mjj (flemmings) wrote,

A competent handyman, who shall find? for his price is above rubies

It was a dark and stormy night in the excessively rainy June of 2003. My front roof, recovered a dozen years earlier, sprang a leak, causing little droplets to condense on the bedroom ceiling. I signed a contract with The Most Expensive Roofing Company In Town to fix it (on a rainy afternoon, of course) and that very night a monsoon downpour sent water cascading into the crawlspace above the bedroom and down through the light fixture below. Which I pulled free, fearing shortouts; collected the water in pails, and called TMERCIT to ask if they could do an emergency patch? kicking myself for not thinking to ask that when I was signing the contract. They did, next day; six weeks later they did the roof; and I was left with a wrinkly field of plaster some three feet square in my bedroom and a useless overhead light hanging down from a dark hole, mute testimony as to why I can't have nice things.

So for four years I kept saying Gotta find a handyman to fix that, and not doing it because of the nature of handymen in this town and very likely the world. If indeed I ever had the option of dealing with a handywoman things would get done a lot faster. But there are none in this neck of the woods. Thus I, who work in a matriarchy, must most unwillingly deal with Guys, who are a different kind of Guy than the ones who also work in our matriarchy. Once I've written off the Guys who don't even answer calls, the Guys who won't take jobs under $1500, and the Guys who bark on the phone (daycare Guys do not bark at all) comes the really major disincentive.

On anecdotal evidence, a good ninety per cent of the renovation industry here, never mind the odd-job guys, is staffed by men who believe women don't know houses, can't know houses, and should not have opinions on how they want their houses to be. This is fine: I *don't* know houses. I can understand that it's annoying having to explain, again and again, to customers who are ignorant of house construction, why they can't have the thing they ask for because it's a far bigger or more difficult job than they know. Nonetheless I still hear nuances, more often than I should, of 'Get your husband to talk to me' or 'Isn't there a guy here who understands what I'm talking about!?' (Guys who work in patriarchies have the same disabilities as I, only in reverse. They never talk to women in the ordinary course of the working day.) And of course we have the locally endemic Aestheticism Wars: (Thinks:) That's a lovely wrought iron railing on those concrete steps- stupid cake, why'd she want to get rid of it? (Aloud:) No, those risers aren't in good enough shape to sink a wooden railing in, and it'll cost you a thousand just to start to get the stairs out. Keep those nice iron ones and paint them black.' I'm told that the industry is changing from the previous Italian-Portugese monopoly and admitting a lot more Middle Easterners, mostly Iranians. By all accounts the Iranians like wrought iron too. What's a poor Anglo to do?

All these headaches come before the more fundamental problems of Is the guy honest? Is he competent? Will he start the job, leave it three weeks, and come back only on alternate Fridays to fix it? if he comes back at all. It's a problem not confined to scammy fly-by-nights. The Most Expensive Roofing etc etc screwed up a friend's roof, in spite of their excellent reputation. Too many people wanting roofs done, have to hire underexperienced staff, someone screws up, shrug. True, they repaired it for free when friend complained: but one doesn't *expect* to have to call the CAA because the Rolls broke down in the middle of the highway: part of the price tag is to be spared these usual frets of life. My bro's house was renovated by a contractor under the direct supervision of his architects: who tore the back of his house off, put up tarpaulins, and did indeed disappear for six months.

You see, there are reasons I'll wait four years before repairing a hole in my ceiling.

You can't go word of mouth, were you wondering. No one has a good handyman, or they do have a good one who's booked six months ahead, or whatever. So it's the local neighbourhood newspapers (cuts down on their (chargeable) travelling time, theoretically though not always, and may be less expensive than the established companies, who are looking for major renovation jobs anyway.) And last Sunday night I called two such who seemed to have the right skills for this job, and got two voice messages, one from a guy who barked, and 'Superhandyman' whose voice message was a woman. You may guess which one I left my message with.

He calls back, comes over Monday a.m. to look, is breezily confident about the job- 'no need to replaster, those brown lines is just stuff leaching out because of the rain, can be covered with some liquid thingy that'll remove it from the plaster entirely, then I'll sand and paint over. Ceiling fan? Shouldn't be a problem, the struts are here, if they're strong enough I can put it in.' I'm morose myself: if anything can go wrong with this jury-rigged house it will, and I fully expect the ceiling to fall in as he's sanding it. 'So how much for the job?' '$130.' Christ. 'You're on.' Even if the ceiling does indeed collapse around the light socket, it can't come to more than twice that, which I can manage.

So he says he'll do the deleaching Tuesday and if it goes well get the fan in as well: two days at most. I give him a key, off he goes. Occurs to pessimist me that maybe the fan won't go in, so buy cheap overhead light as well just in case: and for the next three days am sucked into 8:30 to 6 days at work by various people's various crises. Every day I come home and look blearily at the ceiling and think Has he been here? Did he do anything? I can't remember what the ceiling looked like now, and if the present uneven surface is from new stuff spread on or from old stuff losing its browny lines. I know he's been here, actually: the toilet seat's up. Otherwise- one or two days, hahaha. Workmen are too busy in this town to concentrate on one job at a time: I went through this last summer until I was sick of it with the bathroom. I resign me to patience. Maybe next week I'll have a light of some kind in my bedroom again.

I come home late Thursday. The ceiling is all perfectly smooth; and though I smell no paint at all, it's the exact same colour as the rest of the ceiling. The light fixture is in place and works from the dimmer switch- which ironically will be rendered obsolete in three years or so because the gov't is banning incandescent light bulbs, including dimmers. (Remind me to stock up.)

Call from him on Friday to arrange swap of key and money. 'I couldn't get the fan in there- I knew the minute I picked it up it'd be too heavy unless you had a solid box constructed inside the wall already.' Things Canadian Tire doesn't tell you about their ceiling fans. 'And a part of the ceiling did crumble around the opening, and I had to fix that, which is why it took me three days instead of two to get the job done.' Yappari. 'I'm not surprised,' I say with massive understatement. "So how much is the final total?" He sounds taken aback: "What we said- $130." "Yabbut- yabbut-" He shrugs- "If a job goes faster than I estimated, I win. If it goes slower, I lose. It balances out in the end." I say nothing: Murphy's Law rules the building and reno trades. I do not believe it balances. However, if he wants it that way, he can have it that way, and I can give him a bonus for good work and being fast and reasonable and sane; and for being an anime fan as well 'cause he was all enthusiastic about the manga all over the house when he came by this morning.

He has down time in the winter. He is not afraid of my customized wrought iron bannister. He's perfectly prepared to take it out to refloor the upper hallway (Oh joyfulness!) or if I wish to keep it, for me to haul my aching knees up by on bad days, he knows someone who can provide another plasticized top to recover it, now they old one is warping off. I look forward to renewing our relationship next Decemberish, unless someone else kidnaps him in the meantime and makes him the slave of their house.
Tags: rl_07
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