As anyone who has lived in Manhattan for more than ten minutes knows the adage “time is money” is not true. After all, we all have time, we do not all have money. No, the way that statement should read is “space is money”. There is nothing so indicative of wealth in the urban environment as how far you can throw a rolled up pair of socks in your apartment and not hit a wall. And the corollary to this axiom is “closet space equals more money”. Since I didn’t have an overabundance of either (“money” or “more money”) I looked for alternate methods of creating extra space in my pathetically tiny studio apartment. The only solution that did not necessitate a gross breach of my ethics was a loft bed.
Now the simplest, and in the long run cheapest, way to accomplish this objective is to hire professionals. I know because I didn’t. I, like most men who live in the city, need to seek out ways to reaffirm my masculine ability to “do it myself”. Yes, there’s nothing like the whine of a power saw and a lung full of saw dust to goose that testosterone level back up to pre-Nixon resignation heights. I did realize that careful preparation would be required to insure success and went in search of that key ingredient to this or any such undertaking: a friend named Dave who lives in Bayside, owns a truck, has power tools and is a fireman. The fireman part is important because they are good in emergencies and because they tell great stories about each other.
After careful consultation Dave and I decided that we would build a replica of the loft bed that was conveniently standing in his apartment. Bright and early one morning I took the LIRR to Bayside where Dave and I had coffee, told stories, and stared intently at his bed. After awhile Dave announced that we were now ready to go buy the lumber. Trying not to express my lack of confidence in the art of zen-carpentry (“Be the bed”) I suggested that we obtain some actual blueprints to follow. Dave reluctantly concurred and I took the next train home.
The next morning found me on the train downtown to the Barnes and Nobles mother ship at 18th Street and Fifth Ave. I figured that this being one the most compact urban environments in the world there would be all sorts of “how to” books telling of ingenious ways to utilize every square inch of the twenty square feet most people here inhabit. I discovered that nothing could be further from the truth. I found books about patio furniture and barbecue construction, landscaping and bomb-shelter fabrication. I found six different books on how to build a log cabin; I assumed this was the retail book industry’s answer to the housing crisis. But I failed to find a single volume about loft bed construction. I tried several other stores, I queried salespeople, I made phone calls. Nothing. I challenge anyone out there. The next time you visit B. Dalton ask a salesperson for a book about loft bed construction and see the reaction you get. Especially if it’s the little Indian guy on whose shoulder I wept.
So, the following morning I took the train back to Bayside where Dave and I had coffee, told stories and stared intently at his bed. This time we made precise measurements, drew detailed diagrams and carefully listed the exact amount of wood we would need. Armed with this information we adjourned to Bayside Lumber, home of Philly the Lumber Guy. We gave him our list, and a couple of bucks. While he picked out the least S shaped pieces he explained that the wood that they had did not exactly match the measurements we had given him. We tried to look knowledgeable and said that would be fine. After about half an hour I was looking up at a pile of wood that was still growing. I admitted to Philly that we had perhaps overestimated the amount of wood we would need. He asked what we were building. I said “A loft bed.” He asked “How many.” Taking the jibe good-naturedly I asked for my two dollar tip back. At that point Dave intervened and we decided that if there was a little surplus lumber we could use it for the inevitable slight miscalculations that come with any such project. When we finally got all the wood to my apartment we realized that the miscalculation was in the size of wood itself. Something around the scale of four to one. (I kept hearing this voice in the back of my mind saying “But I ordered one thousand wooden soldiers, six inches tall, not one hundred, six feet tall.”).
The next day, after coffee and telling a few more stories we got right down to work. Now I had assumed that because Dave had a loft bed and was the proud owner of not one, but two power tools that he must be past master at urban furniture construction. That was not quite the case, but he had in fact made several lovely shelves in his apartment, and what is a loft bed if not a very large shelf? We discussed each design decision at great length. On his side was his shelving experience, on mine was the fact that I was going to trust my life, and the lives of those whom on lucky occasions I love, to the stability of the structure.
With the hammering and sawing came the inevitable conversation in which guys describe every woman they’ve looked at since they were twelve. One name that came up that we both knew was Leslie. We started exchanging reminiscences and what resulted was a two part rhapsody, complete with sniggering counterpoints, enumerating her virtues and favorite ice cream flavors. For the rest of the afternoon whenever we completed a particularly skillful carpenterial maneuver we would say “Wow, that’s a real Leslie.” or “Hey, we really Leslied that one.”
After hours of hard but frustrating labor we arrived at the dramatic moment; we lifted the beast onto its legs. With nary a wobble it stood strong and proud. Dave and I were simultaneously moved to shouts of “It’s alive, it’s alive!” So what if we had used twice as much wood as was needed. Who cared that it cost three times as much as if we had hired someone do it for us. There it was, standing in all its gothic splendor: Frankenbed. I can still hear Dave say in a quiet, almost hushed voice “John, I think I’m getting a Leslie.”
Yes, almost monolithic in proportions I can easily believe that my bed will still be standing long after I have moved to the suburbs to escape urban decay. In fact I like to picture it in a sort of Planet of the Apes scenario, (you know, at the end when Charleton Heston is riding down the beach with that gifted actress who wore the gerbils.) Except in my fantasy instead of finding the statue of Liberty he finds my loft bed sticking out of the sand. I’m not sure if this would make any sense in the movie but considering who he was with it might have made for a more interesting climax.
Well that’s the story of Frankenbed. I am happy to report that it has supported me steadily for the last two months. I would also like to lend a helping hand to any novice woodworkers considering such a project. I will gladly give you Dave’s phone number. All you have to do in return is help me find Leslie’s.
Published in New York Perspectives – 1999