Wednesday, August 10, 2011

D.I.Y. Is D.O.A. or the Not So Handy Man

I had holes in the kitchen ceiling.

We had just spent a fairly large chunk of change to hire a electrician to get up on a ladder, pull out the existing light fixtures, then climb into the attic (where it was over 110 degrees F.) and run new wire to light cans that he installed in lieu of the harsh, ugly fluorescents that came with our house.

Those old fixtures had looked better suited to illuminating somebody's garage or shop. They sometimes flickered like a pawn shop window display.

They made everything in the kitchen, including the food we prepared, feel as if it were dipped in ghostly, nausesating vanilla frosting.

The new can lights, on the other hand, gave off a natural, warm glow that didn't leave any shadowy spots in the kitchen. And Troy the electrician had installed two inset metal boxes. From these would eventually hang trendy pendant lights we had ordered on-line.

Now seemed like a good time for me  to take care of the holes left behind where those old fluorescents had been attached to the ceiling. I even thought of an inspirational song from 1967:

Back Story
"After we get done you might need to get yourself a good mud man," Troy the man from Surge Electric said.

"Mud man?" I was amused by the slang term for a man who works with drywall. Troy went on to speculate about what might happen after the holes were filled.

"If you paint over the repair, the paint might not match the rest of the ceiling. You could hire a painter to paint the whole ceiling all the way to the living room."

I had twin reactions to the thought of employing a mud man and a painter: Ugh and ugh. This is a normal biological response for many of us when we hear a little "ka-ching!" sound in our heads.

And thus is born the impulse for a man to become a who is not normally a

I'm going to save money by Doing It Myself! Isn't that why they invented Lowe's and Home Depot in my lifetime?

Putting on My Construction Genes
I spent several days sitting at the kitchen counter and staring up at the ceiling. Rhetorical questions floated through my mind: "How diffiicult can it be?" "How long might it take?"

The answer that came back to me was always seductive, as if it had been whispered into my ear by Botoxed lips at 1 a.m. in a smoky bar:  "It will be easy,"  and "We'll only need a couple of hours."

I think part of what drove my male hubris wasn't the actual annoying residual holes in the ceiling, but a feeling that as a 21st Century male I'm too far removed from my father and all the stream of double X ancestral chromosomes before him.

You know guys who were real men. Men who took advantage of having opposable thumbs to do more than peck at keyboards and remotes and grasp steering wheels.

My father grew up on a farm. He had to do manual stuff as part of his daily chores. He went away to the war and acquired further expertise, this time in how to stay alive when people were trying to kill him. He returned to his parents' farmhouse and decided that it had been long enough. He was going to gift his folks with an indoor bathroom.

The war was over, but they still needed an indoor bathrooom on the farm.

Had he ever done any plumbing? No way! Could he watch how-to videos on the Internet? Are you kidding? This was 1946. Instead, he asked around, got a book from the library, bought his materials and set to work.

He enclosed a porch and turned it into a bathroom with a toilet, sink, and shower. The day they turned the faucet handle and water came out and flushed the toilet my father presumably got on the tractor, chained it to the outhouse and hauled it down to the river bottom.

Why can't I be like that? It's not about being born an Einstein, it's about accessing the natural "handy" in us all.

Like a twenty-something colleague who told me that in his spare time he's a "lutier." I looked this up. It means he builds guitars from scratch. He buys the wood, cuts it, shapes it, glues it, adds a varnish, strings the strings, and there's an instrument you can use to make beautiful music.

And I bet he can patch holes in a ceiling too so that you'd never know they were there. So why not me? Then I could move on and strum my own happy song of self sufficient, hammer-clutching masculine success, and have some extra bucks in the bank to pimp my lawnmower or something...

Another D.I.Y. benefit--it's an excuse to buy new tools.
This is the finest putty knife I've ever owned. Hold it in your hand
 and you can feel the quality. It's the Rolls Royce of putty knifes...

Joint Compound, Spackle, Mud, Whatever...
In my personal and limited experience of D.I.Y. when things head south, they go all the way to Antarctica. I end up at the South Pole of Incompetence. There's not even a penguin hanging around to laugh at me. Just 80 below zero, the wind is howling, and I'm frozen with frustration...

Patch like a pro
with this stuff!
Patching the holes wasn't such a big problem. Except I had to keep patching because the repair would shrink upon drying. Never mind. Eventually I sanded them down and they were... Well, they weren't perfect but this wasn't the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, was it? No, the real trouble began when I decided to try to move to Phase 2 and cover over the mismatched paint and uneven texture where the fluorescents had hung.

The ceiling texture in a can was so fun to spray that I didn't notice that it was bursting far beyond my target area. When I was done and smiling broadly at how well the sprayed areas conformed to the rest of the ceiling texture I happened to lower my eyesight.

My nemesis...arrived in a can.
That's when I noticed. The texture had blasted across the room and onto the cabinets opposite me, as well as covering the refrigerator and my espresso maker.

An absolute mess.

I spent the next two hours removing every fleck of texture from where it had gone astray. It was like reclaiming a whole shaker full of pepperflakes from your mashed potatoes.

"Running Like a Watercolor in the Rain..."
Then it was time to open a can of paint. I painted over the areas in question at least 8 times with different variants of white. I learned something via this process.

There are many shades of white paint.

Further, none of one's whites are likely to match the white that has already been on your ceiling for three years and acquired the standard kitchen off-white patina of smoke, grease, and general household dust.

Still, stubbornness can score points where competence is lacking. Or so I told myself. Days after I first began this minuscule project I felt I had arrived close enough to an end result I could live with.

Well, it all depends what light you look at it in. At 3 p.m. with the sun shining in the window and all the can lights on and glaring in your eyes you really can't tell...

The Moral of the Mess
I like to believe that things that happen to me can teach me lessons about life. That they are actually metaphors for something of significance.

It occurred to me when I was knee deep in holes that kept coming back and had to be refilled and sanded anew, whites that didn't match, ceiling texture that exuberantly obeyed the laws of gravity et cetera et cetera that most of my life is some kind of repair job.

I'm trying to fix me.

Sometimes it's probably less a repair on behalf of a noble cause than a matter of trying to avoid the embarrassment of having people notice the Swiss cheese holes in my personality and behavior. So to the extent I'm aware of these flaws I set out to do something about them.

Like become a better listener. How hard is that to fix? Pretty hard I've found out.

Or be less opinionated. Ouch! That's me biting down sharply on that thing called my "tongue"...

Or how about being less selfish about sharing my time and income. The holes there are really deep. I can't buy enough "mud" to fill them. I need a whole new panel inserted to replace the defective one.

Then I think, "Maybe I should call a professional." What would that look like? A motivational seminar? A therapist? Join a monastery? Oh, come on. Those are no fun. I want to fix this myself.

But maybe not everything is an equally good candidate for D.I.Y. Maybe I should swallow my pride from time to time and ask for some help.

And I might need to lower my standards a bit, too. Because in my experience whenever I get done with a  personal remodel, part of the old me always seems to be showing through.

Darn sloppy! Why can't I be like those guys in the videos? A few flicks of the trigger on the power tools, some graceful hand moves, and perfection!

Instead, I am what I am, the purveyor of a sub-standard repair job, but if it doesn't leak or fall down, it is what it is and that's me walking down the street and you should have seen how bad everything was before I got started... - V.W.


No comments:

Post a Comment