Remodeling a foretaste of eternity for the tool impaired

On New Year’s Eve 2001, the stove which heated my kitchen suddenly spewed black soot into every room of my apartment. I told my landlord this was the last straw, and my 100-year-old apartment urgently needed repairs. He foolishly agreed and said, “Well go ahead and fix it up.”

I had hoped to write a celebratory song of sheetrock marking the conclusion of this affair. Alas, 19 months later, the end is nowhere in sight.

Today, I feel more akin to the children of Israel wandering 40 years in the desert. If you want a foretaste of eternity-try remodeling.

Almost any fool can eventually build a new house. But the true sign of imbecility is to attempt remodeling.

Maybe I should have listened to Truman Diener in VoAg Shop class in Hillsboro High School in the 1950s. He didn’t really say much to me-mostly, he just walked away shaking his head as I wrecked tools and materials. My family and friends believe “klutz” is my middle name.

I’ve needed help-the project is too small for a contractor-but too big for an idiot.

The Cahill boys stopped by to install central heat and air-conditioning-interrupted by going back to West Virginia for some fishing and to put new tar on their grandmother’s house trailer.

They laughed maniacally-as they gashed walls and ceilings to install duct work-knowing they had left no space between the studs for the plumber and electrician to work.

Every craft seems certain their work comes first. The plumbers, HVAC, and electricians are all drama queens-certain of their starring role.

Workers show up with good intentions, but I am a low priority. Doug the carpenter took off last summer to bake a cake for his sister’s wedding. This summer he made the cake for his brother. (He’s out of single siblings-now if he passes his math exam, maybe he can get back to taping the sheetrock in the bathroom.)

Last summer I could eat Cheerios with a sprinkling of fiberglass insulation, while looking through my kitchen ceiling to the sky. Without a kitchen sink, I washed dishes with a garden hose in the back yard. (I considered cleaning them by dropping them in the toilet and flushing-but realized the Tidy Bowl tablets would turn them blue.)

My misery index is-do I need steel-toed shoes to get from the bedroom to the bathroom to trudge through the lathe and plaster on the floor, or will sandals do for the crunchy walk? My dream is to walk barefoot safely in my own apartment.

Of course remodelers get no sympathy. Job’s biblical friends were practically Oprah compared to mine. One school states I have not suffered enough. “Why we went two years without a kitchen sink.” Adam adds, “Stop complaining, we spent a winter in South Dakota with only plastic for windows.”

The righteous say, “We did the same amount of work in two weeks and, after a quick swipe with Endust, the place was back to normal-are you disorganized or what?”

Remodeling brings out the advice-giver in people. Without regard to time or budget, friends cheerfully suggest tearing out the attic for vaulted ceilings, glass-block windows, new color schemes and tearing out support walls. Everybody knows how it should turn out.

The real friends came over and helped paint.

The apartment is a metaphor for myself. I only rent my space. It is not eternal. Doug made this clear when he muttered, “This is the last time anyone will work on this building, it is eventually a tear-down.”

Remodeling is restoration. The original design was best-the German renters painted the varnished wood the same color as their military uniforms, the Mexican renters painted it pink, now I burn and scrape searching for the distressed wood of a century ago.

Remodeling removes pretense and shame. One learns to entertain guests using plywood as counter tops and tables, and with gapping holes in the walls and plaster dust on the chairs. “Remodeling-you know-just be careful.”

Doug comes over for coffee at the kitchen table. He says, “I remember how it used to be-we’ve come a long way.”

That is the reward.

In life, all we can do is remodel. We are all merely renting and eventual teardowns. But with the help of friends, we can make things a bit better and rejoice in progress but not perfection.

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