Monday, February 11, 2008

Maintenance Man

I trust you'll pardon my French if I say it's just cold as crap here today. Winter blustered back in to these parts last night with a vengeance; we woke to temps in the teens, too cold for my walk, and also too cold to do the next steps on the un-wallpapering chore....I mean, project. The photo above shows the progress we made yesterday. In six hours, we did one room. Come to find out, wallpaper has two layers, the decorative layer, which peels right off like sunburned skin, and the sticky layer, where the real work resides. If you don't know about these two layers, you think you've cut yourself a nice piece of cake when that first layer just comes right off. Oh. But then what's that brown layer underneath??? The sticky layer requires soaking with water and scraping, repeatedly, in that order. Dropcloths, rags, putty knives, paper scraps. I'm showing you the clean version up there.

To finish the job, I have to get a ladder, a bucket of water, and some rags to wipe off the residue of glue that stays behind. I also need somehow to smooth those brown spots down so Steve can come behind me and apply drywall mud, then paint. It's so cold in the house I can't entertain the thought of sticking my hands in water to do that job. It can wait, since Steve can't do his thing until the weekend.

No, Ravel, we will never do wallpaper again! The wallpaper was always Steve's idea, anyway, and I, able to see the charms of both solid paint and patterned paper, just went along with the paper and was happy with it. It was great fun to hear Steve say, again and again yesterday, "never more wallpaper!!!" And, just to drive the point home, I'll say one more time, ever so gently, it's the whole damn house!

This do-it-yourself, handyperson thing was never an activity I was attracted to for myself. I'm used to being around such people, though, because my father was a great do-it-yourselfer, having finished our basement into a beautiful rec room with knotty pine (including a little knotty-pine bar that fit under the stairway), tile and drywall. He went on to design the waterfront house he and my mother retired to. He hired a contractor do the main structure, but together my parents did all of the internal and external finish work. My mother was great with wallpaper and paint.

Steve is a handyman par excellence. He could have made a handsome living as a contractor had he chosen the profession. He has made my life immeasurably more beautiful with his skills. Together, we have literally re-created this house we live in, inside and out. The odd thing about living with someone like that is that he takes these skills for granted and assumes that everyone has them or has an interest in cultivating them. He thinks nothing of repairing electric switches, plumbing, carpentry--things that most normal people would pay good money to have done for them. His creativity is expressed through these projects, though, and my life is enhanced. Not a bad deal.

I once read one of those things that purport to divide personality types into categories, and this particular one had resonance with me: the "maintainer." The one in a group who smoothes the rough patches, the one who finds the humor in a situation, the one trying--not to please people for its own sake, but to make sure they are happy and comfortable. For better or worse, that's me. Somewhere along the line I became aware that we all complain, all the time, with the slightest opportunity. I know I'm a great kvetcher. It seems to be human nature to want to tear down things that don't meet with our approval. But the opposite rarely applies. If things are going well, or if we like something, we rarely voice those positives. "No news is good news." When I made that discovery, I consciously decided to balance my all-too-ready sarcastic criticisms with vocal support of what I think is good. In a competitive office setting especially, you see this happen all the time: a young person just starting out discouraged by general disappoval of the results of some sincere effort. The results may have been lacking in some way, but some very hard work went into them nonetheless. Not to congratulate the effort itself and encourage more of the same seemed short-sighted to me, and unfair. More than once I have even congratulated couples on finding the courage to divorce, knowing how easy it is to put up with the status quo in the face of a difficult but necessary step. I've been rewarded with surprise and gratitude for being, sometimes, the only supportive voice.

It wouldn't be life without disappointment. Sarcasm and the wiseguy putdown are so easy and fun, for some reason more so than a sincere recognition of the positive. It takes a little work at first, but after a while looking for something good becomes second nature. Praise is unexpected, so rare, in fact, that it usually comes as a surprise. The grateful smile that greets it is the best reward of all.


SheilMack said...

I couldn't agree with you more about having a partner who can "do it all". My husband is also a carpenter/plumber/electrician and a wonder to our family. Particularly so since I'm sure Kat has told you stories about my father's attempts at any number of maintenance chores (sitting on the limb he's cutting and, thus, falling out of the tree-his rationale being that his weight on the limb would make the cutting faster, repairing the light switch, but down is on and up is off, etc. etc. etc.-see past Coffees). We now live in my husband's 1800's family home which was in rundown condition before we moved in, so I understand your frustration tearing down the old and putting up the new. There is a spray out that you put on the wallpaper and leave overnight, then it is more easily scraped off the next day. Ask at the hardware store.

I've been enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work! (See? Sincere recognition of the positive)

Ralph said...

Hi, Sheila. Re that last sentence: aren't you sweet.

We tried a solution that was supposed to make the job easier and discovered it did nothing more than water and was a lot more expensive and harder to use. An overnight product? Don't think our local Home Depot carries it. But it's worth googling for. Thanks for the tip.

As for tearing down the old: right after we did all the work on this place we were convinced we'd never leave it--loved it too much, blood, sweat and tears and all that. Now we're ready to go. We've outgrown this place. Most people size down when they move on--we need and want the opposite. A little bigger.

Kat said...

I would have had a list of all the possible workmen who specialize in the removal of wallpaper and begun calling immediately. I am my father's daughter so I am on a first name basis with all the handymen.

I wish you well with this horrific undertaking.

Ravel said...

Oh! You mentioned me in your comment today. I DO KNOW about wallpaper. I spent 3 weeks to one of my aunt's 8 rooms house, somewhere around 1985, removing all kinds of wallpaper and patch and paint. Quite a way to learn.
I could write a lot about handy partners... Let's say I am the manual one for nails, walls, painting, etc. My partner si good with food and gardening... Good balance!

Ralph said...

Kat, so well put. If Steve weren't in my life I'd be doing the same thing. But then again, if Steve weren't in my life, I'd have no wallpaper to deal with in the first place!

Ravel, it sounds like you guys are as well matched as we are--except I'm the one who does the hardware store runs and makes the sandwiches.

Peewit said...

After our first wallpaper strip of our predeceesor's horrendous 70's flock wallpaper we vowed to never paper again. We have now removed ( or got contractors to do it) all the wallpaper in the house except one small room which only has lining paper. It is so much easier just to repaint periodically ( and indeed it is easy just to paint over patches where small hands have scribbled on the walls!

Ralph said...

You know what, Peewit? The job is proving to be so huge and thankless that we're actually going to experiment with just painting over the wallpaper this weekend. I've been researching the subject, finding out what the pitfalls are and how to avoid them. We shall see....