Click here, then read.
Like most men in my life, handymen come and go. One showed up to create a new outlet in my kitchen; he accidentally cut all the way through the wall, knocking out the shower tile in my bathroom. We ended up dating for two years while he ruined other parts of my house and threw temper tantrums until eventually I had to change the locks on the doors that bore his grubby handprints.
Another came to my house after I’d just moved in to remove a bathroom towel rack then patch the holes, plus install a toilet paper dispenser. The spackle where the rack used to be looks like a relief map of the Grand Canyon, and the screw holes behind the toilet paper dispenser somehow grew as big as gopher holes. The handyman had to glue the toilet paper dispenser to the vanity, and even then the two pieces that hold the tissue roll are so far apart that the rod always falls out, followed by the toilet paper, which then usually rolls out of my reach.
That handyman was my dad.
This past weekend, a real handyman came over: one with a professional web site, business cards, and his own tools. He had even come to my house several days before to take a look at the work and give me an estimate. We both knew exactly what needed to be done, and we had agreed on a price. His name was Joe.
Joe arrived exactly 45 minutes later than he said he would, not 44 and not 46, so I thought we were off to a good start. He had my list in hand for quick reference: he would fix the rust stains in my bathtub, replace a shelf in my laundry room, hang a 200 pound mirror, etc. I sat down at my computer to work while Joe listened to his daughter screaming on the phone. I peeked at jobs in various stages of completion while Joe talked his daughter down from the ledge on the phone. I was glad I wasn’t paying Joe by the hour while Joe helped his daughter select a rehab center, again over the phone.
Joe was a little guy, a little older but fit and spry. I knew he was married and of course there was that daughter. He was definitely not dating material (briefly considered as all men are, but quickly dismissed), so I figured he must be my handyman from heaven: he was unavailable romantically, a family man, and he didn’t cut any gaping holes where they didn’t belong and then try to hide them (sorry Dad).
When Joe finished up the jobs on my list (fix latch on back gate, replace underwire in favorite bra), he asked me if I wanted to look over his work again to make sure it was all done correctly. Of course I did! Unbeknownst to him, that’s my job in life: to review other people’s creations and rip them apart. I’m a teacher; I get paid to do that.
Everything Joe had put his hand to looked great; it was what he had ignored or forgotten that concerned me. The back garden hose situation was the first that caught my eye.
“What about the inlet hose?” I asked, pointing to the faucet with a vintage 1984 piece of hose attached, corroded and full of holes from the heat, twisted to a point that I didn’t have the strength in my hands to straighten it out or unscrew it. Every time I watered my plants out back, a small lake formed by the patio.
“Oh, I forgot about that,” Joe said, quickly untwisting and disconnecting that section of hose and handing it to me. “You go buy another one and I’ll come back to hook it up, no charge.”
Hm, I thought. Handyman supposed to fix, handyman not fixing, handyman making me do work—this banner got pulled through my brain by the tiny monkeys who fly planes in there. “Okay,” I said. “That sounds fair.” And the Holocaust never happened, you unfocused worker person.
Next we walked around to the front of the house where my motion-detector security light has been burned out for a long time. I looked up and there was the same old light way above the garage door, still not detecting motion, still unlit. “What about that?” I asked Joe. “That was definitely on the list.”
“I just said I’d look at it,” he said. “I did that and it’s definitely broken. It’s got juice, but the light fixture needs to be replaced.”
“You looked at it?” I said. “But you didn’t fix it?” Was I paying Joe to inspect the jobs that needed to be done in my house? Did I ask someone to examine the faulty lock on my doorknob and the cracks in my walls? No. The monkeys turned their plane around and towed the banner across the busy sky of my brain: Handyman supposed to fix, handyman not fixing…. “What am I supposed to do?” I asked Shirker-Joe-whose-daughter-was-resting-comfortably-in-a-nearby-detox center. I knew that much.
“Take a picture of it to Home Depot and they’ll help you pick out one that’s similar. You can get it when you pick up that length of hose. I’ll come back and install it for you, but that would be considered a new job.”
Tiny-Joe-who-moved-quickly-because-he-was-the-size-of-an-ant looked at me. I could tell he considered the work at my house finished, whereas I did not. I could tell he wanted his money, but I didn’t want to give it to him. Why did it always come down to something like this with every painter, roofer, landscaper, and handyman I hired?
“Okay,” I finally said, unwilling to protest further. I wrote Joe a check for $250 to cover labor and supplies, and he drove away, probably to the rehab center to see his daughter.
In hopes of feeling better about paying money for a job not done, I tried to believe that Joe’s life must be far more difficult than mine, his suffering a mountain compared to my molehill. Somehow, this attempt at excusing his defects with my near-perfection didn’t work.
Before going back inside, I did some jumping jacks in the driveway under the motion detector, checking one last time to see if the spotlights would come on. Nope. I wondered how I would get the old fixture down without electrocuting myself.
Maybe I would like being electrocuted.