By Adam Granger
During our period of self-isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have flocked to hardware stores and crowd-called contractors to undertake long-delayed home improvements. Read on and be forewarned.
We added a bathroom.
That sentence is four words long. It’s innocent enough at first blush. But beneath its surface lies upheaval of Vesuvian proportions.
To initiate our project, we called a highly recommended contractor, who came over, said he could do what needed doing, promised to send us a bid, walked out and disappeared from our lives for the next month.
We tried everything to get a bid out of him, and then, on the day I happened to wash my car, the bid came. Coincidence? Who knows? Who cares? We had our bid.
In the movie “The Money Pit,” a couple buys a house that turns out to be the mother of all fixer-uppers. Every time they ask the construction guys (named the Shirk Brothers) how long a repair will take, they say, “Two weeks,” and break into gales of laughter.
We accepted our contractor’s bid and told him that we didn’t need an immediate start time. After all, we had put off installing this new bathroom for 30 years.
But it was more important, we said, that the job keep moving once work was started. We didn’t want the project to take three months to finish, like what happened to those poor souls in “The Money Pit.” We all laughed about the Shirk Brothers.
Our contractor called a short time later with a start date, and when we asked how long the job would take, he replied, in complete seriousness, “Two weeks.” Blind we were to irony we should have seen and numb we were to trepidation we should have felt.
Starting the job
Work started. Having construction done inside your house is, in a way, like doing a stretch in the hospital. There, you’re given a gown which by design leaves some part of you bare as you shuffle up and down the corridor in your plasticized-paper slippers. At first, you are very protective of your modesty, donning a second gown backwards to make sure all your naughty bits are covered. But after having been poked and prodded and peered at by seemingly everyone for a few days, your sense of propriety flickers out, supplanted by a new enlightenment: If your backside hangs out while you’re roaming the hallways, guess what? It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares. Everyone has seen better and everyone has seen worse. Especially worse. Right here on this ward.
Granger’s Law states that the longer strangers occupy your place of residence, the lower your level of modesty falls. Our house became the hospital corridor, and my modesty bottomed out—no pun intended—along about week four of the job. I’d pad down to the kitchen in my skivvies for my morning tea and there would be electrician fitting light fixtures or the plumber routing a vent pipe. At some point it just stopped mattering. You go about your business and they go about theirs.
There were four inspectors involved in our job, and they were friendly enough, but they didn’t suffer fools gladly. (And isn’t that how we want it? These people start relaxing their standards and balconies start falling off of houses.) They each did two inspections, and work couldn’t proceed until each one had been done in its turn.
On two occasions, inspectors came and were unable to get in because we weren’t home. Each of these delayed progress for a week. (Turns out our contractor had told the inspectors that we were old and were always home, so no one had alerted us to their visits. Now, I reckon as how that first part is true: we are pretty long in the tooth. But I still manage to fire up the Packard occasionally and run the missus over to the apothecary for a strawberry phosphate.)
It’s finally finished
Work proceeded steadily until, one glorious day, our bathroom was done. And the time the job took, from start to finish? You guessed it: Three months. I have a fantasy wherein contractors convene in secret locations on March 19, the Feast of St Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. They say a carpenter password, do a secret carpenter handshake, sit cross-legged in a circle and solemnly intone, “Two weeks. . .two weeks.”
All right, I’ve had a fair amount of fun here at the expense of my contractor. So, let me close by saying that when our guy got done, we were delighted with the job. He did great work, his price was fair and I felt comfortable around him and his crew, even in my Duff Beer lounge pants. He’s a solid guy, and I’d use him again in a heartbeat.
Or, rather, 9 million heartbeats. That’s about three months’ worth.
Adam Granger is a regular Park Bugle contributor who has also written for National Lampoon magazine, Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, Flatpicking Guitar magazine and A Prairie Home Companion.