It's not about the house.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Powering Through

Johnny and I were of two minds regarding the electrics in our ongoing kitchen project: He thought we should call in the electrician; I thought we were poor.

Turns out, we were both right.

See, Johnny – being a guild-trained, degree-holding, actually-knows-what-he’s-doing Master Painter/Decorator – generally believes that the DIY movement is a cruel hoax perpetrated on the noble and ancient Skilled Trade Tradition by a bunch of granola-eating pinko hippie freaks. This, coming from an avowed socialist who skipped barefoot through most of the 1970s and smoked pot through his guild-training, is a pretty powerful indictment.

Though to be fair he never actually said the part about the pinko hippies. Those are my words. What he says is that there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things, and that the Y in DIY would generally not know the right way if it waved its arms and hollered how-de-do. Oh, sure, Y could look it all up in a book, but book-knowin’ ain’t know-knowin’ – and not all necessary knowin’ can be found on bookshelves, anyway.

He told me a story the other day, for example, from back when he was being trained. It seems a job was turning out more complex than they’d expected, and they hadn’t brought along the right materials for what it was shaping up to be. Instead of backtracking to the paint-supply and losing a half-day’s wages, the master opened Johnny’s lunchpail and did the job with what he found inside.

I missed the point entirely, of course. I thought the point was Mastery and Guild-Training and Blah-De-Blah (in my defense, with these sorts of stories the point usually is Mastery and Guild-Training and Blah-De-Blah) so I oohed and ahed and said I thought it was pretty cool that you could do that with those things. Johnny gave me a blank look and sighed.

“That was my lunch he was using.”

Oh, sorry. This is not a “mastery and blah-de-blah” story, it’s a “crisp bag in the middle of a lake” one. Got it.


He’s right about the DIY thing, I believe. Even avowed DIYers have to admit he is. You may be able to figure out a lot of things yourself, but a Master Blah-De-Blah can do it better – and faster, and probably safer to boot.

The question is: is it worth the cost?

And here’s where it gets sensitive. Because – while most homeowners would agree they want a trained electrician or plumber, or even a trained carpenter for many jobs – most DIYers think that painting is a breeze. (Remember the old “Cheers” episode where Cliff got an orangutan to paint instead of Norm? It still rankles around here. Damn postman. I’ll ring you twice, I will!)

Sure, slapping the final, finished coat on can be easy, even fun. But for all the taping and patching and plastering and caulking and fixing that comes before it – for older houses, anyway, and if you want the job done right – it makes a giant difference to get someone in the know. Your house won’t fall down if you don’t, but it will look that much more like it’s about to.

So to Johnny, mastery is always worth the cost. Fortunately – for our purse as well as our relationship – other masters tend to feel the same (plus they also tend to really, really hate to paint), so the cost can often be worked out by trading trades. When we did the first half of our kitchen a couple years ago, Johnny called in a few favors, promised a few more, and we paid not a single dime above materials. If you count beer as a material. Which I do. Can’t do the job without it, so it counts.

Unfortunately, our electrician from back then (who didn’t do the work but merely supervised, which Johnny and I both count as a DIY compromise, and who was actually paid in homemade jelly and banana bread along with his O’Doul’s), is gone now. Cancer. Poor old Jack. And our other electrician, our original electrician – a She-Lady Electrician, by the way, who makes this bike-riding-fishy very jealous with her truck and her tool belt and her IBEW sisterhood – has a live-in painter of her very own.

There’d be no trading with (let’s call her) Kat. If we called her in, she would have to be paid. She would give us a good deal, being a Sister Master and everything, but it would still be a good deal more than what we’ve got to spare.

So Johnny and I went back and forth for months. I wouldn’t say we argued, but we discussed. Volleyed, let’s say. Some new thing would go wrong – the light commenced to flicker, all the switches in the house stopped working, or the oil-burner switch fell off the wall – and Johnny would say “Let’s call in Kat. Should we just? Do you want me to give her a shout?” I would answer “No, Johnny, we need to not pay for things that we can get away with not paying for.” Then we’d wait another two weeks for our schedules to sync up with Andy's, or for something else to go horribly awry.

And then, when I went cross-country, Johnny called her.

I think this post is long enough for one day. I’ll continue it tomorrow. Don’t worry, he didn’t diddle her or anything.

I’d also like to point out that this post, almost verbatim, I wrote in its entirety last week. The monster had me convinced it didn’t make a lick of sense. I almost tossed it in the trash this morning without even looking at it, out of fear the clap was hiding in it somewhere, but then I got lazy. Fixing something old is
always (well, almost always) easier than starting something new. So I took a deep breath, and I opened it.

You know how many words I had to change? Probably eleven. Turns out the damn thing made complete sense all along. A lick and a half of it, in fact.

I mean, at least I think it does.



Ladyscot said...

Makes perfect sense to me...except the crisp bag in the middle of the lake thing. Did I miss something somewhere?

poppo said...


Janice said...

yeah, that's the second recent cryptic remark about the crisp bag in the middle of the lake but I don't think we ever got the story - did we?

Sparkle Plenty said...


Wasn't the crisp bag in the middle of the lake thing re: Johnny growing up poor (like me, like you)? I'm probably wrong, but that rings a bell.

I'm havin' a sicky-sickenstein coupla days. This afternoon, I'm enjoying perusing your archives. Lemme tell you: Your pen is far mightier than that block.

This one made me weep, perhaps due in part to my fever but also due to its essential greatness as a family story:
Thursday, December 27, 2007
So… How Was YOUR Christmas?

EGE said...

Thanks, guys!

Yes, the crisp bag in the middle of the lake is the end of -- well, I don't even remember anymore if it was a joke or a real conversation -- but it's one of those "we had to eat dirt," "you had DIRT?" kinds of things. It might have even been a professional comedian's routine. Folks trying to out-poor each other until one of them says "You had a HOUSE? We lived in a crisp bag in the middle of a lake!"

I'm sure I've told it wrong, but you get the jist. I don't know if I have ever told it here, after all. It might be so ingrained in me that I just assumed the meaning would be clear. Sorry!

(PS Thanks, Sparkle, for always saying such nice things! And thanks for my new title on your blogroll, too (which I may or may not have cribbed in yesterday's victory post)! Very Bettylicious!)

EGE said...

PPS Feel better, Sparkle! I meant to say Feel Better, Sparkle! I meant to say that first!

I hope you don't have what I had, because I actually still have it. But today I've got the sexy-husky Lauren Bacall voice, so today I don't really so much mind.

It would be nice if my lungs didn't feel like they'd been scrubbed with pipe cleaners, however.

pork luck said...

Oooh! Lauren Bacall? Can't beat that! Sexy!!!!!

theotherbear said...

Never heard the crisp bag in the middle of a lake before.
Here it's more likely to be 'you had to walk 2 miles to school in the snow? Well we had to walk 4 miles, and we had to lick the road clean on the way' or 'we had to get up 2 hours before we went to bed' or some such monty pythonesque nonsense.

su said...

Gramma used to do the "Deep Dark Delicious Yuban" Coffee commercial when she had the Becall voice!

Stephanie said...

Just dropping in to say: Hello! I took down the banner which was annoying you :) I am confirmed for my trip in July. I'll write soon! And dammit, I've dropped in on a cliffhanger post...