A couple of years ago our house flooded and we had to rebuild everything — right down to the bathroom tile.
Our tile-setter was a frenetic Russian named Alex. At first I had mixed feelings about him: He could be charming one second, with his lilting Slavic-English, but moments later he would fly into a rage over some small setback.
The guy was an artist, though, and I soon saw his tantrums as a reflection of his work ethic. So I wasn’t entirely surprised to find him almost in tears one evening, when I came to see the newly-completed bathroom floor.
“I don’t know how this happens,” he said, pointing to a spot near the toilet. I followed the trajectory of his dusty finger to a single errant tile.
Alex was distraught. “Don’t worry about it,” I said, trying to calm him. I wasn’t sure I’d know how to console a weeping Russian.
The crooked tile bugged me for a while, when we first moved back into the house. More than once I wondered how hard it would be to chip away the grout and pry the offender out.
But then it started to kind of grow on me: Rather than seeing it as a flaw, I started thinking of the tilted little tile as a sign a human had been there, and as proof that our house was hand-made. In time it became almost endearing, one of the dozen tiny imperfections that make our house truly unique.
I hardly ever notice the tile anymore. But when I do notice it, I think of Alex … and of the thousands of other bits of tile he lined up perfectly.