Friday, August 8, 2014

Hammered and Nailed #5--Insanity reigns

      It being August, I'm re-publishing excerpts from my 2002 series on remodeling, "Hammered and Nailed." To start at the beginning, go back to Aug. 4. The inexplicably-popular Saturday "Where IS this?" contest will return Aug. 23.

     Sometimes I ask myself, "Once the remodeling is done, what . . ."
     Gosh, that has a strange ring to it. "Once the remodeling is done." Sort of sounds like, "After the Earth crumbles to dust."
     Sorry. I ask myself, "Once the remodeling is done, what is this leading to?"
     Yes, a shiny new bathroom and a shiny new kitchen, to start. But what are they for? What will we do with them? Throw lots of big dinner parties with money we no longer have for friends who drifted away once we moved to the suburbs? Take long, luxurious baths in our gleaming white bathroom, eyes locked on the pristine, schizophrenic order of the hexagonal tiles on the floor?
     Frankly, I can't picture it. Right now, the only end I can really, truly imagine is myself, eyes wild, hair in disarray, running madly through the house, gas can in hand, pouring fuel everywhere, then standing amidst the flames, head thrown back, shaking my clawed hands at the ceiling and laughing hysterically as the house goes up around me.
     Sorry (again). Thursday is still weighing on my mind. The day had been so pleasant. The workers, I knew, were putting in the final touches on the bathroom--the toilet paper holder. The towel hooks. The little sproingy thing that keeps the doorknob from carving a circle in the wall. I love those little sproingy things.
     On the train I was relaxed, happy. I strolled home, prepared to savor the new bathroom. Perhaps, thought I, a celebratory bath might be in order. I had not taken a bath in the main bathroom, I realized, in the two years we owned the house. Why would I? It would be like bathing in a scummy pond.
     I opened the front door to a scene of madness. Water was pouring as if from a hose, directly from the center of our kitchen ceiling. The boys were running and shouting. Cats flew by, mewing wildly. My wife was screaming, and a heavy man, naked to the waist, wearing white painter's pants, sneakers and suspenders, was for some reason there too. The only thing missing was the Marx Brothers with flappy paddles and seltzer bottles.
     I should have turned and bolted, but I went inside.
     "The water!" My wife shouted, nobody knew how to shut off the water. This was odd, I realized, later, when I had time to think. Very odd, considering these guys were plumbers, supposedly. But lost in the moment, I merely hurried to the basement and turned a few big valves that seemed connected to the water pipes—even I know how to do that—then headed back upstairs to see the cascade had diminished to a trickle, being examined by the half-naked man, who turned out to be a workman.
     "What's going on?" I said. Drawing a blank stare, I dredged up my college Russian.
     "Shto etta?" I asked, pointing at the water. ("Shto etta?"—"What is this?" are the first words they teach you in Russian class. I almost automatically followed with "Etta capusta"—"This is a cabbage.")
     Concealing my rusty, etiolated Russian had seemed a good idea—I got to eavesdrop on the workers, and knew that showing it off would be a form of cozying up, a social breach akin to those junior executive idiots who pause to pal around with the bums on the bridge out of the mistaken belief it makes them into hip, happening kind of guys.
      But this was an emergency. The workman—he was a painter of some kind—praised my language skills, and said that nothing could be done until the bossman showed up. We waited.
     Finally he arrived, declared that nothing could be done until tomorrow, and then set to chatting with me in Russian.
      Soon the bathroom was forgotten, and he was inviting me to visit Belarus with him and hunt women. (At least I think that's what he said.)
     Four days passed. They finally came back, the problem was located. It seems they forgot to actually bond a pair of pipes, but merely shoved one into another and—gee, guess what?—it leaked.
     Somehow, the bathroom being so close to completion, then having success yanked away, started to affect my mind.
     "We could just keep the water off, use the other bathrooms and look at this one," I suggested to my wife, in all earnestness. "We wouldn't have to worry about cleaning it then."
     One thing vital to surviving home remodeling (practical tip alert! pay attention here) is to inculcate a certain hardness. After the leak crisis, the built-in shelves were installed. We praised them to the bossman then, after he left, actually looked hard at them. They were a kind of pressboard, already showing through the paint, held up by wooden brackets artlessly sawed. I delivered the ultimate criticism.
     "I could have done that," I told my wife.
     We agreed that I should place the call, thus giving the demand the bass and authority of the male. The shelves, I said, in my best butch voice, were no good. They would have to be ripped out and done again.
     "No problem," he said.
     I hung up, amazed. Not so much that he agreed so readily—we'll see what Shelves Part II look like—but that I had delivered the bad news with a minimum of hives and Barney Fife trilling. I thought I was having a bathroom and kitchen built, but it seems they're also constructing a hardened personal shell in the bargain. Imagine that, something extra for free in home remodeling. A miracle.

                                      — Originally published August 25, 2002 


  1. The "hardened personal shell." Little did I know how much I would need that in my flight through life.

  2. You sure hired the wrong crew.


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