The Open Concept

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.
~ Matthew 15:11

A modern parable of an old problem.

Pasqual rubbed the crown of his head and closed the upper cabinet door. He looked at his fingers, but saw no blood. He pulled the door back open and tried to move it up and down. It was not loose. The travel mug he had removed from the dishwasher a few moments earlier was still in his other hand. He set it on the counter, filled it, put the lid on, picked it up, and went to the door. He listened but heard nothing. His loud cursing a moment ago had not awakened his wife Madeira. She was a heavy sleeper.

***

Pasqual had swam across the Rio Grande as a young boy and had never crossed back. For years he had tagged along with his cousins working on farms and getting by however he could. He had become separated from them and decided he liked stealing better than working. Of course, he started small, pinching this and that to get by.

The life of a thief is necessarily nomadic. You stay in one place too long, things go missing, people get suspicious, and you begin to get the eye. It gets harder to unload your goods and liquefy your assets. While the promise of three hots and a cot can be appealing when you’re shivering and the stomach is growling, it’s a bit confining to the freedom loving men among us. Pasqual embraced the role of wayfaring stranger and drifted about.

For a little while his cupboards had been bare and he needed some easy job to put him back in abundance. He easily jimmied the back door of a metal-clad building and stepped inside. In the dim light, he could make out work benches and tools. Power tools and hand tools could always be exchanged for cash. His mind began calculating and he wavered between grabbing quickly what he could carry and conducting a more protracted campaign. This place could be a golden goose for a while if he managed it right.

He was mentally crafting the mission statement for his new enterprise when a loud click and bright lights registered their objection to the proceedings. He turned to look upon a man with one hand on the light switch and the other noticeably close to a revolver on the man’s hip. This intruder, this interrupter of Pasqual’s dreams, was thick and as wide as he was tall. He owned a pair of piercing, dark eyes and Pasqual noticed he wielded them to great effect. He did not yet know it, but those eyes belonged to Ernesto of Ernesto’s Custom Cabinets. This was his shop and he seemed prepared to defend it to the last gram of sawdust.

Pasqual could not explain why, but he was broken under that gaze. He turned to a jelly and told his life story and confessed his life of crime. Ernesto listened patiently and, for reasons equally inexplicable to Pasqual, did not grip his pistol nor raise alarm for the police.

“What is your name?” He said.

“Pasqual.”

“And where are you from?”

“Juárez, but I left there when I was a boy.”

“Ciudad Juárez? Your family is there?”

“I have no family. I am an orphan. I ran away from the orphanage with some others. They said we were cousins, but I do not know.”

“Where are they now?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen them in a long time.”

Pasqual thought Ernesto rather monosyllabic as an orator, but after a few moments of silence, he concluded the Q&A portion of the night’s program was ended. He was unsure of himself. He thought he should perhaps raise his hands in the air, or maybe he should kneel down and put his hands on his head. He did not know what was next on the bill but he was reasonably certain it would impose certain requirements on his hands. He took no action, and, I must confess, his logic was sound. Ernesto had made no mention of the position of Pasqual’s hands nor whether his standing position was unacceptable, neither had his hand moved any closer to his pistol. Pasqual remained as he was and held the gaze.

What happened next was extraordinary and you would be enrapt to hear it, but in keeping with the spirit, if not quite the letter, of the short story genre, I shall have to get to the point sooner rather than later. In summary form, the next day began Pasqual’s career in the cabinet making industry. Ernesto put him to work and Pasqual became the son he never had. Pasqual learned quickly, worked diligently, and advanced apace with his potential.

***

Pasqual rubbed the crown of his head and stared at the open cabinet door. You will recall that a mere ten hours earlier he was in this same position. He was less concerned about the loud cursing he had expelled because the snores coming from the recliner in the living room assured him that Madeira was sleeping soundly as usual. He heaved a big sigh and marched out to his truck. He returned with a curled upper lip and a 20 volt lithium powered Dewalt drill in his hand. He moved deftly as though he were thoroughly skilled in the operation and removed each door from the upper cabinets. He hauled them to the bed of the truck and they bounced off the spare tire and clattered to rest in the same.

Time passed, as time is in habit of doing whether you are enjoying yourself or not, but Pasqual was enjoying himself in the kitchen. The lower cabinets were properly closed and sealed, and the upper cabinets were as open as the U. S./Mexico border in the 1950s. Pasqual was able to use his head for more than testing the tensile strength of wood screws and cabinet door hinges. Though he had gained rather more experience than he wanted in the occupation, it was not a future he wanted for himself.

After a while, an idea formed he considered flawless. Surely he was not the only one to stand up in a kitchen and meet the bottom corner of the upper cabinet door with the sensitive crown of his head. If he had solved his own problem by removing the doors, he could solve the same problem with the same method for other head rubbers and cabinet door cursers. The idea simply could not fail.

By this time, Ernesto was aged and what you would call, set in his ways. Pasqual pleaded with him to begin marketing and selling upper cabinets sans doors, but Ernesto would not hear of it. That was not the way things were done. Pasqual eventually made his case to other cabinet makers and you would have thought a scab crossing a picket line would meet with warmer reception. As the sun began to set on Pasqual’s own life, it looked as though his genius would be buried with him and lie undisturbed and undiscovered.

***

In Pasqual’s Abrahamic years, he had rejoiced at the birth of a son, Carlos. He cherished the boy and always called him, “Mijo Carlos.” Where Pasqual had failed to save the sensitive crowns of the world, the fruit of his loins had risen up to give his ideas the attention they deserved. Carlos had learned the cabinet making industry and excelled his own father. He opened his own shop and enjoyed great success selling people on, The Open Concept Cabinet™. Carlos had led the sensitive crowns of the world out of the wilderness of nasty knocks and into the promise land of unfettered cups and plates and safe soft heads.

As to be expected, there remained a segment of the population unconvinced. You always have the detractors and wet blankets to deflate the room of joy. Someone unexpertly observed, “Aren’t those just shelves?” What are you going to do? That’s the trouble with people. They just can’t get a grip on the new ways.

About Jeff Short