View from afar

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
Remodeling is the nearest equivalence to childbirth that men can achieve-once one enters the labor room there is no choice but to push on.
Year three of remodeling my century-old frame house on the West Side of Chicago is wrapping up and turning back is no longer an option.
Michelangelo took four years to paint the Sistine Chapel. He was 70 years old and lying flat on his back painting the ceiling. I’ve seen the Sistine Chapel. And after three years of work, I know my place has not begun to resemble it-although I have painted my ceilings.
Doug the carpenter promoted me this year. He put me in charge of taking out the trash and told me it was a major responsibility.
As I trudged up and down the back steps carrying contractor bags filled with dusty plaster and lathe and stacking them in the backyard, I wondered about his motives. I suspect he was more intent on keeping me busy and away from using his power and hand tools and threatening to help with the painting.
Amish barn raisings in Kansas involved neighbors helping out. This Chicago project has been a multinational barn raising.
The Ecuadorians did the plastering and taping. The Polish carpenters installed the front canopy and new doors. (They did this after I negotiated with their manager, Walter, who was translating for Andy the lead carpenter, while Andy’s assistant just nodded. I don’t know if the assistant spoke any language-he just nodded his head for two days.)

The air conditioning was done by men with a Hillbilly twang. The electrical work was done in a wild mixture of Polish and Spanish.
This entire project has been done in reverse order. First, I bought a few pieces of new furniture which looked forlorn surrounded by dingy walls and chipped plaster. So I painted the walls. Then the HVAC guys tore out the same walls to install the central heating and air conditioning.
The “new” furniture has now been moved; stacked and hidden-partially-under painting tarps so many times that it has lost most of its luster.
Five weeks ago I was down to one bed and one chair that was accessible to me. As I sat in the chair and pondered the pathos of this situation, Doug the carpenter came in and brightly suggested, “I’ve got it-we turn your bed on end tonight and the crew will have space to install the windows in the morning.”
There was just a flicker of fear in his eyes after I rejected this nifty idea.
“But you only rent this place-why are you doing all this work?” friends kept asking. So this spring as work entered its final phase, I bought the building.
My logic is that any bank dumb enough to give me a 30-year mortgage doesn’t deserve to know that I won’t live long enough to pay it off.
I might as well have started with a housewarming before the first hammer blow was struck.
(Come to think of it, the house warming was done first. This entire wild project started when the old stove billowed smoke on New Year’s Eve some years ago, leaving a covering of soot over every inch of the place.)
“So are you about done remodeling?” Adam asked when he visited.
“Nope, once a man starts remodeling he never finishes until the day he dies,” I said.
I was thinking about the upcoming deck project and repainting the front hall seriously damaged by moving in two-by-fours for this year’s project.
A bit of discontent and a sense of incompleteness is a great motivator for living.

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