The most singularly eccentric man I know appears to powder his hands. I can’t be sure of this because I haven’t asked, and if I did, surely he would answer in a way that would provide no insight. But what appears to be baby powder lingers in the creases and folds of his hands – hands that also seem to taper down to almost nothing.
He lives in a very exclusive enclave in Pittsburgh’s east end in a home that was built in 1930 by his parents who hired a very prominent pair of European architects to design the house and every piece of furniture and every fixture in it. As such, it is an architectural treasure.
Sadly, it has fallen into disrepair. I believe strongly it is the result of the current owner, the son of the couple who built it, the eccentric who may or may not powder his hands. Harvard educated and an inventor of some renown, housekeeping is not one of his strong suits. It appears he may have done nothing in twenty years. Carpets are worn, furniture is falling apart and three story draperies are tattered. (Remember, everything in this house was designed and built exclusively for this house.) The house is damp and smells terribly of mildew.
I first met the owner two years ago and have seen him several times since. Every six months or so he calls us about looking at some work on his house. It is the same thing; we go up, we provide pricing, we tell him he needs things done, and we never hear from him until he calls us to give him prices on the same thing six months later.
When he meets you at the door, the instructions are always the same “Don’t touch anything, especially the banisters.” He then turns and gently opens the door using only his powdered (or not powdered) pinky and ring finger. On the way upstairs, you will pass the kitchen that has several bags of cereal on the table. And I do mean bags, as in he takes the wax paper bags of cereal out of the box and arranges them on the table. You will pass by the expansive dining room where once I asked if I could look in. “No,” he said, “I don’t think so.” You will also pass several very large stuffed animals – the kind that make you wince if you actually win at a carnival because they are so large.
Recently, I was at his house with several other contractors. As we were walking upstairs (careful not to touch banisters) one of the other guys asked if he could use the bathroom. The owner, at the front of the line stopped dead in his tracks, lowered his head and inhaled deeply through his teeth, making a hissing sound. I had the feeling that no one had ever asked such a thing. Hisssss his breath went again. The passing seconds were excruciating, everyone waiting on the back stairs, hands prominently in the air. We were all wondering the same thing, is he going to let him use the bathroom? “Well,” hissss, “Um, I guess you could use the one up here.”
I asked him once if he was married. “I was married and have a daughter,” he said. “Oh yeah, are they around here?” I asked. “No,” he said without looking at me, “They are far away.” Far away as in you killed them and they are buried far away? Or far away as in they are running an ex-pat bar in Malawi to stay as far away from you as possible? Either seems possible. Did someone touch a banister?