the dust has settled!! I am sure the Bishop had a wonderful time at tea. Merry Christmas to you & your crew.