Tuesday, January 26, 2010


When you move to your first house after living in dorms and apartments and condos you quickly learn that no landlord or association is going to fix your house stuff--it's up to you. There are problems with any house: refrigerators break ; chimneys get clogged; toilets leak; hot water heaters stop working and you don't know a whole lot about how to fix them so you need reliable help. After a few years of that, you may move on to the home-improvement phase of home ownership and then you realize there are even more things you don't know like how to build a fence; design a brick patio; or the big kahuna--put an addition on.

You need help. You need professionals to come do stuff for you and you learn quickly that it is not a good idea to randomly choose someone from the phone book or the internet. No, like dating, it is much better to get a recommendation instead of going into it blindly. So you will soon find yourself asking all your friends "do you have a guy for_____" fill in the blank: painting, plumbing, HVAC, taxes etc. That's how I have found almost all my guys--from friends recommending them.

I have always found wonderful people this way. Like marriage, when you find the right guy, it is a thing of beauty. A serendipidous thing that brings to your life so much more than someone to fix something. In it's best form you will find someone who enriches your life and leaves you better for having known him.

So here, I pay tribute to some of my most memorable guys.

Richard: Richard was truly my first guy. A handyman who worked for the village by day and fixed everything in the neighborhood by night. When I called him to replace my bathroom door which had a split right down the middle he declared it was too fine of a door to replace. Instead, he took it home and glued it with boat glue and charged me a fraction of the cost of a new door. He did a lot more around the house and then he disappeared. Phone disconnected and everything. I suspect he really did retire to Florida (even though he was only 35) as he often threatened to do on the money he made off of all of us (every penny earned). A good handyman is almost impossible to find, even one you've used before.

Sean: Sean came to paint the outside of our brick house one spring. He only worked when the conditions were perfect so he wasn't there every day and he was meticulous. He did not even start painting until Fourth of July because he had spent a month scraping the old paint off first. He took the shutters down, primed them, put them back to cure for two weeks, then took them down and painted them again. He was Irish, still had his brogue, and said "shite" for "shit" which slayed me. He was a former trader who wanted to stay home to keep an eye on his youngest who was an adult but mentally challenged. She had had leukemia in the seventies and was cured but given so much radiation it had affected her mind. He would paint and then get a call from his wife asking for help with her and off he'd go. I didn't mind one bit. He did not finish the job until Halloween but he charged me just a fraction of what the others had bid the job at. That paint job has lasted more than ten years. He told me he really only worked for something to do and if someone asked him to bid on a job and he didn't like the people he just gave them a ridiculous quote to get rid of them. He was a wonderful man and I hope he is still around enjoying his family.

Duncan: Duncan is a landscape designer and the person who gave me his name described him as a genius who looks like a dirty Santa. This is true. White hair and beard, ample belly, and dirt under his nails because he does his own planting. I had contacted him once but he didn't seem in any hurry to do the job. Then one Saturday, without warning, he appeared in the back yard and asked if he could sit and draw up some plans. He got a card table and chair from his truck then set up in back with paper and pencil. He asked me questions like "How do you use this space?" "What feeling do you want to convey?" He told me I didn't really want a pergola (I had been quite sure I had) over the patio because it would make the back too busy with too much going on. What was the pergola for? Shade? Then he'd get me a nice shade tree. While talking to him about family I learned he was the father of 10 children. His wife had died years before and he was raising them alone. I commented that it must be hard and sad. "Not really, she was more needed with God then she was here. We'll be together again some day," he said with true conviction. I also learned that his oldest son was a Wilms Tumor survivor--the same kidney cancer that Lilly had. My Belief that these wonderful men are not sent to me randomly grows. By the way, the shade tree is gorgeous and the pergola really would have been too much.

Andreas: Andreas is my yard guy. He came to me a few years back when I realized Jeff and I had completely given up any notion of taking care of our own yard and it was starting to be an embarassment. He cleaned up a year's worth of overgrowth and neglect in two days. The next week I asked how much to move two small trees for me. "$150" he said. Later he came with his helper and they dug up the trees in the pouring rain, transplanting them and their sizeable root balls by hand with a wheelbarrow. When he came to the door, soaking wet, he said, "That didn't take as long as I thought, I will only charge you $100." Seriously. I had to beg him to take the full amount. Then last winter I called him to see if he could get some ice out of my gutters. He went up on the roof and shoveled it all while his nervous looking helper held the ladder. He did that for over an hour (it was about 6 degrees that day)then came to the door. "I couldn't get the ice off so I really can't charge you anything." Seriously. I had to beg him to take $20 for shoveling my roof. I have to mention that Andreas is from Mexico so I doubt shoveling roofs is something he's terribly comfortable doing but he tried because I asked him.

Michael: Well you all know about Michael. He's my nearly mythical contractor that put the addition on for us six years ago. He comes back a lot to do odd jobs for me. Right now he's downstairs walling up a doorway I've always hated. He's a little like Eldon from Murphy Brown if you remember that character. The kids just say good morning over their eggs like he lives here when he lets himself in. I think maybe I've grown a little too accustomed to having him here because yesterday, after we conducted a brief meeting about the aforementioned door opening, I realized I was still in my pajamas.

So those are some of the guys in my life. Just a small listing really. I didn't even tell you about Painter Dude or Tile Guy or my accountant Bob who made that problem with the IRS go away in about ten minutes or Joe who invests our money more cautiously than I would. When Lilly was sick Joe and Bob (who do not even know each other) pretty much did my taxes for me that year. I love them all and thank the universe for bringing them into our house and our lives. May God bless you with some great guys too.

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